By Bev and Phil Haas
We have good friends from church whose 20-year-old son was hospitalized from a heroin overdose. We never saw the signs and apparently they didn’t until now. We’re hearing more stories of heroin use. What should parents look for?
Phil tells the story of the time when someone accused our teenage son of doing something that would not make a parent proud. Phil’s response was, “Brian would never do that!” Phil decided to ask Brian about the claim. Brian quickly responded, “Yeah, Dad, I did that.” (One point for telling the truth.)
Although, looking back, the infraction was minor on the scale of life-changing events, the point is that parents can easily fall into the trap of thinking, My kid would never do that! So we commend you for asking the difficult question about heroin abuse, “What should parents look for?”
In Northern Kentucky where our church is located, officials from law enforcement and the medical field are referring to “an epidemic” of heroin use by young people. I (Phil) have personally heard the heart-wrenching stories of parents who have had a child die at the hands of heroin. These are often good parents who raised their kids well and were involved in a local church. Surely it could never happen in their family, but it did.
Some Facts About Heroin
In our day heroin was more expensive and more of an “end of the road” drug. That’s no longer the case. Heroin is cheap, highly addictive, and readily available to our kids. Here are some important facts to understand about heroin:
• Heroin is one of the most addictive and destructive drugs available.
• Heroin can be injected, inhaled by snorting, or smoked. All three routes deliver the drug to the brain very rapidly, which contributes to its health risks and to its addiction.
• Some dealers provide the first hits of heroin for free in order to get new clientele addicted.
• Heroin users develop a tolerance after a short time, so more heroin is needed to produce the same high.
• An addicted person will experience withdrawal within hours of the last use. Symptoms include restlessness, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes, and muscle pain.
• Heroin craving can persist years after drug use stops and can be triggered by exposure to stress or people, places, and things associated with the drug use.
• Remember, there is no cookie-cutter heroin user. In fact, many new addicts are in their teens or early 20s and come from middle- or upper-middle-class suburban families.
Common Signs of Heroin Use
Those who become addicted to heroin quickly lose control of their lives as they enter the endless search for another fix. But how can you know if someone is using heroin? Drug users are guarded about their use, therefore it’s important to know the signs. Here are five common ways to spot if someone you care about is using this horrific drug:
• Sudden behavior changes. Those who were once cheerful and full of life can turn into sullen, angry people when under the influence of heroin.
• Shift in peer groups. Heroin users will withdraw from family and friends to hang with other users as the drug takes over more of their lives. Even the oldest, most trusted friendships will be left behind.
• Finding drug paraphernalia. Heroin use involves a variety of accessories, including needles and syringes, scales, coffee grinders, small plastic bags. The user will try to hide the true purpose of these items, but taken together there is usually little question about their true purpose.
• Money troubles and missing items. A heroin habit costs money, so those who are using will ask friends and family for loans. When that fails, they may resort to stealing money and things that can be sold for cash.
• Drop in work or school performance. Those who become addicted to heroin are unable to focus. Job performance or grades suffer, and absenteeism becomes commonplace.
Once you suspect that someone in your life is using heroin, it is absolutely imperative that you take action. God didn’t wait until we asked for his help. In Romans 5:8 Paul reminds us that “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (The Living Bible). Intervening in the lives of loved ones is more than OK—it’s what must be done to help them escape the powerful grip of heroin.
Send your questions about family life to Phil and Bev Haas in care of The Lookout, 8805 Governor’s Hill Drive, Suite 400, Cincinnati, OH 45249, firstname.lastname@example.org. We regret that personal replies are not always possible. Phil and Bev Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are the parents of two children and they have two grandsons.