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From Hero to Zero – Heroin is guaranteed to bring you down

Alcohol and drug dependency is a sad and ever-growing reality in South Africa.

Accessibility to illegal substances is at an all-time high, with children being exposed to all types of addiction (direct or indirect) from a very young age. Much evidence exists that substance dependency behaviour and its effects are passed down from generation to generation.

The range of drugs available to the average person on the street is alarming; the cost of drugs isn’t much of a problem as there are plenty of drugs available that are more affordable, with longer-lasting effects and with unsurprisingly far worse negative side-effects. 

A dangerous drug, which has taken fixed ground in our society, is heroin. Heroin is often called “H, Brown, Big H, Black tar, Brown sugar, Dope, Horse, Junk, Mud, Skag and Smack.”

Heroin is one of the most widely used “hard” drugs. It is reputed to have the worst addictive effect and withdrawal symptoms of any drug and because of its addictive qualities, quickly monopolises the user’s financial and other resources.

Heroin has a "downer" effect which affects the brain's pleasure systems and interferes with the brain's ability to perceive pain.

Heroin can be used in a variety of ways, depending on user preference and the purity of the drug. Heroin can be injected into the vein or the muscle, smoked in a pipe, mixed in a marijuana joint or a regular cigarette, inhaled as smoke through a straw ( which is known as "chasing the dragon”), or snorted as powder via the nose.

A small dose of heroin gives a feeling of content, warmth and absolute well-being; a bigger dose can make you lethargic, heavy-eyed and very relaxed. However given the challenge of having to accurately calibrate the dosage of such a powerful narcotic, the initial rush can commonly be followed by nausea, vomiting, and severe itching.

Vomiting combined with the powerful sedative effect sometimes leads to users asphyxiating on their vomit in their sleep, Jimi Hendrix being a well-known example.

Because users do not know what the exact strength of the heroin is or what it may be mixed with, they are regularly at risk of death by overdose.

Studies show that after five years of use the average heroin user has a ninety percent chance of contracting hepatitis C. Also the risks are higher of contracting HIV and other diseases from sharing non-sterile needles as the drug is normally injected.

Some physical side effects of heroin use include:

  • Depressed respiration (shallow breathing)
  • Troubled mental functioning and feelings of cloudy thoughts
  • Decrease in pain from either physical conditions or emotional anguish
  • Uncontrollable feelings of itching that result in compulsive scratching or picking at skin, users experience the itchy blood symptom
  • Chronic pneumonia or other pulmonary diseases
  • Blood clots or tissue death resulting from collapsed veins or impurities
  • Bacterial infections
  • Liver disease
  • Arthritis and other rheumatological problems
  • Seizures
  • Heart problems, including infection of heart lining and valves

On top of all of these deterring effects the withdrawal symptoms and extreme cravings are incredibly difficult to overcome and are often the number one cause of relapse for those looking to end their heroin abuse. 

Heroin medically assisted detox, dealing with the above, should be looked at as the very first step of many and with professional help in improving new coping skills the physical addiction and its issues may be addressed correctly.

At Step Away we incorporate many coping skills and mechanisms into our heroin addiction treatment program. We empower and encourage patients to deal with their addiction as a holistic one; this enables them to address problems which in times of weakness would be drug-use triggers and past matters which could have fuelled the problem of addiction to begin with.

Our alcohol and drug rehabilitation centre induces the idea that there is never “no hope” and every individual deserves another chance. We hope to educate the public and help spread the necessary information through our monthly newsletters and social media.

A life free from drug and alcohol dependency is just a step away.

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