Why Drugs are Addictive

There’s a scene in my novel, Busted, where the main character decides to try cocaine. Not having used cocaine myself, I interviewed several people to understand their experience. Out of concern for making blow sound desirable, I hesitated to describe the main character’s experience.

I feel the same way about this blog.

On Saturday, March 3, 2018, Apple news recommended an article from the New York Magazine by Andrew Sullivan called, “The Poison We Pick.” I read it a week ago, and several sections have haunted me. In case you haven’t read it, the following paragraphs are direct quotes or summaries from the multiple-page report.

Mr. Sullivan’s opening is: It is a beautiful, hardy flower, Papaver somniferum, a poppy that grows up to four feet in height and arrives in a multitude of colors.

It thrives in temperate climates, needs no fertilizer, attracts few pests, and is as tough as many weeds. The blooms last only a few days and then the petals fall, revealing a matte, greenish-gray pod fringed with flutes. The seeds are nutritious and have no psychotropic effects.

No one knows when the first curious human learned to crush this bulblike pod and mix it with water, creating a substance that has an oddly calming and euphoric effect on the human brain. Nor do we know who first found out that if you cut the pod with a small knife, capture its milky sap, and leave that to harden in the air, you’ll get a smokable nugget that provides an even more intense experience.

We do know, from Neolithic ruins in Europe, that the cultivation of this plant goes back as far as 6,000 years, probably farther.

Later in the article, Mr. Sullivan said more than 2 million Americans are now hooked on some form of an opioid. Opium, heroin, morphine, and a universe of synthetic opioids, including the superpowerful painkiller fentanyl, are its proliferating offspring.

What makes these drugs so attractive?

The alkaloids that opioids contain have a large effect on the human brain because they tap into our natural “mu-opioid” receptors. The oxytocin we experience from love or friendship or orgasm is chemically replicated by the molecules derived from the poppy plant. It’s a shortcut — and an instant intensification — of the happiness we might ordinarily experience in a good and fruitful communal life. It ends not just physical pain but psychological, emotional, even existential pain. And it can easily become a lifelong entanglement for anyone it seduces, a love affair in which the passion is more powerful than even the fear of extinction.

How does an opioid make you feel?

Unlike cannabis, opium does not make you want to share your experience with others or make you giggly or hungry or paranoid. It seduces you into solitude and serenity and provokes a profound indifference to food.

Unlike cocaine or crack or meth, it doesn’t rev you up or boost your sex drive. It makes you drowsy and lays waste to the libido. Once the high hits, your head begins to nod and your eyelids close.

When we see the addicted stumbling around like drunk ghosts, or collapsed on sidewalks or in restrooms, their faces pale, their skin riddled with infection, their eyes dead to the world, we often see only misery.

What we do not see is what they see: In those moments, they feel beyond gravity, entranced away from pain and sadness. In the addict’s eyes, it is those who are sober who are asleep.

That is why the police and EMS workers who rescue those slipping toward death by administering blasts of naloxone — a powerful antidote, without which death rates would be even higher — are almost never thanked. They are hated. They ruined the high.

The withdrawal from opioids is unlike any other. The waking nightmares, hideous stomach cramps, fevers, and psychic agony last for weeks until the body chemically cleanses itself.

Among the symptoms: an involuntary and constant agitation of the legs (whence the term “kicking the habit”).

No other developed country is as devoted to the poppy as America. We consume 99 percent of the world’s hydrocodone and 81 percent of its oxycodone. We use an estimated 30 times more opioids than is medically necessary for a population our size.

I’m ending with a sentence that Mr. Sullivan had included in his first paragraph: Every attempt to banish it, destroy it or prohibit it has failed.

I agree. My mantra is: Prohibition didn’t work with alcohol, and it’s failed with drugs.

This article helped me to understand why drugs are so addictive. I hope you found the information as educational as I did.

Thanks for reading. (And you’re welcome to share my blogs.)

Warmest Regards,                                                                                                                                            Michele

Author, Busted                                                                                                                           www.michelekhoury.com                                                                                                                                  Link to subscribe to my blogs: http://michelekhoury.com/blog/

1 thought on “Why Drugs are Addictive”

  1. John MorleyJohn Morley

    That a shortcut to a “euphoric effect” is centuries old does not come as a surprise. But I was not aware that people brought back from almost certain death with naloxone are often resentful rather than thankful.
    This is complicated: A hardened attitude is to allow the exercise of “free will” and let them die. Going out quickly in a euphoric state may sound better than how I have seen some in my own family die. And some overdoses may well be intentional suicides, or at least a recklessness that accepts death as a likely, if not completely intentional, consequence.
    A softer attitude may see all as deserving another chance, and may give all the benefit of the doubt that they would choose life over death if given the chance.
    It is sad that our society is forced to confront this complexity on such a large scale.

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