Poster Title

Already Addicted: 200 Years of Opioid Use & Abuse in Literature

Grade Level at Time of Presentation

Senior

Major

English

Minor

Psychology

Institution

Northern Kentucky University

KY House District #

68

KY Senate District #

24

Department

Department of English

Abstract

When Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater was published nearly 200 years ago, he wrote through a myriad of excuses, spending the first half of the narrative explaining the dire shape of his life that might cause him to abuse a substance. Nearly a century later, Dr. John Harrison Hughes follows with Autobiography of a Drug Fiend, on the tail end of a long line of De Quincey-inspired drug confessionals. This work, while similar in tone, was written by a physician, not a literary author. In this project, I argue that the very same pathways to addiction that plagued De Quincey and Hughes are the ones that haunt us today. Both authors began taking opium and morphine, respectively, as a means of treating physical symptoms when, at the time, opiates were seen as the panacea of treatments. But they were surrounded by many other problems, those that are similar to ones we see in addiction today. I have consulted with many personal narratives of drug abuse in both America and abroad, as well as scholarly texts from Psychology, History, and Literature alike in order to demonstrate that substance use disorder has always, and will always be intertwined with issues of race, socioeconomic status, patient-physician relationships, and sexuality. Until policymakers and treatment professionals acknowledge drug addiction as a complex and multifaceted issue, the opioid epidemic will likely continue for another 200 years. By examining the opioid epidemic through the lens of literary texts, we may achieve a fuller understanding of this issue.

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Already Addicted: 200 Years of Opioid Use & Abuse in Literature

When Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater was published nearly 200 years ago, he wrote through a myriad of excuses, spending the first half of the narrative explaining the dire shape of his life that might cause him to abuse a substance. Nearly a century later, Dr. John Harrison Hughes follows with Autobiography of a Drug Fiend, on the tail end of a long line of De Quincey-inspired drug confessionals. This work, while similar in tone, was written by a physician, not a literary author. In this project, I argue that the very same pathways to addiction that plagued De Quincey and Hughes are the ones that haunt us today. Both authors began taking opium and morphine, respectively, as a means of treating physical symptoms when, at the time, opiates were seen as the panacea of treatments. But they were surrounded by many other problems, those that are similar to ones we see in addiction today. I have consulted with many personal narratives of drug abuse in both America and abroad, as well as scholarly texts from Psychology, History, and Literature alike in order to demonstrate that substance use disorder has always, and will always be intertwined with issues of race, socioeconomic status, patient-physician relationships, and sexuality. Until policymakers and treatment professionals acknowledge drug addiction as a complex and multifaceted issue, the opioid epidemic will likely continue for another 200 years. By examining the opioid epidemic through the lens of literary texts, we may achieve a fuller understanding of this issue.