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Requiem for a Dream: The Living Hell of Drug Abuse

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Requiem for a Dream depicts four people struggling with drug addictions, each in very different ways. Sara Goldfarb is a widow who lives alone and spends her days watching television and obsesses over one day being on television herself. Sara’s son, Harry Goldfarb, is a heroin addict along with his girlfriend, Marion Silver, and friend, Tyrone Love. The three of them also traffic drugs as a way to reach their dreams in life; Tyrone wants to get out of squalor and make his mother proud of him while Marion and Harry wish to open a clothing store. Sara receives a call with an opportunity to be on television, and when she realizes she does not fit into her favorite red dress she seeks weight loss help from a doctor who prescribes her amphetamines. Harry notices the obvious signs that his mother is on “uppers” and encourages her to stop taking the medication, but she protests that her chance to be on television is one of her only reasons to live. Sara later develops amphetamine psychosis from her constant use of the medication in order for her to lose weight. Meanwhile, Harry and Tyrone are struggling to find heroin until they hear of a shipment coming to New York from Florida for a high price. Harry asks Marion to have sex with her therapist for money so that they can buy heroin, which she ends up doing. Harry and Tyrone’s effort to buy heroin is ruined when the location where they were buying heroin from was shot up. Sara’s amphetamine psychosis becomes so severe that she takes a train to the television station in a hallucinogenic state. She asks the workers at the station when she will be on TV, which they then call the police due to her alarming mental state. Sara is then committed to a psychiatric hospital and undergoes electroconvulsive therapy. Tyrone and Harry decide to travel to Florida to buy heroin directly from the source. During their drive, Harry complains of his severely infected arm from injecting heroin. They stop at a hospital to get treatment for Harry, which results in the two of them being arrested. While Tyrone and Harry were traveling to Florida, Marion becomes desperate for drugs and sells her body to a pimp in exchange for heroin. Sara’s electroconvulsive therapy leaves her in a vegetative state, Harry’s infected arm is amputated, Tyrone is harassed by racist prison guards, and Marion becomes invested in prostitution.

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Requiem for a Dream is full of psychological issues that result from drug abuse and addiction. The specific psychological disorder I will be discussing is drug addiction, high-risk behaviors associated with addiction, withdrawal, and the psychological effects addiction can have on a person. Each of the four main characters struggles with addiction in very different but also extremely similar ways. This analysis will review how addiction impacts each of the main characters in Requiem for a Dream while also relating these characters’ struggles with problems that are prevalent in society today.

Sara Goldfarb becomes addicted to amphetamines after being prescribed by an unscrupulous doctor to aid in weight loss. Even though this movie came out in 2000, amphetamine addiction is a reality for many Americans. While the number of people who are addicted to amphetamines is difficult to figure, we do know that the U.S. saw a 53% increase in ADHD prescriptions, one of the most widely used amphetamine, between 2008 and 2012. Sara becomes obsessed with losing weight in order to fit into a red dress she wants to wear on television. She begins to abuse her prescription and falls into a state of amphetamine psychosis. Drug-induced psychosis has been found in 8 to 46% of everyday users of amphetamines (Glasner-Edwards et al., 2008). A few of the symptoms of amphetamine-induced psychosis include paranoia, hyperactivity, reduced appetite, and insomnia among others (Bramness et al., 2012). All of the above are prevalent and can be seen in Sara. In the movie, she is shown hallucinating that her fridge is violently shaking, almost begging for her to open it and eat after not eating due to her loss of appetite. Sara is hyperactive and suffers from insomnia when it is shown that she is up all night re-organizing her house and cleaning it top to bottom. Once Sara is admitted into a psychiatric hospital, doctors try a variety of different treatments with no results. They resort to electroconvulsive therapy, which puts her into a vegetative state.

While Sara was struggling with amphetamine addiction, her son, Harry, was going through his own struggles with addiction. Harry, like 626,000 other Americans, has an addiction to heron). Harry starts using heroin infrequently at first with his friend Tyrone. The first time they are shown taking heroin in the film, Tyrone is dancing to hip hop music while Harry is seen kissing his girlfriend. Later they have a party where everyone binges on drugs. Harry at first is filled with motivation and dreams of opening a clothing store for his girlfriend, Marion, to sell her clothing designs. Harry and Tyrone are bringing in a lot of money from trafficking drugs and are seemingly happy with how their lives are going. Harry and Marion have a healthy relationship at the beginning as well. This all comes to a halt when there is a lull in their drug supply, and all three of them become desperate for drugs and money.

The healthy relationship that Marion and Harry once had begins to break down as the need for heroin intensifies. They begin to go through heroin withdrawals which include agitation, sweating, vomiting, and many more symptoms (Kampman & Jarvis, 2015). These withdrawal symptoms are present in a scene where Marion wakes up in the middle of the night, sweating profusely from her and Harry being out of heroin. The next day, Harry and Marion have a heated argument about not having any heroin, the two frequently argue over how they are going to get their next fix of heroin throughout the movie. In many scenes of the movie it also shows the characters sweating often followed by arguments, signifying that they haven’t had heroin for an extended period of time and are going through withdrawals.

When discussing this movie, it is important to understand the psychology behind drug abuse and addiction. Why do people keep using these drugs even when it is causing such significant pain to them physically and emotionally? Psychology can help us understand why people use drugs, even when they know it is harmful to them. People use drugs because they know that they will receive a benefit from it. Whether the benefit is stress relief, receiving pleasure from the drug, or as a coping mechanism for negative situations, it all ties back to drug use primarily being an easy way to escape emotions or to deal with them in an easier way than addressing the cause of the problem. In Requiem for a Dream, Marion actually has a therapist, someone that would be good for her to seek help for her addiction problem. Marion’s addiction though is at a point where she does not recognize that she needs help, so she never mentions it to her therapist, she even stops going to her therapist. This is important because a lot of drug addicts are usually in denial of their addiction and rarely seek help for themselves.

Requiem for a Dream also highlights the high-risk behaviors that are associated with drug use. The movie shows behaviors such as risky sexual behavior, subjecting themselves to violent situations, and physical harm as a result of injecting heroin. The movie depicts Marion in multiple scenes engaging in risky sexual behavior to get heroin. She has sex with her therapist for money and later on, becomes involved with a pimp in exchange for heroin. The pimp tells her of a sex party he is hosting and tells her if she performs sex acts at the party she will get a large amount of heroin as payment. Desperate for heroin, she performs at the party in order to get heroin. These acts of prostitution for people struggling with opiate addictions are very prevalent today. A 2011 study of 65 at-risk women found that 44.6% of the subjects were opiate users and it was also reported that sex work was the main source of income for more than half of the sample (Roshanfekr et al., 2015). Although this study included relatively small sample size, it is important to note that data about this topic is hard to collect as most people do not wish to disclose this sensitive information to researchers. This data goes to show that Marion’s resort to prostitution is not a one-off occurrence. She resorts to prostitution in order to satisfy her drug needs, even though she doesn’t want to, like many other women who are addicted to opiates do. In the film, she is seen struggling with the idea of having sex in order to satisfy her addiction, but the physical and psychological effects of her withdrawal symptoms overcomes her rationality and feels she has to do it. I found it very important that this film highlights prostitution in women who are addicted to opiates, something that is not frequently discussed. This also shows how strong the psychological need for drugs is when withdrawal symptoms are so severe on a person’s mind and body, they can take extreme measures in order to satisfy those symptoms.

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Requiem for a Dream shows the very real and scary consequences of drug addiction on a person’s emotions and body. Drug addiction is a complex psychological disorder that is still being researched and professionals are working hard to understand even to this day. This movie touches on multiple aspects of drug addiction such as psychological effects due to drug abuse, mental and physical withdrawal symptoms, high-risk behaviors that those addicted to drugs engage in, and many more. When we think of psychological disorders, the disorders that often first come to mind are typically not substance-related. Substance abuse and drug addiction are very much so an important mental illness that should be recognized by more people. Requiem for a Dream shows the living hell that thousands of those addicted to drugs struggled with every day. This film helps shed light on a psychological disorder that is often misinterpreted by society that those addicted to drugs are “junkies” and choose to live a life of addiction. It is important to see the psychological side of this disease and to understand the inner turmoil addicts experience and live with.


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