“All I Want For Christmas”

“Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all that children call
Their favorite time of the year

Sleigh bells in the air
Beauty everywhere
Yuletide by the fireside
And joyful memories there”

Remember Charlie Brown’s Christmas? Watch this little clip here if you don’t. At different points this Christmas, I have felt a little bit like Charlie. In my mind I know that this is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but recent events and personal losses of my own–well they are difficult. And sad. And I find it a little confusing balancing these things with the expectations of this season.

I keep finding reassurance, though, in realizing that a world seemingly overtaken by injustice, tragedy and loss is the very reason we celebrate the coming of Jesus. The reasons He came, then, are the very same reasons we still need Him, now. He brings hope, peace, and grace to us. And we still see this hope come to life, even today.

I want to share with you an update of a story I wrote a few months ago. (You can read it here.) Last December, I watched a heroin addicted man I know walk away from Cityteam and into the cold. He was without hope that he could change and I was losing hope that he might have any strength left to try.  Last Christmas, I prayed that he wouldn’t die before he could get the help he needed.

Now, a year later, everything is different. This man celebrated another milestone this month. He has over 9 months clean and he has successfully completed our learning center program and he is one test away from completing his GED. I look at the hopelessness we both felt last Christmas, and I look at what Jesus is doing in this man’s life today and I am inspired. The same Jesus the world needed, then–He is still changing lives, now.

Recently, this man  wrote a paper about what heroin addiction does to a person, one of many papers he wrote during his time in the learning center. And he’s given me permission to share it here, which I am proud to do. The last line moved me, knowing how differently he saw things not that long ago. It reads: “Heroin is a huge downfall in the United States today and we all have to join in the fight against heroin addiction and the war can be won.”

A war that can be won. That is real hope. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”  Thank you, Jesus. Merry Christmas.

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

Kwinn Tucker, City Director

“The intense high the user seeks last only a few minutes. With continued use he/she needs increasing amounts of the drug just to feel normal.”

His research paper about heroin is really informative. Please take a minute and read it by clicking here.

Heroin Addiction

a research paper

by (name not shared, resident of Cityteam Chester)

The effect of using drugs such as heroin is very destructive and causes immediate damage to the person using the drug. Not only does heroin affect the physical aspect of the body, it also affects the mind with our decision-making process for a long period of time. The brain and the body will get accustomed to the intake of opioids (heroin) and will crave this drug. Without this drug when the body expects, it the body and mind will start to go through withdrawal. Rehabilitation centers play a big role in getting people clean and giving them the tools they need to be successful in recovery to stay sober.

The initial effects of heroin include a rush. This is also followed by a warm feeling of the skin, dry mouth, vomiting, and severe itching. Depending on how the addict’s body can handle the drug, sometimes he/she will experience slowed breathing, clouded mental functioning, sedation, hypothermia, coma, or death from overdosing. The intense high the user seeks last only a few minutes. With continued use he/she needs increasing amounts of the drug just to feel normal. This is a continuing cycle and the addict soon begins to realize that keeping up with this addiction is a full time job.

There is a wad of nerve cells in the central part of your brain called the nucleus accumbes. This part of the brain deals with pleasure and releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter. When an addict uses heroin, this floods the brain with dopamine. The effects of this flood are stronger and faster than it would be naturally. The brain gets used to being flooded with dopamine and the cells we have that naturally produce’s will die off. As a result of heroin use, hyper stimulating drugs become the only way to trigger a palpable dopamine response. Heroin addicts seek larger and larger hits to achieve an even diminishing pleasure experience, and they have trouble feeling satisfaction from the things non-drug addicted people enjoy on a day to day basis. According to Peter Kalvis a Neuroscientist at the Medical University of South Carolina, has done laboratory routines on lab rats addicted to heroin. When he flicks the lights and sounds a tone, the rats know that their next hit will be coming soon. This relates to the human brain also. We call these cues. These cues set off a series of events leading up to the high our brains get use to over time. They call this people, places, and things. When an addict sees old friends, goes to old places and does old things, this brings out old behaviors that the brain remembers. The brain will remember someone that he/she used to get high with. When an addict sees someone that he/she used to get high with the brain will release dopamine. Because the brain got the cue and expects the final hit. The more years of heroin use the addict has the more cues the brain will have leading that person to get high. The more cues the brain has, the harder it will become for the addict to resist the urge.

When using heroin, it has short term and long term effects on our bodies. According to Jeff Dobes at the National Institute of Drug abuse center, our bodies contain naturally occurring chemicals called neurotransmitters that bind to the receptors throughout the body to regulate pain, hormone release, and a feeling of well-being. When MOR’s (mu-opioid receptors) are activated in the reward center of the brain, they stimulate the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, causing a sensation of pleasure. The consequence of activating opioid receptors with externally administrating opioid such as heroin, versus naturally occurring chemicals within our bodies will destroy the natural flow and release of dopamine. Depending on a variety of factors, how much is used, where in the body it binds, how strongly it binds, and for how long, how quickly it gets there, and what happens after the drugs enter the body. After heroin enters the body the user experiences a warm flushing feeling of the skin. He/she might experience nausea or vomiting, and severe itching. The user will experience slowed heartbeat, severely slowed breathing, blurry vision, and sometimes becomes numb and cannot determine if it is hot or cold outside. Some users will experience a fall-out. This is a term that addicts use when they administer very strong heroin to themselves and they actually pass out and fall to the ground. This is considered over dosing but the subject will continue to breathe for a few minutes or so until they come to or someone wakes them up. This is caused from the user injecting, snorting, or smoking too much at one time. There have been cases where the users have been severely injured from the initial fall-out whether the subject lost consciousness, to driving and crashed or was smoking a cigarette and set the house on fire. Heroin abuse is associated with a number of serious health conditions including fatal overdoses, spontaneous abortions, and infectious disease such as Hepatitis and HIV. Chronic heroin abusers may experience collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valve, abscesses, constipation, gastrointestinal cramping, and liver or kidney diseases. Street drugs like heroin often contain toxic contaminants or additives that can clog blood vessels leading to the lung, liver, kidneys or brain causing permanent damage to vital organs. The use of heroin holds no bar. This drug will quickly start affecting the body and will lead to death if the user does not stop.

In the United States heroin has seen a dramatic comeback in the last few years. This shift has largely occurred due to the increasing dependency of opioid painkillers. For this reason, it is vital we know the signs of heroin use and how recovery from heroin addiction can occur. We cant feel helpless when someone is harming themselves with heroin use. There are many rehabilitation centers in the United States that can provide the services needed to kick start the fight against heroin abuse. There are also outpatient programs that an addict can attend on a day to day basis to learn about heroin addiction and what the subject can do to stay out of the grips of addiction and not return back to it. There are also programs that family members and friends can attend to help them with learning about the heroin abuse and the disease without using it themselves. Heroin is a huge downfall in the United States today and we all have to join in the fight against heroin addiction and the war can be won.

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This post was originally featured within the story “All I Want for Christmas”.