It goes without saying that there’s risk of addiction in the abuse of any substance, whether it’s alcohol or marijuana or prescription pills. However, despite the risk of an individual developing an addiction to any substance, there are some that are considered more dangerous than others due to their addictive potential. This is largely because of the effects that these highly addictive substances have on the body, in particular the brain. When someone abuses a mind-altering substance, a chemical or hormonal imbalance occurs. Typically the brain will recover from this imbalance once the effects of the drug wear off and the substance works its way out of the body.
Addiction occurs when the individual continues to create chemical and hormonal imbalances by repeatedly consuming the substance, which causes the brain to compensate by decreasing its own production of chemicals like dopamine and norepinephrine, relying on intoxication from substance abuse to elevate the brain’s chemistry beyond the natural level. As such, when the individual ceases consumption of a drug, the body begins to feel withdrawal as a result of the brain’s inability to produce enough of these chemicals on its own.
This tends to be how addiction works for virtually all substances but is especially true of opiates like heroin and painkillers. In fact, heroin is thought to be the most addictive mind-altering substance that exists, even more so than cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, alcohol, and tobacco. Research has suggested that we’re in the throes of a global heroin pandemic due to rates of heroin addiction reaching heretofore unseen levels. What’s more, heroin addiction is affecting just about every group on the demographic spectrum with people of all ages, ethnicities, and socioeconomic levels falling prey to the addictive power of heroin.
As we try to find solutions to this worldwide saturation of heroin addiction, evidence has emerged that paints a terrifying picture of suburban teens being one of the most-affected and fastest-growing groups of heroin addicts. If we have any hope of curbing the growing rates of heroin abuse, especially among teens, we must understand why this pandemic is happening and how to handle heroin addiction.
Heroin Use Among Suburban Teens
Parents have long harbored the assumption that raising children in suburban and rural areas will prevent or at least offer a buffer to exposure to the hard drugs for which larger cities and metropolitan areas are known. In fact, for many years that seemed to be the case with smaller towns having much lower rates of substance abuse and addiction. Unfortunately, as transportation across larger distances has become more efficient and less expensive, rural and suburban-dwellers have been able to turn to importing drugs from the populated cities from which most hard drugs originate, or have even had an ideal place to begin producing such drugs themselves as has been the case with crystal meth. Over time, less-populated areas have seen a steady increase in the availability and, consequently, the abuse of drugs, which is reflected in significantly higher rates of individuals seeking treatment for addiction in rural and suburban towns.
In addition to the ease with which drugs can trickle into suburban and rural communities, there are a number of other factors that are thought to be responsible for this shift. For one thing, there’s a lot of outreach for adolescents and teens in urban areas; it seems that years of prevalent drugs in urban areas has resulted in a more proactive approach to addiction prevention, which seems to be lacking in suburban and rural communities and allowing many teens who are abusing dangerous drugs like heroin to slip through the cracks.
Graduating from Prescription Opioids
According to sources, many middle-class suburban teens get their start with prescription pain pills, which are notoriously expensive and until very recently had been readily available both legally via prescriptions and on the street. As a result of numerous changes in federal drug policy, prescription opioids are somewhat less readily available and many pharmaceutical companies had made their products tamper-proof, making it difficult or virtually impossible to crush them for snorting and making them water insoluble. This has led many suburban teens who developed opiate addiction with painkillers to switch to less-expensive and increasingly available heroin.
The heroin pandemic has led to spiking rates of heroin overdose even in small towns. In northwest Ohio, there were 14 heroin overdoses in 2010, 31 in 2011, and 55 in 2012, showing a clear trend in which rising heroin addiction is resulting in more frequent heroin-related deaths. Statistics estimates approximately an 80 percent increase in rates of heroin use among adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17. Additionally, reports have indicated that the first drug to invade suburbia was marijuana, followed by cocaine and now heroin. Interestingly, professionals who have been working with teens recovering from heroin abuse have reported that the stories tend to be the same from one teen heroin addict to the next; they get their start with prescription pain pills, often obtained through legal means, and continue to increase dosage and frequency until becoming physically dependent, at which time they switch to heroin.
Communities Fighting Against Teen Heroin Use
It’s especially unsettling that rates of teen heroin use are spiking because, being so young, this developing addiction will have a profound effect on the rest of their lives. Things like college, finding gainful employment, forming and maintaining healthy relationships, and so on, are difficult if not impossible for those in active heroin addiction. What’s more, it’s during teen years that individuals learn many of the skills necessary to become independent, self-sufficient adults; when a teen becomes an addict, addiction prevents him or her from learning essential life-skills that promote survival.
With heroin being such a widespread and profoundly devastating problem, many communities are trying to find ways with which they can combat this pandemic. In addition to many communities offering a variety of programs such as inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, support groups, and replacement therapies like methadone management, some communities are starting online forums in order to facilitate discussion of the problem and to device additional ways to effectively combat teen heroin abuse, such as “Heroin in Our Community” for residents in McHenry County, Illinois.
Recover from Heroin Addiction Today
If you or someone you love is addiction to heroin or another mind-altering substance, the Palm Beach Institute can help. Call us today to speak with one of our recovery specialists so you can begin your recovery and regain your health today.