Drug Story Theater

Joseph Shrand, MD

Drug Story Theater: Where the Treatment of One Becomes the Prevention of Many

Dr Shrand’s opening is about the definition of stigma – he shows us the Gary Larson Tuba player gag to illustrate!

His work in Drug Story Theater involves young people participating in theater, treating teenagers in the early stages of addiction recovery, and he describes how the first scene of one of their recent shows talks about dopamine, and its connection to addiction.

Some stats: If you start using drugs or alcohol after the age of 21, one out of 25 people will become addicted. If you start before 18, this drops to [an astonishing!] one in 4. If the young developing brain has a chance to choose between fear and pleasure, it will choose pleasure every time.

The teenage brain responds differently [than the adult brain] to addiction, risk, trust, and experience.

From dopamine, we move to Oxytocin – a neurohormone described as “the chemical of trust”. Chemically, as it’s described in the show, dopamine interferes with oxytocin. Dr Shrand now describes teenage cast members’ discussions about trust, and how their drug experience has eroded trust – of others, and with others.

“Addiction is not about morality, it’s about mortality”.

Dr Joseph Shrand

He asks his groups “how many of you know someone who has died [through an experience with opioids]?” Dozens of hands will go up during the sessions. We see some stats – 80% of 6th graders think marijuana is not addictive… and this number drops throughout the teenage years. The evidence, he suggests, supports the view that a large proportion of opioid-addicted teens began by smoking weed, and discusses the long-term risks of Massachusetts’ recent legalization initiative.

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