Parents often call us when their adolescent is having substance abuse issues. Sometimes, when they mention that their teen has used heroin, they’ll follow up with a statement like, “But they say they’ve only tried it a couple of times at a party…”
Unfortunately, we’re here to break your bubble:
Heroin is not a social drug.
If you’re imagining a bunch of teens getting high together and letting loose at a party, you’re imagining the wrong drug. It is highly unlikely that your teen has “only” tried heroin recreationally. Your teen is either hiding something from you (which is likely if they’re nervous of your reaction) or he genuinely does not understand the extent of his addiction.
Heroin is Not a Social Drug
Different types of drugs have different effects. Stimulant drugs, as the name suggests, energize teens. For example, cocaine and amphetamines (like MDMA/Molly/Ecstasy) are often used at parties, bars, and clubs, hence the nickname club drugs. Many teens take stimulants to stay up all night partying, dancing and socializing. Some even use them to stay up studying. Teens get chatty, and they feel an increased level of comfort with friends. In particular, Ecstasy has been proven by research to improve sociability and connectedness. (Though not a stimulant, alcohol works the same way, which is why so many teens drink at parties.)
With heroin, it’s different. Heroin is not a stimulant but a powerful sedative. When a teen gets high on heroin, their breathing slows. They nod off. They go back and forth between being conscious and semiconscious. Some will fall into such a deep sleep that they are at risk of breathing failure. In certain situations, they might fall into a coma—or even death. Its sedative effects on the central nervous system make teens less social, not more social. For this reason, heroin is not something you just “pick up” with friends. It is a serious drug, whose use is indicative of a significant substance abuse problem
If your teen is taking heroin, their substance use has progressed to the point where they likely need residential treatment. Why?
Heroin is one of the most addictive substances in the world. To many, it is considered the last frontier of hard drugs. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), about one out of every four teens who try heroin will get addicted to it.
There’s nothing heroin won’t hurt: In addition to slowing one’s breathing, using heroin leads to impaired cognition and impaired mental faculties. It also leads to mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Heroin will damage a user’s brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, immune system, digestive system, and endocrine system. And this is all besides the problem of addiction. Or the problem of intravenous use, which increases the risk of a teen overdosing or getting an infection from needles.
Ok, you’re thinking. So they just need to stop using.
It’s not so simple.
The nature of heroin addiction makes it almost physically impossible to stop using on one’s own. As a teen develops a physical dependence on the drug, their tolerance to it increases. Their body craves more and more heroin just to achieve the same high, and they will start upping their doses. It’s a spiral effect. Soon they may be using heroin not even to feel good, but to feel normal. At this point, they are so addicted to heroin that they simply cannot stop using—the withdrawal symptoms are too painful. They will do anything, now, to get the drug. Get into risky situations? Sure. Steal money? Yes. Criminal activity? Of course. They’ll spend all their time and effort on their next fix—without any thought to the consequences. At this point, they need professional treatment.
The Dangers of Heroin
While we’re not trying to scare you, we do have to educate you on the dangers of this highly powerful drug—one of the deadliest of all opioids, second only to fentanyl.
In addition to all the physical and mental health consequences of heroin, the fatalities are enormous. Heroin use accounts for thousands of young deaths a year. In 2017, opioid overdose caused more than 3,400 deaths of youth ages 15-24, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. And these rates are increasing every year. Between 1999-2015, heroin overdose rates for adolescents tripled. It’s no wonder that America is undergoing an opioid epidemic now.
So, if your teen mentions casually that he’s only tried heroin casually, dig deeper. There is likely much more he’s not telling you. And after that, call a residential treatment center that specializes in substance abuse for adolescents. It may be the best decision you ever make.