Heroin is a highly addictive, illicit drug that is most commonly used intravenously.
Heroin users report experiencing:
- Dry mouth
- Heaviness in the extremities
- A “rush,” followed by nodding in and out of consciousness
- Impaired motor coordination
Other side effects from using the drug have been reported as well. Both males and females can become addicted to heroin in a very short period of time. Addiction to heroin is characterized by the compulsion to use heroin despite an onset of negative consequences and despite the user’s best attempts at stopping via willpower alone. Heroin addiction is also marked by a tolerance to heroin. As a result of an acquired tolerance, the user requires increasingly high levels of heroin to simply feel normal or to reap the same effect a lesser dose once provided.
Dangers for Women
The latter can be very dangerous for women. While under the influence, there are many different heroin addiction risks such as, women are more likely to engage in promiscuous sexual activity. Such promiscuity can lead to sexually transmitted diseases, unplanned pregnancy and a host of emotional problems. In addition, users risk hepatitis and HIV/AIDS from sharing hypodermic needles. Thankfully, drug treatment programs are specifically designed to help women heal from the debilitating effects of heroin addiction. A life that has become very dark, narrow and isolated for the addict has the potential to be refilled with light and meaning.
“I Can’t, We Can” is the name of a local 12-step Narcotics Anonymous meeting in the LA area. What is the significance of this motto? According to scientific research, combined with extensive empirical evidence, working together as a group is a more effective route for overcoming addiction than when an addict tackles the disease alone. The method has proven especially effective for women.
When women rely on other sober women within the 12-step program, their rehabilitation center or a trusted network of sober peers, their odds of sustaining long-term sobriety are elevated.
What makes groupthink so effective? When an addict feels as though she is the sum of a greater whole, a piece of a completed puzzle, she is restored with security. Her sense of self is defined not only by her actions but through the actions of the group conscience as well. Herein, the female addict in early sobriety learns to adopt the mindset of her peers. Working together, team members keep each other in check, as everyone involved must be accountable to the others.
For example, Mary is a heroin addict who is attending a heroin addiction treatment option she chose. She is 25 days sober, and plans to stay in the facility for a total of 90 days. During the last few days of her first month in treatment, she begins showing up late for group sessions. She stops opening up in the group forum like she had previously; her demeanor is beginning to shift. Immediately, peers take notice. They approach her in a non-confrontational way and ask if anything is wrong, or if she is experiencing outstanding issues that she is afraid to speak about. Through the gentle guidance of her fellow peers, she breaks down and reveals that she has been considering a divorce with her husband and the related anxiety is driving her off-course. Her peers comfort her; resident assistants take note of her psychological condition at this juncture; and appropriate action is taken to keep Mary invested in the program and focused specifically on her recovery from addiction.
If Mary were at home and going through the same feelings, she could easily isolate in her room for weeks at a time, turn the phone off and deadbolt the front door. Her accountability would be minimal to none. Through working with a group, Mary learns to be transparent with her feelings and where she stands, mentally. Habits are formed that involve:
- Expressing concerns and needs in an assertive, but not aggressive, manner
- Working on effective communication skills
- Calling a sponsor, or someone with more sobriety than her in whom she trusts, for advice during a difficult time period
- Leaving trust in someone else’s hands – whether it be the group as a whole, a power greater than herself that she understands and relates to or a therapist
- Verbalizing her thoughts on using, if and when they arise; in other words, “telling on herself.” Oftentimes, the addictive voice loses its power when it is brought out into the open, and not allowed to fester in the addict’s core
What Treatment can do
Through group therapy, individualized therapy and an overall holistic treatment approach, women can recover from the disease of addiction. Heroin does not have to dictate their lives; they can go on to live fulfilling, meaningful lives that are rich in awareness. Through treatment, female heroin addicts in early sobriety learn to deal with life’s stressors in healthy ways. They learn coping mechanisms, such as how to confront a trigger that encourages them to use drugs. A comprehensive aftercare plan accompanies the women on their way out of treatment, ensuring that they have a document of resources, 12-step meetings and follow-up appointments and reminders to keep at their side at all times.
An effective aftercare plan includes everything from relapse prevention techniques to the phone numbers of local 12-step meeting sites.