The Psychological Construct of Addiction in Popular Media

Published on by JP Honor

Addiction is a problem that affects millions of people every day. According to ‘Psychology; A Modular Approach to Mind and Behavior’, addiction is defined as, “Development of physical dependence on a drug such that craving and physical discomfort (withdrawal symptoms) occur in its absence.” (Coon, 2006) Addiction occurs for different people in many different ways, and not all addictions are the result of taking drugs. However, for the purpose of this paper, we will be focusing on the addiction of drugs and alcohol use.

 Psychologists have been attempting for years to form a cohesive model in the attempt to treat addiction. Anja Koski-Jannes wrote about this in the report, ‘In Search of a Comprehensive Model of Addiction’. Here it is stated that, “Psychological models of addiction can roughly be divided into “why-models” and “how-models” The former focus on the function and motivation of addictive behaviors, the latter concentrate on the structure and process of these behaviors.” (Koski-Jannes, 2004) From this, we see that there are generally two ways to look at a person’s addiction. The “why-model” illuminates the purpose of the addiction and the motivation to continue the addiction. It could be that the addiction helps them to ‘fit in’ with their peers, lose weight, perform more effectively, or simply to cope with the stresses of life. The “how-model” focuses on what started the addiction, how it has taken form in the person’s life, and the practice of staying addicted. Some addictions begin innocently and unintentionally. A person who is in a car accident and then prescribed medication for their pain might become addicted to the medication. On the other hand, some people intentionally begin their own addictions by experimenting with the effects of drugs and/or alcohol, which eventually leads to dependency and addiction.

The movie ‘Requiem for a Dream’ by Darren Aronofsky illuminates both of these models of addiction quite clearly. (Aronofsky, 2000) The four main characters of the film each have their own addictions, which, driven by various motivators, send them into the downward spiral of addiction. Harry and his best friend Tyrone are both addicted to heroin. At the start of the film, their addictions seem to be akin to ‘play time’ for the two men. However, after lugging his mother’s television set all the way across town for the umpteenth day in a row just to make twenty dollars, Harry decides that he and Tyrone should start selling the drug themselves. This way they will always have their ‘fix’ and their dream of becoming successful drug dealers begins. Marion, girlfriend of Harry, has a dream to become a clothing designer. Harry tells her about his plan and vows to help her open up a clothing store with the money that he will make. Marion becomes very excited about her boyfriends idea and together they score some cocaine to celebrate.

Across town Sarah, mother to Harry, is lonely, overweight and does nothing but sit on her couch watching television. That is, once she goes down to the docks to retrieve it from the man to which Harry sold it. Sarah’s husband died and her son rarely comes to see her, unless he is stealing her television set for drug money. She feels useless, unloved and depressed. One day however, a letter arrives stating that she has a chance to be on television. Elated, she runs up to her apartment and pulls out her favorite red dress. It has been years since she has worn it, and to her dismay, it no longer fits. After a short stint of unsuccessful dieting, one of her friends tells her about a doctor she knows that will prescribe Sarah pills to help her lose weight. She visits the doctor, and without even examining her, prescribes her a plethora of multicolored weight loss pills. She begins taking the pills right away, excited that she is on her way to fitting into her red dress and being on television.

For a while, everything seems to be going exactly as planned for our four friends. Harry and Tyrone have managed to fill a shoebox with stacks of money, Marion’s creativity soars as her designs fill every available space in her small apartment, and Sarah is able to fit into her red dress already. However, their successful progress is short lived. A rival gang shoots Harry and Tyrone’s dealer and without a reliable connection, their stash of money dwindles as they begin to spend the money to buy more heroin to feed their addictions. By this time, Marion is also using heroin, and things start to get ugly when they are unable to get their hands on any. Their addictions now become more important to them than their dreams of making it big. Sarah unknowingly has become addicted to the diet pills prescribed by her doctor. The pills seem to be losing their effect and Sarah begins to take more than the prescribed dosage.

By the end of the movie, Tyrone finds himself imprisoned, Harry has his arm amputated from shooting too much heroin into his vein, Marion becomes a prostitute as a way to support her heroin addiction, and Sarah, after losing all touch with reality, is committed to a mental institution where she receives shock therapy because she refuses to eat. All of this happened over the course of one year and shows how quickly addiction can go from being a help to a hindrance.

If Sarah’s doctor had informed her of the dangers and possible addiction that might occur with her prescription, she may have been able to keep herself in control of the situation. The fact that she was ignorant to the effects the drugs were having on her blinded her to the fact that she was slowly losing her mind. All she wanted was her chance to be on television, to be beautiful, admired, and have something to live for. Her dream of acquiring these things was her first addiction. It is likely that from this first obsession she may have been motivated to eat better, exercise more, and take care of herself. This would have guided her to be healthier and have more self-esteem. She may well have ended up with an addiction to healthy eating and exercise, which does not sound like a bad addiction at all. Unfortunately, her desires to make it all happen now lead her into an addiction that in the end took everything away from her.

This is also true of Harry, Tyrone, and Marion. However, on the contrary, they knew the drugs were dangerous and could see that their lives were spiraling out of control. This is the worst part of any addiction. Even though a person sees the damage their addiction is causing, they continue to use. The fear of the circumstances the drugs may have on them is not as real as the effects of withdrawals. In fact, in many cases the withdrawal symptoms themselves seem worse than death. This fact makes it that much harder for a person to want to give up their addiction.

Knowing that addiction can lead to hardships and even death is the first step in not becoming addicted. If a person is aware of these dangers, they may be less likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Even though it is unfortunate that so many people have lost their lives, either metaphorically or physically, to addiction, the knowledge is there for others to learn from and use to their advantage. One person’s failure may be the catalyst that saves someone else from succumbing to addiction.



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