The numbers don’t lie: twenty-somethings all over the world are engaging in heroin use, and chances are, you have at least heard about the heroin epidemic or may know someone who is affected by it (or maybe you are even affected yourself).

The numbers don’t lie: twenty-somethings all over the world are engaging in heroin use, and chances are, you have at least heard about the heroin epidemic or may know someone who is affected by it (or maybe you are even affected yourself).

This article will be geared towards people who have not experienced addiction to heroin personally – mostly because I haven’t had that experience and there’s no way I could write about it. This article will include a little history, a little information about what the drug does in the body, and some things us non-addicts should keep in mind.

There are a lot of NA meetings which will help you cope with addiction or prevent one. At the meetings, you and the other people will discuss all the psychological issues in a comfortable way, share your emotions, and get support. The meetings are often free and anonymous, so that you can freely discuss what really disturbs you.

The first thing to know is that this ain’t no Reefer Madness.

You’ve probably heard about the outrageous campaigns against drugs in the past, like Reefer Madness, a propaganda film created to scare high schoolers about the dangers of marijuana (it ended up just being hilarious though).

The fight against heroin isn’t about wholesomeness or morality, it’s about keeping people alive (and in control of their lives).

Heroin isn’t a new drug, but it is a relative newcomer to the white suburbs. Over the past several decades, it has transitioned from being a mainly inner-city minority-focused problem to a white teenager/twenty-something issue. I wonder if it becoming a white problem has anything to do with its wider coverage in the media over the past few years? Just a thought.

Many people in our generation were put through the international substance abuse prevention program called “Drug Abuse Resistance Education”, or D.A.R.E. Do ya’ll remember this? From what I can recall, the focus was on the dangers of marijuana and alcohol. There was very little in the way of talking to us like intelligent kids; the focus was on trying to scare us out of our wits. Very few of my classmates took it seriously because it seemed like a joke, and it turns out the program was not very effective anywhere.

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Since D.A.R.E. seemed like a giant joke, drugs also seemed like a joke. Marijuana didn’t turn out to be the scary monster they made it out to be; in fact, a recent Gallup poll shows that nearly 44% of Americans have tried marijuana and about 10 percent use it regularly. Alcohol felt about the same – like yeah, this stuff can be bad if you overdo it, but it certainly isn’t an evil serum out to steal all the light from our lives.

Because of that, it might be easy to make the jump to an assumption that all drugs are harmless if you use them responsibly.

Opioids and opiates are different from alcohol and marijuana, though, because they are even more highly addictive and deadly.

Opioids and opiates release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes a user feel like ~everything’s good~. They bind to the opiate receptor and block the neurotransmitters that typically counterbalance dopamine. Soon after taking the drug, the brain is practically swimming in dopamine (that’s not the medical terminology, but you get what I mean). Worries are gone, pain is gone, and everything seems right in the world. If you’re interested in what some users have to say about how it feels, give this page a scroll.

After several times taking the drug, the circuits become desensitized to it and the body slows down its natural dopamine production — makes sense, because it thinks it has more than enough.

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This is where the trap of addiction starts. The user now has to take drugs just to bring their dopamine levels to a normal level and feel alright. It’s not even to get high anymore, it’s just to avoid feeling sick and depressed and gloomy and more awful than I can probably put into words. Again, if you want to hear some descriptions from people who have experienced it, let this page be your guide.

Many of the opioids that are familiar brand names to us (OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, and several others) function in this way. A lot of the time, addicts start on these prescription drugs and get addicted that way.

There are several reasons that heroin is particularly harmful.

One reason is that it’s impossible for a user to know what is in a particular hit – pure heroin is white, but usually it’s more of a tan, grey, or even black color because of additives tossed in there. Each time a user does heroin, they’re taking a risk that what’s in the hit isn’t going to kill them. Sometimes it does.

Another risk is from the needles that some addicts use (other smoke or snort it). Any intravenous drug includes risk of HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis C.

Lastly, a huge risk is what the drug actually does to the body. If a user takes enough, they might start to nod (essentially, passing out in euphoria). It might seem like they’re sleeping, but the drug is actually slowing down their heart rate and breathing which can lead to suffocation. This happens a lot.

There are some other things us non-users should know about heroin:

First, the stigma attached to heroin use is not warranted and it’s not your business to judge a user. People who are addicted to heroin have a disease – maybe they did make a mistake sometime in the past that led them to this place, but we all make mistakes and those mistakes do not define us.

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We also don’t always know the story or mental health issues that drove them to use. They deserve your respect and compassion no matter what.

Second, it’s not your responsibility to save them. You cannot singlehandedly make an addict better no matter how hard you try. It’s a difficult reality to confront, but addiction is powerful and they will find a way to use if they truly want to.

By all means, be there for them and do what you can to make sure they are safe, but please do not feel responsible for their disease.

Third, heroin addicts are often functional and work normal jobs– not in spite of the heroin, but because of it. Often, addicts are just trying to stay ahead of the withdrawals, not necessarily get high. You might know some addicts and not even realize it.

Lastly, understand that you will probably never “get it.” Neither will I. I will never feel how awful the withdrawals are or how intense the urge is to use, so I can’t put myself in their shoes and say “well if I was them, I would do this, this, and this to get better.”

We can’t live it ourselves (and we don’t want to), so the best thing we can do is listen and do our best to support them without judgement.