I Want It NOW! Instant Gratification and the Opioid Crisis

Updated: Oct 15, 2020


Dopamine is known as the feel-good neurotransmitter and is one reason that we love instant gratification. Dopamine is a chemical that ferries information between neurons. The brain releases it when we eat food that we crave or while we have sex, contributing to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction as part of the reward system. This important neurochemical boosts mood, motivation, and attention, and helps regulate movement, learning, and emotional responses.
The Dopamine Neuropathway

The Crisis of Instant Gratification

Introduction by Megan Van Buren

In our modern world, we are groomed to value instant gratification over patience even if the wait can result in a better outcome. Services like Amazon Prime are culprits. We can buy something and have it delivered in just a few hours, all packaged up like a Christmas present. We get a dopamine rush just by getting that package even though it may be as trivial as getting toothbrush wrapped up in a bunch of wasteful packaging.  So, it is no surprise that people seek instant results for the treatment of their ailments. Think, for example, of the feeling of mourning the loss of a family member. The distress that comes with such a life event is one that takes month or years to heal. While one may resort to drinking alcohol or even using illicit or non-illicit drugs to ease their sorrows, let us pretend for a moment that no one does. Mourning is part of the healing process. It takes time. How we deal with pain probably should not be treated much different than the process of healing from a loss. Our bodies have gone through a traumatic experience whether that be an accident, injury, or an undetermined trigger. I do not want to be the bearer of bad news, nor do I particularly like to hear this myself, but suffering from pain and healing it, often needs time.  In a society that is driven by instant gratification or instant relief, instead of patience, we would rather pop a pill, even if it is only covering up our symptoms for a time, than go through the process that reaps long-term benefits. Even if the short-term results seem greater, in the end, the ramifications may result in negative consequences. What are some of the consequences? Well, according to the CDC,...


Fast Facts on the Opioid Crisis


In 2017, 68% of the 70,237 U.S. drug overdose deaths involved an opioid.


From 1999–2018, almost 450,000 people died from an overdose involving any opioid, including prescription and illicit opioids.


Since 2013, there has been a significant increase in overdoses involving synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.


Illicitly manufactured opioids can contain dangerous combinations with heroin, cocaine and other unknown substances.


In 11% of U.S. counties, enough opioid prescriptions were dispensed for every person to have one.


The overall opioid prescribing rate in 2018 was 51.4 prescriptions per 100 people, some counties had rates that were six times higher than that.


What is an Opioid?


Opioids are a class of drugs that interact with opioid receptors in the brain and the body.

Methadone, Vicodin, Heroin, Codeine, Percocet, Oxycodone, Tramadol
Names and Nicknames for some opiod-containing drugs

The body also naturally produces opioids such as endorphins, but research has found that drugs activate these receptors in the body differently and more widespread than naturally occurring opioids do. Miriam Stoeber, PhD, worked in the UCSF laboratory studying how both synthetic opioids and naturally occurring “endogenous” opioids activate opioid receptors. She states that “Drugs, which we generally thought of as mimics of endogenous opioids, actually produce different effects by activating receptors in a place that natural molecules cannot access.


This is why opioids can be dangerous if misused and misprescribed. Research in the recent years has proved that opioids should not necessarily be a first-line treatment for pain due to its unknown and uncontrollable side effects.


The most commonly prescribed opioids that you have probably heard of are oxycodone aka Oxy or OxyContin, hydrocodone aka Vicodin and oxycodone-acetaminophen aka Percocet. Heroin is an illicit opioid made from morphine.




References and Further Information


Opioid Crisis Facts: https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html

Opioids Defined: https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/opioids

How OpioidsActivate Receptors: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/how-opioid-drugs-activate-receptors

Natural Opioids Affect Brain Cells Differently: https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2018/05/410376/bodys-natural-opioids-affect-brain-cells-much-differently-morphine

Practice Guidelines for Treating Opioid Overdoses: https://www.asam.org/docs/default-source/practice-support/guidelines-and-consensus-docs/asam-national-practice-guideline-supplement.pdf

Physical Therapist's Role in the Opioid Crisis: https://www.choosept.com/resources/detail/7-staggering-statistics-about-america-s-opioid-epi

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