The problem with opioid use in the U.S. has finally reached epic proportions, and many don’t understand why. We live in a new era full of possibilities and a variety of different treatment methods. Yet, more people are becoming addicted to things like heroin and prescription narcotics than ever before.
Getting to the root of the problem would provide us with more tactics to help those suffering from addiction and allow us to see the problem from the social ground floor. We live in a world with a heightened level of competition and measurable success around every corner.
Our personal standards have changed, and the pressure that we put on ourselves and others to succeed is unreal. All it takes is a trip down memory lane on social media to completely destroy a person’s sense of self-worth and accomplishment.
You may have had expectations for yourself, or others may have had expectations for you that you simply didn’t live up to. This can contribute to depression and anxiety which is a huge factor when it comes to addiction.
Opioid use is on the rise
In the last year, more than 64,000 people died from drug overdoses. A person is now more likely to die from an overdose than they are from a car accident or a mishap with a gun. Many people attribute this to the lax prescribing practices surrounding opioid medications.
In part, this is absolutely true. Doctors and pharmacists were entirely aware of the deadly impact that prescription opioids can have on Americans. They underestimated the addictive nature of the drugs and prescribed them in excess.
Some people took narcotics for years at a time in an effort to manage chronic pain or for acute injuries that turned into a full-blown addiction. Becoming addicted to prescription drugs doesn’t take long for a person who’s already predisposed to the disease.
Even after a short prescription intended for acute use, a person may be hopelessly dependent on the drugs. This chemical dependence can lead to withdrawals when they run out of their medication, leading them to seek out illicit drugs.
Some patients end up doctor-shopping or inventing pain in order to convince medical professionals of their need for prescription medications. Fortunately, the U.S. has come up with a narcotic database that allows doctors to be apprised of any and all addictive prescriptions a person is taking.
While this helps to put a stop to the overprescribing of these drugs, it hasn’t done much to derail the existing addiction. When some patients are unable to get their medications directly from their doctor, they may try to convince others to sell their existing prescriptions or turn to things like heroin to compensate.
This is only one part of the problem; the availability of things like heroin and fentanyl on the street has created an entire underground culture of people who depend on the sale of drugs for their income, and to treat addiction in a way that’s both casual and unnerving. I believe that what many people fail to understand is the correlation between our personal expectations and our rising dependence on drugs and alcohol to cope.
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The competitive nature of the U.S.
Americans don’t move at the casual pace that they once did. The introduction of technology and real-time communication has pushed people to take on more than ever. We now expect our children to go into competitive educational programs at extremely young ages, and if they fail to keep up they face being ostracized by peers and adults.
We’ve also seen a reduction in the middle class, and the median income. You’re either expected to be a complete success, or you’re considered to be living below the poverty line. It’s easier to compare yourself to a group of your peers than it’s ever been. Social media, web pages, and the constant need to display our accomplishments have put new pressure on people.
If you are unable to match or exceed the accomplishments of others, then you may find yourself dealing with severe anxiety and depression. Everyone is living at a breakneck pace, and this takes its toll on a person’s psyche.
More people experience mental illness and diseases relating to fatigue and immunity disorders than ever before. Part of this has to do with the amount of stress that we place on ourselves, and the way that we push ourselves toward success.
Being unable to achieve what you really wanted to do can leave you grasping for coping skills that you may not have. We spend so much time with tunnel vision and a focus on success that many people don’t understand how to cope with failure.
People expect you to look a certain way, dress a certain way, behave a certain way, and fit into a certain rung of society. Being unable to do this can force you to belong to a demographic that you don’t know how to navigate.
There’s also a serious issue with poverty in many areas of the US. Some people simply don’t know how to live any other way and end up selling drugs because it’s what their parents and grandparents did. That may sound unbelievable, but some communities have generations of dealers and addicts that they just can’t seem to shake.
Whether it’s due to a preconceived notion or simply the subculture of the area, drugs are definitely worse in some places suffering from serious poverty and a lack of gainful employment. Many people simply don’t know how to prevent opioid addiction, and it turns into a vicious cycle.
Why people turn to drugs
While many people develop an addiction as a result of a previous prescription, others do it to cope with stress or other problems. They feel so worked up over the events of the day that they need a more concrete way to relax.
This doesn’t always result in healthy behaviors. Many consider drinking to be an acceptable way to deal with a bad day, but others take this a step further. With the availability of opioids and their immediate euphoric effect, they seem like the perfect solution for somebody who feels overwhelmed and can’t seem to climb out of their negative feelings.
Coping with mental illness and trying to stay upright in spite of the weight of the world takes serious dedication and an understanding of different types of coping mechanisms. Some people turn to healthy practices like exercise or meditation, but opioids provide an instant gratification that many people crave.
Some people start out using them as a way to relax and end up physically and psychologically addicted. Once this happens, the focus of their life shifts and they become obsessed with the drugs.
For some, drug use might be the only way to protect themselves from painful memories or past trauma. There’s also a certain stigma that follows people who become addicted to opioids. Many people consider them weak or a failure, and this adds to the overall stress factor.
It’s difficult to seek out help when you feel that you’ll be judged for it.
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Living life at your own pace
If you’re struggling with addiction or you’re struggling with a huge amount of stress, just remember that you need to live life at your own pace. No one’s expectations matter but your own, and you need to put your mental and physical health before the need to succeed.
Take time and de-stress. Value yourself and develop coping mechanisms for every stage of your life. This is the best way to succeed for yourself, which is much more important than the perception of public success.
Jennifer Mullin is a freelance writer, focusing on political, economic, and social issues affecting the US. Her aim is to start conversations and challenge ideas about difficult topics such as factors surrounding poverty, addiction, and discrimination.