One of the conflicts in my YA novel, The Girl Who Flew Away, involves heroin addiction. The protagonist has a family member who has been in and out of rehabilitation after battling an addiction that began in high school.
I chose this conflict because I see addiction as a silent antagonist in many people’s lives. Whether it’s drugs or alcohol, or even something “lesser,” such as addiction to food or sugar or video games or cell phones, addiction works in ways that are unseen and makes its victims act in a way that betrays who they truly are.
In The Girl Who Flew Away, the victim of heroin addiction emerges victorious from time to time, but it seems her addiction is always there, lurking and waiting for any moment of vulnerability to strike. I chose heroin as the addiction because of its particular tenacity. According to Elements Behavioral Health,
Heroin has become infamous for the tenacious hold it gains on its victims….The danger of a fatal overdose is also higher with heroin than with most illegal drugs, which emphasizes the degree to which heroin addicts are constantly menaced by the specter of death.
I’ve been following WTOP’s series “Hooked on Heroin,” which includes stories of addiction, including that a public health emergency declared by Virginia’s Health Commissioner because of the prevalence of opioid addiction. In past years, deaths from heroin use and abuse have been increasing—about 50,000 people per year recently.
In recent years, mixing heroin with synthetics has compounded the problem: the potency of some available versions can stop someone’s heart upon first use, compared to street drugs available in the 1970s, which were much less potent. When reading interviews of addicts, there’s a common thread of people wanting to be clean, to better their lives, and to share their stories with others in hopes of preventing future victims. So it is with Sally, the addict in my tale.
For those who have not had experience with being addicted or seeing a loved one addicted, it may be hard to realize that the addiction is a disease rather than a personality flaw. It’s easy to judge victims of addiction, criticizing them for spending their money on drugs/alcohol/technology instead of on needed life essentials. Think of all the negative adjectives often attributed to them.
And it doesn’t only have to be an addiction to illegal substances. Imagine being at an all-you-can-eat buffet and watching a table of obese diners chowing down. How easy would it be to criticize them for failing to reign in their eating habits? To attribute to them a weakness of character? But in reality, there are some who find comfort in food that feels impossible to replace or forego, just as there are those who find that drugs and alcohol fill a place that otherwise feels empty.
The Girl Who Flew Away is probably the most poignant novel I have written, and part of that is what I wanted my protagonist to realize. As she is closely related to the heroin addict, she and her family worry that she may have similar tendencies, and indeed, she begins to go down the same path. But as addiction is so hard to recover from, it’s easier to cut it off at the onset, and my protagonist learns—or at least, begins to learn—that filling her life with meaningful people and activities will help her avoid the temptations that consumed her relative. If my novel reaches just one person and helps them find meaningful activities and friends and avoid a darker path, then I have succeeded.