This week’s question was asked by: Rylee Rubenzer, fifth grade at Queen of the Apostles School.
Teacher: Megan Reisinger.
QUESTION: Why is it so hard to stop doing drugs once you start?
ANSWER: It’s all about the brain. Repeated drug use changes the brain. Brain imaging studies of drug-addicted people show changes in areas of the brain that are needed to learn and remember, make good decisions and control yourself.
Drugs and alcohol affect certain receptors within the brain that can cause an increase or decrease in the production of certain messenger molecules. When the drug or alcohol is stopped, the brain’s chemical composition has changed, therefore a withdrawal process begins causing the person to crave the offending agent. Quitting is difficult, even for those who feel ready.
There’s a big difference between controlled use and addicted use. Some people don’t give up occasional or moderate drug use and they don’t want to. They find that moderate substance use is a pleasure in life that they don’t want to deny themselves.
It should be pointed out that people with an addiction are not bad people, but rather have an illness that needs to be treated. There are a whole bunch of addictions, including smoking, opiates, heroin, and eating. Addiction is a medical condition that is characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences. It can be thought of as a disease or biological process leading to such behaviors.
Everyone knows that smoking is harmful. The radio announcer, Paul Harvey, would say, “we know so much better than we do.” Many quit but some people keep right on smoking. The logic to quit is simple; improving the quality and length of life and the lives of the people around the smoker. Even so, quitting is very difficult.
It’s hard to tackle the physical addiction to nicotine, the addictive substance found naturally in tobacco. It travels quickly to the brain when it is inhaled and can cause a feeling of temporary relaxation and stress relief. Nicotine also elevates one’s mood and heart rate. The feeling is only temporary. After the body rids itself of the drug, the person starts to crave another cigarette. The body starts to show signs of withdrawal. The smoker craves another cigarette to overcome these symptoms, starting a vicious cycle of dependency.
Opiate addiction is very much in the news these days, and opiate abuse of prescription painkillers is on the rise in the U.S. The number of prescriptions written for opiates such as OxyContin, Demerol, Percocet and Vicodin have steadily increased in recent years. Health officials see a direct correlation between this and the incidents of abuse.
Opiate drugs are those that are derived, either naturally or synthetically, from the opium plant. There are opiate drugs that are illegal, such as heroin, and others that are legally available with a prescription.
Morphine is a naturally occurring substance in the opium plant. It is the drug that all other opiate drugs are compared to for effectiveness. While it is a highly effective pain reliever, it is also highly addictive.
Codeine is naturally found in the opium plant; however, most of the codeine used for pharmaceutical purposes is made by chemically changing morphine. Codeine is an effective pain reliever for moderate pain, as well as a cough suppressant. Codeine is most often prescribed as a combination medication, either combined with acetaminophen or aspirin for pain.
Understanding heroin addiction can be baffling to comprehend. Why would someone knowingly inject a toxic substance into their body? Pain is the predecessor to all addiction, whether it is physical, emotional or spiritual pain. It all starts with pain of some kind.
The pain can come from bullying and teasing, depression, sexual or physical abuse, problems in a marriage, rejection by family members or co-workers or lack of spiritual guidance.
Heroin is a versatile drug, as it can be sniffed, snorted, or injected. Addicts report an unbelievable euphoria or “high” coupled with being pain free. Heroin makes the body addicted both psychologically and physically. A dependency is built.
The withdrawal symptoms are excruciating when the addict tries to stop. Hot and cold flashes, tremors, fever, aches, pains, and severe discomfort. Heroin addicts can’t bear the pain and crave more. They will do anything to stop the pain and behaviors often lead to committing crimes. Methadone is a compromise for those who take a while for withdrawal from heroin.
We could throw in alcohol as a drug. Both Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, recent suicides, were described as “major alcoholics.” Both had “demons they kept in a closet,” failed personal relationships and depression. Booze ingested is for escape and relief, but it is really a depressant, so says brain science. Guilt, shame, powerlessness − it’s a trail of progressive, chronic, and fatal consequences that result in premature death.
There’s some good news for people that need help. More mental health, recovery, and counseling programs are now available compared to past years.
Reference and guidance from Todd Chapman, director of pharmacy, Tomah Memorial Hospital.
Send questions and comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Larry Scheckel is a retired Tomah High School physics teacher.
If your question appears in this column, you will receive a free Value Meal from McDonald’s and a coupon from Pizza Hut.