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Heroin Addiction: Knowing Your Enemy

One of the most poignant principles of author Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” is that before going into battle, a person should know as much as they can about their enemy so that they can circumvent their strengths and take advantage of their weaknesses. Heroin addiction is the enemy of people, and Sun Tzu’s principle can be applied by anyone going into battle to free themselves from an addiction to heroin.

Opiates (drugs such as codeine, morphine, and heroin that are derived from the poppy plant or synthesized to emulate its effects) are commonly used in medicine as powerful painkillers. They reduce pain by directly attaching to receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral parts of a person’s nervous system, blocking pain signals to the brain, and thereby reducing a person’s feelings of pain; they are so powerful that they are usually only looked to as suppressors of the most severe levels of pain. They have a number of common side effects including dizziness, nausea, vomiting, constipation, sedation, physical dependence, tolerance, and respiratory depression; some of these side effects can lead to death, especially if excessive amounts of the drugs are taken.

Let the Heroin Addiction Battle Begin

Due to its limited potential for medicinal benefits and its high risk of addiction, permanent bodily damage, and death, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has designated heroin as an illegal schedule I drug, or a drug that, according to the United States Department of Justice, has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.”

It is becoming increasingly obvious that despite diligent efforts from awareness programs and law enforcement agencies that heroin is a growing problem and there are an overwhelming number of factors contributing to the spread of this epidemic, but there is hope, even for those who have been stricken by a severe addiction to the drug. Following are the methods by which beginning and winning the battle with heroin addiction is achievable.

Facts Versus Myths

There are a number of heroin-related myths that prevent people from pursuing adequate treatment for themselves, or heroin addicted friends and family. Some of these myths are:

Heroin is less dangerous when inhaled.

  • The truth about this is that heroin is just as deadly and addictive no matter how it enters the body. In fact, it is often more dangerous when smoked or snorted, because the act does not seem as aesthetically dangerous as injection of the drug into the bloodstream.

Heroin is only abused by people over 30, so you don’t have to worry about the younger folk in your family using heroin.

  • The average age of heroin abusers is in fact 21 years old, and many of these abusers are under the age of 13. If it appears as though someone close to you is abusing heroin, don’t ignore it. They need your help.

You can’t seek the aid of a rehab facility until you have hit “rock bottom.”

  • Although many heroin abusers don’t bother to seek out aid until they can overtly see the destruction it causes in their lives, rehabilitation facilities help people at all levels of heroin addiction.

As long as you control the dosage, you don’t have to worry about overdosing.

  • The purity of heroin is so varied that it is impossible to determine how much you are ingesting from any dose; a dose of the same size as the last one you took could have triple the amount of heroin, for example.

Abstaining from use is an adequate treatment for heroin addiction.

  • While the desired end result is to never use heroin again, the drug is so strong that trying to quit on your own usually results in failure; it can also have dangerous consequences, as those with the most powerful addictions may experience organ failure, or even death as a result of trying to quit without professional help.

Ways Heroin Overdoses Occur

Overdosing on these potent painkillers is relatively easy, and the sedative effect that is commonly described as “euphoric” has led to widespread abuse; an estimated thirteen and a half million people abuse opiates. Of those people, nearly seventy percent specifically abuse the opiate, heroin. In the United States alone, 3.7 million people have abused heroin in their lifetimes, and 314,000 of these people have used the drug in the past year. The primary abusers are individuals over the age of 26, but in recent years the number of heroin users between the ages of 12 and 17 has spiked by over 300 percent. Those are just the abuse statistics for heroin, but here are the deadly facts: in 2001, heroin caused deadly overdoses in 1,901 people; in 2009, that number spiked to nearly 3,500; that doesn’t include deaths due to long- term medical complications caused by heroin.

There are a couple of ways that heroin overdoses can happen, and here is how:

Blood clotting

  • Heroin does not dissolve in the blood, no matter how much or little enters the bloodstream; it can clump up and cause deadly blood clots in the brain, heart, and other vital organs.
  • As a breathing suppressant, heroin can force people into breathless sleeps or comas, essentially strangling its victims to death.
  • Heroin can also cause extreme vomiting; sometimes the vomit is inhaled to flood the lungs and prevent breathing.

Asphyxiation

How Heroin Destroys the Body Long Term

Heroin addiction is not just a fast killer that causes quick, violent overdose deaths. Abuse can lead to a number of deadly or disconcerting disorders such as:

Lung disease

  • Heroin suppresses coughing and can lead to hyperventilation; this can lead to the contraction of deadly lung diseases.
  • Heroin is known to reduce the sex drive in both men and women; it can also lead to erectile dysfunction.
  • People’s bodies can become so addicted to heroin that they develop a level of physical dependence that makes ceasing use without a gradual weaning process deadly.
  • Heroin doesn’t only affect breathing; constant interaction with the brain, heart, liver, lungs, and other organs has degenerative effects that can lead to severe damage or total organ failure. The damages caused often require long-term medical treatment or organ transplants.
  • Heroin is a very abrasive substance, so repeated inhalation of the drug strips the nasal lining, increasing the susceptibility to airborne diseases.
  • Injecting heroin can lead to abscesses—inflammations of the skin resulting from infection—that can lead to the infection of internal organs.
  • Even a single injection can result in a collapsed vein, and collapsed veins may or may not recover; if they do not, victims suffer a permanent reduction in blood circulation.

Sexual dormancy, Deadly physical dependence, Organ damage, Destruction of the nasal lining, Abscesses of the skin, Collapsed veins

Heroin Can be Defeated

Although heroin is highly addictive and has many ways to destroy the body, addiction to the deadly drug can be beaten. The biggest weakness that heroin has is that breaking addiction is very possible; in fact, as many as 6 out of every 10 rehabilitation center patients never experience a single relapse.

Treatment for Heroin Addiction

Now that heroin’s many strengths, and its huge weakness is known, it is important to know how to attack that weakness without being overcome by its strengths.

DIY Treatment is Not the Answer

Self-treatment for heroin addiction has the highest failure rate of any approach, regardless of the techniques used. Also, some of these attempts result in death due to the shock of trying to stop abusing the drug improperly. The fact remains that professional doctors and nurses have the medical knowledge and resources available that can help people safely and permanently end their addiction to heroin.

Most Common Types of Professional Treatment

Medication treatment

  • Medication treatment of heroin addiction allows for a weaning of the addiction without the dangerous risks of abuse.
  • Often required for more severe cases of heroin addiction
  • The centers will often use an opiate substitute, such as methadone—which is similar to, but less dangerous than heroin—to help wean people off of the drug.
  • This encompasses a combination of professional therapy, family therapy, and motivational incentives.
  • For less extreme cases of heroin addiction, this is often the primary or only method of treatment.
  • Behavioral treatment rehab methods are often used in conjunction with medication treatments for moderate to severe cases of addiction.

Behavioral treatment

Regardless of what approach is used, it is imperative that heroin addicts seek professional help; it cannot be stressed enough that do-it-yourself recovery from heroin addiction is extremely ineffective, and much more dangerous than professional methods.

Abuse Prevention

Public and private institutions are striving for a reduction in heroin addiction or abuse through drug awareness programs, and heroin is an oft mentioned drug in these programs; many of them start in elementary school and continue throughout grade school education. Proponents of these sorts of programs cite their success through the numerous alternatives to drug abuse that they create for people.

As heroin abuse continues to infect our lives, it is important that the people fight back, and that proper solutions to abuse and prevention resources are sought out. The only ones who can stop heroin abuse are us.

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