How Is The Opioid Epidemic Affecting The Youth?
When an epidemic of the proportions the opioid epidemic is ravaging the world, the youth have to be taken into consideration. Losing friends, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, schoolteachers, and other critical adults in their lives to opioids takes a toll. Experiencing the opioid epidemic second hand has an effect. Exposure to a drug-affected world is a unique experience for a generation. Comparable might be children of the seventies and eighties who faced cocaine and crack addiction, respectively. Consistently since the mid to late nineties, then into the early new millennium, opioid addiction has become a global problem. Currently in America, the new estimates for the opioid overdose death toll in 2016 has reached 59,000 people- 7,000 more than 2015. A leading cause of accidental death, the opioid epidemic is raw and exposed, which means millions of children around the nation are bearing witness.
Dr. Nadine Burke Harris of the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco tells Mother Jones that children growing up in the face of opioid addiction are developing an abnormal stress response she and many of her professional colleagues has labeled “toxic stress”. “Toxic stress are the long-term changes to not only brain structure and function, but also to the hormonal system, immune system, and even all the way down to the way our DNA is read and transcribed,” the doctor explains.
Chronic triggering of a toxic stress response system conditions the brain to live on hypervigilant edge, which is not how the brain is designed to consistently function. Children who are constantly exposed to the kind of stressful situations which inspire a toxic stress response are more likely to develop mental and behavioral health problems. Namely, substance abuse and substance dependency. If a child’s enduring stressful conditions happen to include a parent who is struggling with substance dependency, the child’s likelihood is increased further. A genetic predisposition, environmental factors, and a flailing balance in the brain creates a ripe condition for the development of a substance use problem.
Scientifically, Harris says, there is little referential research which would indicate that scientists have had a good look at how the physical brain is changing. Based on behavioral changes, however, she predicts there would be evidence in the amygdala, the fear center of the brain, as well as the nucleus accumbens, the pleasure center of the brain. The amygdala, she described, would be enlarged and the nucleus accumbens, in contrast, might be smaller with less functioning.
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