What is Opiate addiction?There is no single narcotic addict personality type; addiction is not a unitary phenomenon occurring in a single type. The great variation in addiction rates and classes of addicts in various countries caution against placing too great an emphasis on personality variables as major causative factors. Even within the United States, there is great danger in generalizing from the cases of the patients found at the public health service hospitals.
Such individuals are a highly select group of adults who have spent previous time in correctional institutions. They are not representative of the adolescent addict or the adult addict who has not had continual difficulty with the law.
Another type of user is the addict who is a member of a closely knit adolescent gang. This subculture is highly tolerant of drug abuse, and the members have ready access to narcotic drugs. They do not actively seek the opportunity to try heroin. Neither are they deliberately “hooked” on heroin by adult drug peddlers. They are initiated to narcotic use by friends, gang members, or neighbourhood acquaintances, and the opportunity for such use is almost always casual but ever present. This “kicks” user is apt to abandon narcotics when gang membership is abandoned.
The chronic user is more likely to be the immature adolescent at the periphery of gang activities who uses narcotics for their adjustive value in terms of deep-seated personality problems. Such individuals do not abandon drug use for the more conventional pursuits when entering adulthood. Instead, old ties are severed; interest in previous friendships is withdrawn; athletic and scholastic strivings are abandoned; competitive, sexual, and aggressive behaviour becomes markedly reduced, and the individual retreats further into a drug-induced state. Identification is now with the addict group: a special culture with a special language. The addict’s world revolves around obtaining drugs.
Means of administration
Most persistent users follow a classic progression from sniffing (similar to the oral route) to “skin popping” (subcutaneous route) to “mainlining” (intravenous route), each step bringing a more intense experience and a higher addiction liability. With mainlining, the initial thrill is more immediate. Within seconds a warm glowing sensation spreads over the body, most intense in the stomach and intestines, comparable to sexual release. This intense “rush” is then followed by a deep sense of relaxation and contentment.
The user is “high” and momentarily free. It is this initial state of intense pleasure that presumably brings the novice to repeat the experience, and it is this mode of administration that hastens a user on the way to drug tolerance and physical dependence. Soon the user finds that the effects are not quite there. Instead, his or her body is beginning to experience new miseries. At this juncture, the user “shoots” to avoid discomfort. The euphoria is gone. The individual now spends every waking moment in obtaining further supplies to prevent the inevitable withdrawal symptoms should supplies run out.
Habits are expensive. If indigent, the addict must spend all his or her time “hustling” for drugs—which means that the person must steal or raise money by other means such as prostitution, procuring, or small-time narcotics peddling. The addict always faces the danger of withdrawal, the danger of arrest, the danger of loss of available supply, and the danger of infection, of collapsed veins, or of death from overdosage. Very few individuals are still addicted by age 40. They have either died, somehow freed themselves from their addiction, or sought treatment.
Therapy for opiate addiction
Drug dependence can be viewed as an ethical problem: Is it right and permissible to need a narcotic agent? How one answers this question dictates the position one will take in regard to addiction therapy. In general, the addict can be given the drug or can be placed on a substitute drug, or drugs can be barred altogether. Narcotic maintenance, which gives the addict the drug, is the system employed in the management of opiate dependence in some institutions.
Methadone treatment is a drug-substitution therapy that replaces opiate addiction with methadone addiction in order that the addict might become a socially useful citizen. Some drug therapy groups involve an intensive program of family-like resocialization, with total abstinence as the goal. Psychological approaches to total abstinence through reeducation involve psychotherapy, hypnosis, and various conditioning techniques that attempt to attach unpleasant or aversive associations to the thoughts and actions accompanying drug use. Each of these approaches has had successes and has limitations.
Great Britain began to control the use of narcotics in 1950, embracing the principle of drug maintenance. Supporters of the approach insisted that narcotic addiction in Great Britain remained a very minor problem because addiction was considered an illness rather than a crime. (Later, however, addiction became more widespread.) The British physician was allowed to prescribe maintenance doses of a narcotic if, in his or her professional judgment, the addict was unable to lead a useful life without the drug.
But in 1967 the British government took the right to prescribe for maintenance addiction away from the general practitioner and placed it in the hands of drug treatment clinics. Although some addicts must obtain legal supplies from the clinic, others are allowed to obtain supplies from a neighbourhood pharmacy and medicate themselves. These clinics also provide social and re-educative services such as psychotherapy for the addict. The general experience among these clinics has been that a large proportion of the addicts are becoming productive, socially useful members of the community.
There are two major drawbacks to the maintenance use of narcotic drugs. Both the physical and the social health of the user remains unsatisfactory. A high incidence of hepatitis, bacterial endocarditis, abcesses, and, on occasion, fatal overdosage accompanies the self-administration of opiates. Socially, the addict on self-administration also tends to remain less productive than his or her peers—the reason apparently being that the individual on narcotic maintenance is still very preoccupied with certain aspects of narcotic use. Narcotic addiction is a two-faceted problem: the yearning for the “high” and the felt sense of not being physiologically normal. The addict on narcotic maintenance often attempts to obtain or retain both drug effects: frequent intravenous use prevents the feeling of drug hunger and maximizes the attempt to experience euphoria.
Methadone therapy aims to block the abnormal reactions associated with narcotic addiction while permitting the addict to live a normal, useful life as a fully participating member of the community. Methadone provides a “narcotic blockade” in that it is possible to increase methadone medication to a point at which large oral doses will induce a state of cross-tolerance in which the euphoric effects of other narcotics cannot be felt even in very high doses.
Additionally methadone has the ability to allay the feeling of not being right physically, which the addict finds he or she can correct only by repeated narcotic use. Methadone treatment, then, rests on these two pharmacological actions: the blockade of euphoric effects and the relief of “narcotic hunger.” Methadone is not successful in every case, but results have been dramatic in some cases. In various studies conducted on addicts who entered a methadone treatment program, most remained in the program, and virtually none returned to daily use of heroin.
The majority either accepted employment or started school, and previous patterns of antisocial behaviour were either eliminated or significantly reduced. Methadone is a drug of addiction in its own right, but it does not have some of the more serious undesirable consequences associated with heroin.
There are various types of drug counseling units that advocate complete abstinence from drug dependency. Such drug therapy, usually involving a group of addicts, tries to promote personal growth and teach self-reliance. Individual counseling and psychotherapy may or may not be provided for the members of the group, but generally it is believed that moral support is derived from the experiences of fellow addicts and former addicts who have or are trying to become chemically independent. Success rates for various drug therapy groups vary widely.
In countries where the addict is treated as a criminal, physicians may be prevented from administering opiates for the maintenance of addiction. Acceptable treatment includes enforced institutionalization for several months, strict regulation against ambulatory care until the person is drug-free, and the total prohibition of self-administration of drugs even under a physician’s care. Estimates of cures based upon decades of such government-regulated procedures range from 1 to 15 percent.