Dr. Jekyll's War On Addiction In The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde By Robert Louis Stevenson

Addiction, a chronic disease of the brain, occurs in the midst of problematic substance abuse as well as addiction to the chemicals our brain releases during activities such as sex and gambling. Although The American Society of Addictions Medicine (ASAM) states that “genetics account for about 50% of the likelihood that someone will develop an addiction”, people are certainly capable of choosing recovery over addiction which is why addictive disorders can be classified as other diseases and disorders. Consequently, in Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll concocts a magical potion separating his inner evil persona into a alter named Mr. Hyde. This magical potion, however, possess many addictive qualities which distort both the biological and psychological aspects of his personality, highlighting the novels depiction of addiction and its adverse effects on humanity. Dr. Jekyll’s curiosity and desire for experimentation contributed to the onset of his addiction. It is evident at the end of the novel that Dr. Jekyll’s first use of the substance occurred “late one accursed night” where he “compounded the elements, watched them boil and smoke together in the glass, and when the ebullition had subsided, with a strange glow of courage, drank the potion”. 

Addiction typically begins out of curiosity, peer pressure or a medical necessity because the user is now able to feel the effects of whatever substance they are using. The beginning stages of Dr. Jekyll’s addiction can be viewed from a psychological standpoint because the onset of his addiction was out of good intentions, simply wanting to further understand the duality of man. Continued use, the next stage of addiction, can be illustrated through Dr. Jekyll’s continued isolation from his friends, a psychological consequence of addiction. Mr. Utterson and Dr. Lanyon even begin to notice his absence, as Dr. Lanyon comments how “And what of that? I see little if him Dr. Jekyll now”. This absent behavior continues to happen, as Poole notes “On the 12th, and again on the 14th, the door was shut against the lawyer. `The doctor was again confined to the house`, Poole said, `and saw no one`”. Dr. Jekyll has already discovered the effects of the potion, yet he’s continuing to experiment and take the potion just for the fun of it, unleashing and strengthening Mr. Hyde even more. His scientific curiosity has now started to become obsessive and his psyche is already experiencing the brains dependence on this potion. Dr. Jekyll is starting to become addicting to the cathartic feeling of unleashing Mr. Hyde which illustrates some of the biological and psychological consequences of addiction. 

Tolerance, the 3rd stage of addiction, arrives after a period of continued use during which the body has adjusted to the drug, requiring significantly higher doses in order to feel the “high”. Because of Dr. Jekyll’s continues use of the potion, he’s now beginning to form a tolerance in which his body is no longer responding to the potions intended transformation effects. In his confession towards the end of the novel, Dr. Jekyll notes how “I drank it the potion” but “it was without efficiency”. Completely oblivious of his own tolerance, Dr. Jekyll mistakenly believed that his “first supply was impure, and that it was that unknown impurity which lent efficacy to the draught” when in reality his body required a greater, more powerful dose. A common misconception regarding tolerance is that it automatically signals an addiction when it does not. 

It can be argued that Dr. Jekyll developed a Chronic Tolerance which develops when an individual’s body adapts to constant exposure to a drug over weeks or months. People who regularly abuse prescription opioids build up chronic tolerance to the euphoric effects of these medications, leading many of them to increase the dosage taken or switch to more potent ways of taking these drugs, such as snorting or injecting Dependence is the stage where a substance abuser will become physically ill without alcohol or drugs, developing serious withdrawal symptoms. For example, in order to rid himself of Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll starts having small parties with his friends and spending more time doing what he likes to do. However, as Mr. Utterson and his friend, Mr. Enfield, are on their morning walk, they see Dr. Jekyll at his window. They start talking to him, but then “… the smile was struck out of his face and succeeded by an expression of such abject terror and despair, as froze the very blood of the two gentlemen below.” At this moment, Dr. Jekyll is experiencing major withdrawal symptoms as his body is beginning to show signs of distress and discomfort. Chemically, Dr. Jekyll’s brain has become accustomed to the substance and doesn’t function well without it. This also shows physically where a person can experience flu-like symptoms with opiates, or sweats and shakiness with alcohol. 

The 5th and final stage is the addiction itself where individuals find it nearly impossible to stop misusing drugs or alcohol, even when they no longer enjoy it or their behavior has caused serious life problems. Although Dr. Jekyll had a potion which helped push down Mr. Hyde, it was already too late. Hyde was too strong as a result of constant experimentation and addiction. 

Research has shown that segments of the population are genetically predisposed to addiction, but that the disposition is not a guarantee a person will become an addict. An individual with no predisposition can just as easily develop an addiction under the right circumstances. Whether Dr. Jekyll’s addiction formed out of a predisposition or his environment, we may never know. However, it is evident in the novel of Dr. Jekyll's psychological struggles (isolation, social abnormalities) and biological struggles (withdrawal, tolerance), as a result of his addiction to becoming and experimenting with his alter persona, Mr. Hyde. 

09 March 2021
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