Female Substance Abusers and Addicts
Heroin is a highly addictive substance which is characterized by a rush of biophysiological symptoms such as a rush or feeling of euphoria, heaviness in one's extremities and a certain element of dry mouth (rehab-international.org). When it comes to heroin and gender, either gender can become addicted to it in a brief amount of time: "Addiction to heroin is characterized by the compulsion to use heroin despite an onset of negative consequences and despite the user's best attempts at stopping via willpower alone" (rehab-international.org). For women, one of the more common traits of heroin abuse is rather detrimental: the acquired tolerance means that greater doses of heroin have to be taken in order to get the original effects of the drug. When women are under the influence of the drug, they may engage in unsafe sexual activity, actions which can lead to STDs, unintended pregnancies and a range of emotional issues. Furthermore, with women who shoot heroin intravenously, there's also a risk of hepatitis and AIDS from using needles. This paper looks at the proactive and startling trend of female heroin users, and why heroin use from this particular gender is on the rise. This paper attempted to determine the specific motivations for women in using heroin as compared to men.
In the article, "Women Heroin Users" by Susan Beckerleg focuses on the choices and lifestyles of female heroin users in a touristy, coastal town in Kenya and collected data on their daily lives through ethnographic techniques. Of the sample participants, 18 women engaged in questionnaires about their reproductive health and wellness. The data was gathered and analyzed with a focus on the victimization of these women in terms of social strata and lack of opportunity: these absent opportunities often make women susceptible to health issues, injuries and early mortality. One element that Beckerleg was able to adequately conclude was that the issues that accosted these women heroin users were comparable to the ones faced by other female opiate users throughout the world (2004). "These Kenyan women live in a country where the majority of people are victims of 'structural violence', but as drug users and sex workers they face particular disadvantage" (Beckerleg, 2004). Essentially, what Beckerleg found was that these societal disadvantages were part of what led these women to heroin usage and were also what caused their further stigmatization. Thus, for women in these parts of the world using heroin was a double-edged sword: they were led to it via their desire for escapism and their usage of it pushed them further onto the fringes of society.
Another paper which takes a long look at the social cost of drug abuse is "Comparison of Female Opiate Addicts Admitted to Lexington Hospital in 1961 and 1967" by Cuskey and colleagues also agrees that the social costs of drug addiction, particularly for women, is exceedingly high. Another facet of this article which is extremely revelatory is the fact that four out of every 10 women were readmitted for treatment, many women staying in the clinic for 14 to 15 days, being released, ultimately relapsing, and thus starting the cycle up again -- spending the bulk of their lives in and out of hospitals (Cuskey, et al., 1971). What the findings of this article highlight most strongly is just how difficult it is to find an effective form of treatment for female opiate users. There is the suggestion made that when there are more adequate forms of support for Negro women and children, they generally fare much better, and have lower rates of substance abuse and the ill effects of substance abuse.
Social connections and social support are no small aspect of heroin usage and initiation. The study, "Heroin use among female adolescents: the role of partner influence in path of initiation and route of administration" by Eaves looks at how female heroin users in Baltimore start using to begin with, finding the melancholy truth that the gateway for them is generally via a male companion. "Participants were more than twice as likely to be introduced to heroin by a male friend or boyfriend (IHM) than introduced to heroin by other means (IHO). The majority of IHM females were introduced by...
There was no connection discovered between the way in which users were introduced to heroin and the way that they began to administer it (ex: smoking vs. shooting). One of the elements that Eaves is able to discuss is the particular impact of the opposite gender influence on the female introduction to heroin usage. Almost all of the participants (94%) asserted that they used heroin via inhalation, while a rate of 75% of participants asserted that they had injected heroin at some point during their use (Eaves, 2004). While some experts thought that introduction was more likely to occur via a boyfriend, the researchers actually found that there was essentially an equal likelihood of a boyfriend or a male friend (Eaves, 2004). Another finding that the bulk of users eventually went from snorting to injecting is discussed in conjunction with the potency of the drug and the impact the drug has on the human body and the human addictive system, making it more desirable and making the desire for a stronger high and a willingness to take the risks presented when it comes to injecting (Eaves, 2004). There's a strong implication for treatment and recovery which is underscored in the other studies. Effectively treating heroin addiction is far more challenging than addictions to other substances, these studies have confirmed without a doubt.
Similarly, the study "Women and Heroin" by Friedman and colleagues looks at this addiction as it manifests within the upper-class strata of females. This is a truly intriguing premise as so much of the studies with this addiction look at how it manifests in the lower classes and those who are on the fringes of society. 30 participants are gathered who are heroin users and the users take note of how their heroin use reflects certain "rejection of restrictive gender and class expectation" (Friedman et al.,1995). Thus, this group of participants demonstrates how heroin use and addiction for females of the upper class is almost a rejection of the values and the lifestyle that they were raised in. It's a rejection of these upper strata of society and often a rejection of their families as well. The researchers harness a "dynamic view of resistance, we begin to understand how these women attempt to resist the dominant discourse through their heroin use and to reinterpret their experiences with heroin" (Friedman et al.,1995). This is one of the most provocative takes on heroin usage as the users have a much different motivation for using and maintaining their addiction. This should no doubt impact treatment of the process.
A more recent study looks at the migration of heroin from the inner city out to the suburbs. In the study, "The Changing Face of Heroin Use in the United States" by Cicero and colleagues gathered a participant group of 9,000 opioid-using participants in over 100 treatment centers around the U.S. Of these 9,000, approximately one-third of them were dependent on heroin. Cicero looked at how this trend started, finding that people would start with prescription drugs and then move on to heroin, with cost and accessibility being the main reasons why people would experiment with it initially (2014). "The additive properties of heroin are manifold greater than prescription drugs… It gets into the brain much more quickly than other opiates and causes 'a rush' that is far stronger than that of prescription pills" (Cicero, 2014). A large chunk of the study looked at the changing face of heroin addiction, finding that it was no longer a person of color, but that 90% of users were white, and many of them were in their late 20s with increased in the number of women using heroin as well. Ultimately, this study found that heroin had migrated from urban areas to suburban and rural ones.
Another paper, "Drug Use and Gender" by Anderson, looks more closely at the motivating factors which lead women to the act of using drugs in the first place. Women enter drug-using careers largely because of their relationships with men (Anderson, 2000). Women often exit such chapters of their lives because of their relationships with family (Anderson, 2000). Anderson also found that there was a very real and very pertinent aspect of sexual abuse within the entire process that made a substantial impact on female users. Largely, Anderson found that women chose to exit this arena of their lives, it was more of a result of personal and emotional reasons (2000). This study showed more drastically than other studies that drug use manifested in such different ways among genders as a result of the fact that the gender-centric social organization of our world today.
One intriguing study which takes a long look at the way that…
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