This post is part of a collaborative narrative series composed of my writing and Chris Arnade’s photos exploring issues of addiction, poverty, prostitution and urban anthropology in Hunts Point, Bronx. For more on the series, look here.
Genetic factors have been implicated in the development of substance abuse disorders, but the role of pre-existing vulnerability in addiction is still poorly understood. Personality traits of impulsivity and sensation-seeking are highly prevalent in chronic drug users and have been linked with an increased risk for substance abuse. However, it has not been clear whether these personality traits are a cause or an effect of stimulant drug dependence.
We compared self-reported levels of impulsivity and sensation-seeking between 30 sibling pairs of stimulant-dependent individuals and their biological brothers/sisters who did not have a significant drug-taking history and 30 unrelated, nondrug-taking control volunteers.
Siblings of chronic stimulant users reported significantly higher levels of trait-impulsivity than control volunteers but did not differ from control volunteers with regard to sensation-seeking traits. Stimulant-dependent individuals reported significantly higher levels of impulsivity and sensation-seeking compared with both their siblings and control volunteers.
These data indicate that impulsivity is a behavioral endophenotype mediating risk for stimulant dependence that may be exacerbated by chronic drug exposure, whereas abnormal sensation-seeking is more likely to be an effect of stimulant drug abuse.¹
You are good today. Not annoyed but perhaps entitled to be.
The eyeliner that you drew on with magic marker last night is still visible. A waste — you couldn’t find a date because the grocery store burned down. You went off to get a cigarette and when you came back the shit was on fire. A fire that was put out, and rekindled in fits by shelves of groceries, throughout the night. The morning revealed a boarded-up storefront.
Your speech turns faster at the neighborhood gossip. You get joy from this action, from knowing something, a little.
They barred the roads with police tape and policemen who didn’t know anything. You were out for seven hours without a car to climb into, hustling back and forth in a purple plaid shirt-dress and matching flip flops. A life-size American Girl doll.
Now, you shoot up like a hummingbird, needle out of Dr Pepper cap. It looks to be a simpler task than it is: finding water for the cap took a 15-minute search for an open fire hydrant. You mentioned using water puddling with oil sheen on the street’s edges, searching for concern. You sought discarded water bottles.
The vein, the botched grey line you consistently dig into on your forearm, takes longer to hit than usual. You blow through your mouth each time you depress the syringe. Blood goes up, tries to go back down with drug mix, and gets stuck.
Finding comfort, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.
After you hit, you nod, head nearly resting on knees. It your joints were better, your head would rest.
Your re-joining the world takes the effort of those around you. You dislike this attention and overcompensate for normalcy by exaggerating the collection of your possessions — plastic bags, purse, syringe and drug scraps. You try at speaking in regular rhythms, about regular things.
“I’ve got everything, and I’m going to take this soda to Roy. He’ll like that.”
You shake the cap of its hydrant water and replace it on the drink, saving the bottle’s quarter-full contents for Roy, the man who loosely rules the expressway cavern you live in.
He always complains when you don’t bring him anything.
Before the heroin you did crack, so after the heroin, after the nodding and slowness, you become manic.
You search the gutter as if something is lost, as you do every time you complete your drug circuit. You stoop to grab empty bottles and other trash to place in the small plastic bags on your arms, kept for some purpose unknown.
A stranger approaches to share a cigarette butt that you unstick from the wet ground. You share because you are good today or because you hope for something in return.
Tweeking for a butt, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.