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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

by Ned Wicker

Have you ever seen the film “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?” It’s been made several times over the years and comical parodies have also been made, but my favorite was the version performed masterfully by Spencer Tracy. Anyway, if you want a description of drug addiction, think of this film.

A decent, competent, well-meaning doctor and researcher is transformed into a cruel, manipulative, domineering, self-centered, murderous monster of a man. The contrast between one personality and the other is striking and the story, as you can well imagine, does not have a happy ending. It is a tragedy. In the case of the drug addict, however, there is hope.

Can’t wait to try it

Dr. Jekyll is working on a special formula and can’t wait to try it out on a subject, so he takes it himself. Hollywood always does a good job of making the transformation rather dramatic, and in this case Tracy hits the floor, writhing, and when he comes to he is now Mr. Hyde, with bushy eyebrows and a protruding forehead, a kind of Neanderthal looking gent with a top hat and tails.

He goes out on the town and encounters Ingrid Bergman. Thinking nothing of her wants and needs, he proceeds to dominate her, keeping her cooped up in an apartment, afraid and alone.

Not like Hollywood

Drug addicts do not go through this transformation in a Hollywood-like fashion. There are no special effects, but over time, there are noticeable changes. The hair might not get long and shaggy, but addicts might lose weight, develop respiratory problems and have an over all look of ill health. But was a really striking is the personality change that can take place. People change into another person, someone who would think things and do things the person would never suspect possible.

Hard to understand

Just why somebody becomes a drug addict is not something I cannot explain, because one person can abuse drugs over a long period of time and not become addicted, while another may only use once and immediately become hooked. Addiction is a disease of the brain and the drug’s effect on brain chemistry takes center stage when it comes to researching this chronic condition. There are several factors that go into the condition of addiction, but we will focus on two—genetics and personality.

Genetics role

We are all products of our parents, mother and father. If your parents were addicts you will have a natural predisposition to addiction yourself. Alcoholism tends to run in families, mainly because alcohol is legal, inexpensive and readily available. Of course, just because mom and dad are alcoholics does not mean that the son or daughter is automatically doomed to this life, but it’s a powerful indicator.

Call it the perfect storm. The genetic makeup of a person is combined with the substance, and at that moment, be it nature or nurture, the person is on the path to alcohol addiction. It could be as seemingly innocent as allowing a youngster to have a drink at home under the watchful eye of parents, or it could be as brutal as a father wanting his son to be a man, so have a drink.

Environments is a factor

The environment is a factor in this genetic story. When a person grows up in a house where there is always alcohol, there is a pretty good chance that person is going to be a drinker. He/she may not be an alcoholic, but the culture they grew up in suggests that alcohol will play a part in normal, everyday life. Where I live, Wisconsin, drinking is part of the culture. People drink everywhere. You can’t even have a church picnic without it.

Personality type interesting

Personality is interesting because we are all different and depending on the personality of an individual, one drug might be preferred over another. Young people have their first experience with a drug for a variety of reasons.

For teenagers, peer pressure is enormous, so put that at the top of the list. Teens like to fit in, be a part of the crowd, be accepted, so they may partake in drug experimentation just to be accepted. But sometimes something happens. A child who is shy and retiring, or socially awkward may like the way they feel when they try a drug or alcohol. Like Jekyll becoming Hyde, they may loosen up, let go of their inhibitions and become a party person.

They want to repeat the experience, because maybe for the first time ever, they liked who they were. In order to feel good or to feel normal, they need the substance. This form of abuse can lead to physical and psychological dependence, addiction.

Addiction often starts slowly

The path from abuse to addiction can be a long one. Gradually people change. One of the early signs that abuse is getting worse is when a person loses interest in friends or family, or tends to keep to him/her self.

If a teenager, for example, is using drugs or drinking, the first thing to look for is a slip in grades, or any changes in their peer relationships. Kids have a tendency to be fashion conscious, so if there are any changes there, or if there are any shifts in how they take care of themselves and their appearance, that’s a sign. Adults may call in sick more frequently, or change their circle of friends. Their work performance may fall, resulting in disciplinary action or termination.

Denial a key problem

One of the sure signs of addiction is denial. The addict/alcoholic is convinced that if anybody has a problem it’s you and not them. Even if they do not enjoy doing their drug of choice, even if they know it’s harmful to them, even if everybody they know is telling them it’s a problem, they will not quit. They cannot quit.

The sure sign in describing drug addict alcoholics is their personal transformation. You look at them and you think, “I don’t know you anymore.” Jekyll has turned into Hyde.

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