March 2023 - Hader Clinic Queensland

Health Effects of Heroin

Heroin (Diacetylmorphine) is a semi-synthetic opiate drug, made by chemically altering morphine. As with all man-made or chemically altered drugs, it is impossible to know for certain which substances have been added; which means there might be unforeseen side effects due to especially harmful additives. It also makes it difficult to determine the strength of any given batch of heroin, which can increase the risk of overdose.

What are the physical health effects of heroin?

Immediate Risks

Heroin is essentially a strong sedative, meaning that it initially gives the user a feeling of deep relaxation and peace as the drug acts as a suppressant on the central nervous system. After injecting heroin, many users experience extreme drowsiness and will often drift in and out of consciousness until the immediate effects of the drug wear off. One of the biggest risks of using heroin, even as a casual user, is that too strong a dose can suppress the body’s reflex to breathe to the point of respiratory failure.

New heroin users often experience nausea and vomiting, which brings with it the risk of choking on their vomit while they are incapacitated. This risk is not limited to new users; habitual heroin users are always in danger of misjudging the potency of their dose, which may leave them vomiting while unconscious.

Long-Term Risks

As heroin is most commonly used intravenously, many long-term health risks for heroin users are tied to a lack of sterile equipment and unsanitary conditions when injecting heroin. Common side effects of injecting heroin when not using sterile techniques include:

  • Skin infections and abscesses surrounding the injection site
  • Collapsed veins
  • Pulmonary complications
  • Infection of the heart lining and valves
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease (i.e. Hepatitis C)

Intravenous heroin users in the habit of sharing needles are also at a greater risk to contract blood-bound diseases, such as HIV/Aids.

Other – comparatively lesser – side effects of habitual heroin use are stomach cramps, chronic constipation and greater susceptibility to respiratory diseases, such as pneumonia.

What are the Mental Health Effects of Heroin?

Heroin is highly addictive, largely due to the extreme discomfort of the ‘come-down’ which leads to intense cravings and creates the illusion that the body and mind require another dose of the drug in order to function properly. Habitual heroin users no longer inject heroin to achieve the effects of relaxation and euphoria; they have to keep using in order to feel ‘normal’.

Heroin users often experience feelings of depression, anxiety and hopelessness; especially since heroin addiction has the potential to permeate every aspect of a person’s life. Maintaining a heroin addiction can lead to financial hardship, relationship breakdowns and homelessness. Heroin addicts are prone to suicidal ideation and can become hostile when challenged by loved ones regarding their behaviour.

If you or a loved one are struggling with heroin addiction, please don’t hesitate to reach out. The team at The Hader Clinic Queensland are here to answer your questions, give advice and help you on your journey to reclaim your life through heroin addiction treatment.

Mia’s Story of Drug Addiction Recovery

My name is Mia, I’m 29 years old and just over 8 months clean. I completed 90 days of residential addiction treatment at Hader Clinic Queensland, and their 3-month Transitional Housing Program. My life is so different to where I was a year ago. Recovery saved my life and my relationship with my family.

It was 6am when police broke in the front door. I was there with my boyfriend, his mate, and his mate’s girlfriend. Both men were drug dealers and the target of the raid, but the other girl and I were too much part of the situation to get away unscathed. We were laid face-down and ordered not to move. I was high on GHB and freaking out. I reached over to touch the other girl’s hand, squeezing her fingers for comfort. The cops saw this and kicked me in the stomach. We yelled at them to stop. The girl and I were crying while they assaulted our boyfriends.

A male and a female officer took me to the bathroom where I was strip-searched and put in handcuffs. It all happened so fast. Nothing felt real – like it was a bad dream or a horror movie.

I panicked, resisted and the officers retaliated with what seemed like unnecessary force; I had never experienced pain, terror and helplessness like this, and I hope I never will again.

In the holding cell, as the drugs wore off, I started to feel the damage. It was painful to breathe.  I had lacerations and bruises everywhere; my face was swollen up and I suspected I had at least one broken rib. When my mum came to see me, I remember the horror and heartbreak in her eyes. I still cry thinking back on that moment.

I love my mum so much. She’d seen me in hospital beds for drug-related injuries (like falling from a cliff when I was high or overdosing in the bath). My mother moved from country NSW to Sydney to be near me. She could see I was in trouble.

A few weeks after the raid Mum asked me – “don’t you think it’s time to go to rehab?”

I grew up in a country town in NSW and never felt like I fit in. I was quieter than my siblings, and not interested in academic stuff like they were. I was more a sporty and creative type. My dad smoked weed and drank, and though he loved us I don’t feel he was always emotionally present. Mum was busy doing everything for the family.

When I was in Grade 2 I started hanging with a girl from a dysfunctional household.  We tried cigarettes and a vodka cruiser at her home. I was sexually abused but didn’t tell anybody. I started rebelling in other ways – like shoplifting and stealing money from my parents. It felt good to rebel. I was 12 when I got drunk at a party where I vomited and passed out, but still, I wanted to do more. By age 15 I was binge drinking most weekends and regularly taking pills and speed.

Mum and dad never knew the full extent. When I got caught stealing or using drugs I’d just run away from home for a few nights or even a few weeks. I stayed with friends or at random older guys’ houses. Later in life, I was mostly attracted to older men who could get me drugs.

I felt like I was on a mission to be bad. All my idols were rock stars and artists who died of overdoses. Something about those stories intrigued me and I aspired to be like them. I didn’t want to live past 30. Over the years I’ve self-harmed, had suicide attempts, and developed eating disorders. I had no care for myself at all.

When I was around 19 I moved to Sydney where I smoked weed and drank alcohol almost daily, did cocaine and ketamine a few times a week, and casually used meth and pills. For the last couple of years in active addition I was abusing dextroamphetamine tablets.

I worked as a professional model in my early twenties. I was travelling a lot, doing a couple of shoots a week in between castings. It was full-on, shooting for 14 hours a day and being judged by strangers for how I looked. I had anxiety, felt terrible about myself, and used drugs to control my emotions. But I also felt everyone – even my family – put me on a pedestal. I was getting all this false praise. As long as I looked good and was in the spotlight, then I had people’s support. I had no identity outside of being a model and a party girl.

I wasn’t able to hold down many other jobs after I quit modelling. I started an on-off relationship with a dealer and got my drugs paid for that way. I managed to get a diploma in design, but beyond that, I wasn’t doing much with my life. I thought all I needed was free drugs.

I lived with my mum after my arrest, but our relationship was co-dependent. I couldn’t do running or normal exercise with my rib injury, so I started studying yoga. It was my first introduction to spirituality and the concept of a Higher Power. I managed to stay clean for 2 months and felt better than I ever had in my life.

Soon I started using weed and alcohol again, doing coke at parties away from the house and hiding it from my mother. Using wasn’t fun at this point – I just wanted more but it gave me no relief and I was always on edge in case mum found out. She wanted to keep me close, but I know it made her anxious. Mum wanted to help me but she didn’t know how.

I tried a 3-week rehab program in Sydney and did some 12-step meetings. This is where I found out my addiction is a disease. I abstained for about 6 months, teaching yoga, and then getting a job in set design. I had something to prove. I wanted to show the world I could work a proper job and stay clean. But I didn’t realise how much effort it would take. Soon I was working 6-7 days a week while abusing dexies.

I was taking uppers during the day, and weed at night. I said I was “sober” at AA meetings but soon realised I was kidding myself. I got honest with my peers who advised me to try another rehab. I didn’t want to be in early recovery and relapse for the rest of my life. I did another 3-week rehab stint, and it was in that program that I realised, after 15 years of addiction, I was going to need longer than 3 weeks to reset my brain and build new habits.

The intake process for Hader Clinic Queensland was very easy compared to other places we called. Mum was happy to loan me the money for treatment.

During my first week at Hader I had doubts, thinking I’d made the wrong decision… but I soon settled in. I was surrounded by greenery and nature. They had a gym and grounds for me to go running. We had weekly counselling, and I saw a psychiatrist before I left. Over those 90 days, I developed some consistency. A shorter stay would have made it too easy to slip back.

Most of the Hader Clinic staff are recovering addicts themselves. They just wanted to help me. We had classes on boundaries, feelings and relationships, mental health, and strategies for life. I really benefited from Hader’s 12 Step approach and the daily meetings. I made friends who I still hang out with today.

The Transition Program was sharing a house in Brisbane with other clients in recovery. We lived independently, doing 12 Step meetings with weekly check-ins and drug screening at Hader Clinic head office. We did fun activities together like bowling or visiting the Buddhist temple. I took part in Hader’s “Give Back” program, where we visit the rehab for a few days and share our experience with clients who’d just arrived. This work was so grounding, and I’m really glad I did it.

I feel like I’ve had a fresh start. My relationship with my mum, dad, sister and brother is much better because we communicate honestly. Hader Clinic talked to my mum about how to have a stable relationship with me.

I feel blessed to have the life I do now. It’s very simple, but I love it. I do house-sitting and pet sitting so I get to cuddle and walk dogs all the time. When stressful things happen or I find myself overwhelmed, I can rely on my routines and the people in the Brisbane fellowship for support. I have really deep connections with other young people in recovery. It’s nice to live independently from my family.

On a good day, I like to get up early with the sunrise, and then drive somewhere beautiful in nature to have a run. I do breathing exercises and prayer, go to meetings and catch up with friends, and have dinner and an early night cuddling one of the dogs. I’m in touch with my old boss and look forward to returning to work as a set designer.

When I was young I never wanted to turn 30… But now I’m nearly 30, and I feel like my life has only just begun. I want to do weekend camping trips and go to the beach once I get my own place. I connect to the spiritual realm through nature and yoga. I seek a sense of freedom in healthy ways – like hot baths or ice baths. I just love the sensation of floating.

I’ve changed who I look up to and who influences me. I’m not idolising celebrities who lived fast and died young. My biggest role models are my mum, my sponsor, and my former boss. Healthy and strong women. I follow spiritual teachers on social media like Nedra Glover Tawwab. I want wisdom from people who show kindness and courage. People who can laugh at themselves and not take life too seriously. And now that I am in recovery, I get to be that person myself today.

 

Name and photograph of this client have been changed to protect their privacy.

What is a ‘Functional’ Alcoholic?

Alcoholism – or alcohol use disorder – comes with a tremendous amount of stigma and presumptions. The general tenor of conversations around alcohol addiction suggests that in order to be considered an alcoholic, a person has to experience tremendous financial, social and emotional turmoil.

However, this vein of thinking completely disregards the many functional – or high-functioning – alcoholics flying under the radar and masking their addiction by maintaining social expectations. It also makes it possible for functional alcoholics and their loved ones to ignore their substance use disorder, simply because (on the surface) their life hasn’t fallen apart.

What does functional alcoholism look like from the outside?

A high-functioning alcoholic holds down a job, participates in social events, meets daily responsibilities, and maintains romantic partnerships – while also drinking to excess.  While their drinking may occasionally impact these areas of their lives (i.e. they may miss a day of work once in a while, have conflict within their relationship, or experience sleep disturbances), they are a long way from the stereotypical idea of the full-blown alcoholic passed out on the sidewalk.

High-functioning alcoholics present as physically and mentally healthy; they earn enough money to maintain their habit and are therefore never seen in public (or even at home) with the tell-tale shakes of an alcoholic experiencing withdrawal. They are gregarious and pleasant company, even when intoxicated; and their occasional slips of decorum are usually explained away (“They had one too many, happens to all of us.”).

Functional alcoholics are often branded as “work hard – play hard” characters, who will generously provide an extra supply of drinks at get-togethers and be the first ones up after a party, cleaning up and enjoying a ‘hair of the dog’.

What does functional alcoholism look like from the inside?

High-functioning alcoholics experience tremendous levels of stress. The effort of upholding their façade of regular everyday operations can be incredibly draining. The level of secrecy required to maintain their drinking habit without drawing attention to it may result in a complex web of lies and deception that could collapse at a slip of the tongue.

It is common for functioning alcoholics to be deeply in denial about their substance use disorder. Because they are not technically at rock bottom, can afford expensive (high-quality) alcohol and are in no danger of becoming homeless, telling themselves that they are “not that bad” is not particularly difficult; especially since public perceptions and opinions are playing right into their hands.

Many functioning alcoholics find that their tolerance levels increase as their habit goes on. This means they require more alcohol more frequently in order to get a buzz; until they eventually require it in order to function normally. High-functioning alcoholics still experience all the withdrawal symptoms – including shakes, cravings, mood swings, irritability, sleep issues and nausea – but they tend to manage these moments privately to avoid detection.

What are the risks of being a functioning alcoholic?

Like all persons suffering from alcohol use disorder, functioning alcoholics face severe health risks including:

  • Higher susceptibility to certain cancers (i.e. liver, kidney, breast, mouth, liver and throat)
  • Higher likelihood of experiencing depression and anxiety
  • Memory and learning problems
  • Weakened immunity

However, because they are presenting as well to the outside world, functional alcoholics are much less likely to receive offers of help – or ask for it – than the obvious alcohol addict. This means that their illness often continues for longer, heightening their risk of experiencing harmful effects.

If you believe you or a loved one might be experiencing high-functioning alcoholism, the team at Hader Clinic Queensland are here to answer all your questions in a free and confidential consultation and can discuss options for alcohol addiction treatment.

10 Signs You are Dating an Alcoholic

There is no better feeling than being in love. It brightens everything, it makes us see beauty everywhere and it makes us notice the best in everyone we encounter.

Unfortunately, those rose-coloured glasses of being in love can make it difficult to recognise warning signs of unsafe and potentially harmful behaviour. True, there might be a niggling feeling that something is a bit off, but unless something drastic happens, these thoughts are often pushed away.

If you are concerned about your loved one’s relationship with alcohol, consider the following list of signs that you might be dating a person with alcohol use disorder:

1. Alcohol is a major factor when you’re making plans

Considering that drinking is often a staple of Australian social culture, this warning sign often goes unnoticed for a long time. However, if your loved one is constantly planning outings – or evenings home – with the aim to ensure that alcohol will be available and/or won’t run out, drinking may be overtaking the actual evening plans as the main objective.

2. Stress-Drinking

If your loved one can’t unwind without alcohol, there is cause for concern. There is nothing wrong with having a drink after a long day at work, but it should not be necessary to relax.

3. They can hold their alcohol

As with every substance abuse disorder, the tolerance of a habitual user goes up as their habit progresses. If your loved one can consume large quantities of alcohol without appearing intoxicated, it is worthwhile to start paying attention to their drinking behaviour.

4. ‘Accidental’ drinking

If your loved one is in the habit of announcing plans to have an alcohol-free evening out and ends up drinking regardless, this can be a sign of diminished control. Drinking, even when you technically don’t want to, is an early indicator of a budding addiction.

5. They don’t mind what they drink

Persons with alcohol use disorder are rarely picky when it comes to beverages. If it has the desired effect, taste and brand are minor considerations.

6. The Jekyll and Hyde effect
If your loved one’s personality changes after a few drinks, you have cause to be concerned. This is not limited to them being uncharacteristically abusive or angry; changes of personality can also include melancholy, manic highs, or extreme neediness.

7. They’re irritable without alcohol

Being tetchy, easily offended and just straight-up irritable can be a sign of alcohol withdrawal. If your loved one reacts negatively to a lack of alcohol, this may mean they are becoming dependent.

8. Alcohol is a priority purchase

To persons with alcohol use disorder, their substance of choice is an essential item and takes priority over all other financial commitments. If your loved one appears to be struggling to pay rent and bills yet always finds money for alcohol, you should not ignore it.

9. Problem drinking

Is your loved one’s alcohol consumption causing issues in their everyday life? Does it impact their performance at work? Does it cause conflict in your relationship or their relationships with others? It can be hard to answer these questions honestly and without making excuses for your loved one’s behaviour, but it is also important.

10. A family history of alcohol addiction

If your loved one has a family history of alcohol use disorder, they are more likely to fall into the same destructive pattern. Pay attention to your loved one’s family members’ relationship with alcohol if given the chance.

It is important to remember that loving a person with alcohol use disorder can be incredibly hard. Not only can their behaviours cause a great deal of family issues, but you may also fear judgement from your friends and family for staying with your ‘imperfect’ partner. Alcohol addiction is not a life sentence if the sufferer is willing to seek professional help and actively engage in the recovery process; so there is no need to feel stupid for staying by their side as they come to terms with their addiction. However, if you feel at risk of being harmed by your loved one, it is vital that you ensure your own safety (and that of your children if children are involved) above everything else.

If you would like to have a confidential conversation about recovery options for your loved one, the staff at Hader Clinic Queensland are happy to answer all your questions and discuss any concerns you might have.

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