The movie Requiem for a Dream is a difficult movie to watch, but gives the audience a glimpse into a world they might not ever see. I watched the movie on Hulu with my girlfriend about a month before we watched it in class. The movie portrays a group of people who eventually succumb to the horrors of drug addiction and despair. Drug addiction can change people who are full of hope and dreams into people who don’t care about anything else but getting high. People who are addicted will sometimes do anything to get their fix, and that is what Requiem for a Dream is about.
Drugs can dislocate us from ourselves and others. Drugs can cause a person to lose sight of hopes and dreams in order to satisfy cravings, and/or avoid withdrawals. In people’s brains there is an interaction between reactive reward pathways and reflective reward pathways. The reactive reward pathways motivate people towards immediate gratification through the use of things like cues and associations, while the reflective reward pathways motivate people for more abstract or long term things, for planning, reaching goals, cognitive, or social rewards. As a person transitions into drug addiction, the reflective and reactive reward systems both adapt, and work together to create exceptionally salient pathways encouraging drug use. The pathways encouraging drug use can be so strong that it overrides other reflective reward pathways that discourage drug use, making the person more concerned about using drugs than they are about life goals, social reinforcement, relationships with others, and anything else that could prevent them from using the drug. People become willing to do anything to get drug, and this movie dramatically portrayed it. In Requiem for a Dream they were willing to do anything they had to do to get more heroin, including prostitution, losing an arm, leaving a girlfriend behind, driving across the country, risking death, and prison time. As drugs become the focal point of someone’s life everything else they once enjoyed can fade away and lose meaning, leaving them stranded and hopeless with nothing left but the drug addiction, and the guilt.
A lot of times addicts end up doing terrible things like stealing, or lying to people they are close to. In Requiem for a Dream the addict steals his mother’s TV to pawn for drug money. Addicts use their reflective reward system to focus on the drugs, how and where to get their next fix, and avoid thinking about their own stressful circumstances. Addict’s lives can become very stressful, and a lot of times addicts don’t have adequate coping mechanisms to deal with the stress. When under a lot of stress they often get cravings to use drugs; if confronted about their drug addiction many addicts experience cravings to go use drugs. After using drugs to cope with stress for a period of time the associations formed in the brain can become very salient, making it difficult for addicts to deal with stress without wanting to use drugs every time. As the drug addiction progresses the old coping mechanisms used for dealing with stress can become less effective, making the person rely even more on the drug in times of stress. In Requiem for a Dream as the people became more and more addicted they changed, they didn’t care about opening up a clothing store or about each other as much at the end. They clung to their old dreams as they faded away. Eventually all they cared about was finding anyone who had heroin for sale or trade.
The movie is hard to watch because it’s difficult to see people besieged with the hopelessness and despair of drug addiction. Many drug addicts have sacrificed everything for addiction; it destroys people’s lives and tears families apart. The underlying neurobiology determines someone’s potential for becoming addicted to any particular substance, while many people try drugs, only people with certain neurobiology end up addicted, others walk away from them without any addiction. In the movie they are addicted to heroin, and it’s hard to see people out of control and struggling with addiction when they need to get treatment so they can get their lives back in order.
Addicts usually have an underlying neurobiology that makes them prone to becoming addicted before they ever try a substance. If they use a particular substance they may have an experience on the drug that has a big influence on their thoughts and behaviors. They may feel like the drug filled in something that they have always been missing. They may become obsessed with the drug, and won’t be able to do anything but think about using it again. They may feel in love with the drug. The brain can form strong associations with places, people, paraphernalia, and environments, reminding the person about the drug whenever they see one of these cues. Whenever something good happens to them they may want to use the drug, or whenever they have a stressful experience, or whenever they see a spoon, or see a straw. After using a drug a few times the pathways can become so strong the person will do anything to anyone to get more drugs, and nothing else in their lives matters anymore. Some people with certain underlying neurobiology can go from having dreams and aspirations to addiction within a very short amount of time, and after only a few uses of a drug. In the movie Requiem for a Dream they went from using drugs and still having dreams and aspirations, to desperate drug addicts who would do anything for drugs, and didn’t care about anything else within one year.