Heroin Addiction

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I see an awful lot of heroin addiction at my place of work, where I am a nurse aid in a detox unit. I have the opportunity of seeing all sorts of sickness and suffering at the hands of heroin withdrawal, and I call it an opportunity because it is a huge reminder for me of a place I never want to go back to.

Photo by slapbcn

The subculture of heroin

There is a bit of a subculture when it comes to people who do heroin. They tend to create this culture for themselves and it tends to come out through their personality. For example, if there is a group of people in our detox unit together, the heroin addicts will have a tendency to hook up with each other and befriend each other. Not always, but a lot of the time this will happen. It is part of the subculture itself.

Based on what I have seen in treatment, this tendency is usually not a good thing, nor does the subculture that surrounds heroin really benefit these addicts in any way. If anything, I have seen a lot of people who hook up with each other in detox, start talking about shooting dope, and end up leaving together with no intention of staying clean. Even if they do have an intention of staying clean, their addiction knows better, and has led them right into a trap of sorts, especially if they are leaving treatment with other heroin addicts.  This ought to be straight out of the heroin for dummies manual.

In other words, the subculture itself can be a negative things, because it has the ability to lead people back to using so easily. One person relapsing by themselves is kind of lonely, but two is a party, and this is how people can help justify each other going back to heroin.

You would think that the greatest support for a heroin addict would be another recovering heroin addict. This is basically true–however, in early recovery, before a baseline of clean time has been established, it almost seems counterproductive in a lot of cases to get a group of heroin addicts together in order to “help” each other stay clean. This is even more true when you start figuring in today’s youth into the equation.  They are getting younger and younger every year it seems.

Now I have nothing against younger people, nor am I biased against heroin addicts in general….but I have learned to start seeing these patterns because of the position I am in. I have watched different addicts and alcoholics come in and out of treatment for over four years now, and many times people who
relapse end up coming back. I watch their actions, I see their behavior, and I also hear their follow up stories. And what I’ve learned is this: the subculture of heroin makes it very difficult for two or more heroin addicts to help each other stay clean in early recovery, and this becomes especially true for younger people. That is just what I have noticed.

Possible solution: I know I harp on this all the time but long term treatment could be the answer in this case for a lot of struggling addicts. This is doubly true for younger people. The subculture that surrounds heroin use is so pervasive that getting out of that old environment and living in long term treatment might be just the thing that a person needs. Of course, understand that long term treatment is not a magic bullet, and the motivation still has to come strong from the individual, but if the willingness is there, then using this new environment can provide a strong boost to your chances in recovery.

A lot of heroin addicts keep relapsing and returning to treatment

Another thing that I’ve noticed while working in a treatment center is that the subset of heroin addicts (among all addicts and alcoholics) tend to keep coming back to treatment, over and over again.

Now to be fair, people who are addicted to other drugs (including alcohol) also have a tendency to keep returning to treatment over and over again, but I really notice it a lot more with the heroin users. Part of this might have to do with the age thing too. Most heroin users tend to be younger and it so it just seems like the success rate with this group of people is almost non-existent.

Possible solution: Chronic relapsers generally do not follow through with treatment programs, so one thing they might need to do is to actually follow every suggestion that they get while in treatment, and start attending outpatient therapy or groups or 12 step meetings or whatever the case may be. Recovery is about action and if the person does not follow up after treatment with a lot of action then they are going to be in danger of relapse.

The people who turn to drug therapy for heroin addiction seem to relapse and come back to treatment a lot

Another major problem that I have noticed with heroin is this: there is the option of treating the addiction with drug therapy of some sort, such as by taking Suboxone or Methadone for long term maintenance. The philosophy is that some addicts need a bit of help in terms of staying clean, and drug therapy can provide this type of solution by administering either a full opiate or a partial opiate to the body every day.

The problem is that it doesn’t seem to work. Now again, this is just based on my observations over the last 4 years, so please don’t think that this is scientific or anything. It just seems that almost every single client who has gone on drug therapy has ended up relapsing and coming back for more heroin detox. It really is bizarre.

I still believe, even in spite of this evidence, that drug therapy might be right for some heroin addicts. But the bottom line is that I see if fail more often than I see it succeed.

Possible solution: I think there is this idea with drug therapy that the pill you are taking for maintenance is like a magic cure. People who take a maintenance dose of some sort are putting more faith in the ability of the medicine than what they should be. The drive to stay clean and sober still has to come from the individual, and the footwork and action needed to achieve long term recovery goes far beyond merely taking a medication each day. We have to grow and learn and evolve in terms of our own personal growth if we want to have a chance at making it in recovery.


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  • h.

    My brother is a recovering heroin addict. He had been clean for about 5 months then he relapsed. He over dosed one night and we almost lost him. Everything you explained is exactly how it was in his life. He befriended anyone with the same problem as him. He never followed through with the councling that we had asked him to. He will be coming home from jail in July and plans on attending NA meetings and seeing counslers. All we can really do is hope for the best. But i will be going to meetings with him so that we know that he is for sure going

  • Patrick

    Hi there h

    Most NA meetings are “closed,” meaning that you have to be an addict in order to attend. I know there is a huge trust issue there and you want to hold him accountable, but for some reason it just strikes me as wrong that you would try to attend meetings with him just to make sure he is going.

    Almost as if, if you have to do that, he is not ready to stop yet anyway, you know what I mean? Good luck to you both……

  • http://helpandsupportthroughheroinaddiction judith du plessis

    i have been clean for eight months and have a baby of one year eight months.I lived on the streets of hillbrow for the last four years and have fought heroin addiction for thirteen years

  • Lindy Lou

    Hi there.

    I’m a 23 year girl who has been addicted to heroin for 2 years. I am currently 8 days clean (the longest i’ve ever been able to stay clean, normally 3 days was the longest I could go.) and I’ve have made changes to keep myself from being able to get the drug. I moved away from Portland, OR (a place where getting h is easy as cake anywhere in town) to my grandparents on the coast. I know that people say that to stop addiction you have to change everything you think and everything you do. And thats what I’m trying for very desperately but very much on my own (my grandparents are very strict and not very understanding when it comes to drug use and I honestly believe would ask me to leave if I told them about my drug use history). But right now even though the hard physical symptoms are pretty much gone and I’m actually able to eat, my mind is driving me crazy. I don’t know what to tell myself when my mind wonders off into using (which is all the time) or what to do to keep myself going and not return to Portland where I know my sobriety would be slaughtered. I’m hoping someone can send me some advice who has been clean for a long time and maybe has some words of wisdom. I know in my heart that I don’t want to be ruled of a nasty dirty drug anymore and I have more potential than that. Thank you and I hope you all are healthy and happy!!! love lindy lou

  • Dustin

    Hey addict of 4 years n sweetheart im sry to say there’s no getting away… its like growing up with a 55″ flat screen tv to going to a 20″ box set…. life just sux so u mind as well just enjoy the high

  • http://SpiritualRiver Dexter

    When I read comments like the one above in no. 5 it really makes me sad to know that some people are so very helpless and enslaved by this drug. I grew up in a household where my mother was a heroine addict and it was in many ways a living HELL! Seeing other addicts OD in our apartment became sought of normal for us, when I say us I should really say me because my younger brother was too young to even be aware of what was really happening at that point. The only way to beat any addiction is to put your faith in a higher power, something that is beyond the powers and abilities of yourself individually. I have had my own battles with addiction and I can say with complete honesty that if I had walked the line alone there is no way that could have beat it, it’s too powerful to overcome by yourself. ADDICTION is a powerful force and in most cases can not be overcome by just having a strong will to quit, though that is needed to beat it, strong will power in and of itself will in most cases not be enough. Good Luck and God Bless all of the people on this sight.

  • Courtney

    My little brothers addicted to heroin and I know he’s not going to stop he lost one of his very close friends last september to an overdose and that won’t make him stop…. he watched mikes mom run her fingers through his hair and lose it like a crazy person as he layed in that coffin…. and that wont make him stop… I am already in that mind set to bury my little brother…. I’m so sad… I dont even know wut to do… what do i do?

  • Patrick

    @ Courtney – no easy answers I am afraid.

    I would try hard to push him into rehab. Of course you cannot force a person in most cases. But that is the first step in a situation like his I believe. Professional help.

  • Sue

    My daughter has been a heroin addict for over a year. She went to detox 4 times, rehab for 3 months and the last detox was cold turkey at my home. It wasn’t pleasant for her but after 2 weeks she felt she was ready to move back to her apartment. Unfortunately we are pretty convinced she will go back to heroin because 2 weeks was not long enough in our eyes and the day before she left I caught her sniffing inhalants which was new to me. She refuses outpatient therapy as she has done it 4 times, says she already has the knowledge and knows it. She also is not on Suboxone or Methadone and we are all on guard waiting to see if she looks high. My question is what are the statistics regarding this situation? It has been a very rough road for all of us and before the heroin she was crushing opiates such as oxycontin and snorting it. It is just so sad and she has an 8 year old child that she shares custody with the dad. Any advice would be appreciated.

  • Jacob

    I googled “will i ever be normal again after heroin addiction.”
    Im bored and up late again. Sleepless, trying to ammuse myself with senseless search queries

    Likes others I too was a x-heroin user. cocaine user. exstacy, oxys, whatever, i did most drugs, but preferred the opiates. However, heroin, was the mother fucker that ripped.

    Long story short, I have been clean for 1 year. 4 months. For whatever that means. To be honest the last thing I remember was curled up in my misery and depression. I went to the doctor, requested anti-depressants SSRI’s,,,i felt kinda fucked up the first couple days with no intention of not doing dope, but my mind changed, and all of a sudden i could see a different angles to my problems. It helped. ( i recommend each person use pharmaceutics with responsibility, even anti-depressants. There is a yin and yang to everything so …u get some good..u get some diarrhea. )

    Downside, i smoke a joint and a pack of ciggs a day oh and im also addicted to now lexapro, which i have to take everyday or else i end up wanting to jump out the window for some strange reason. + other problems!!!??….and when it comes to “feelings” or human empathy im pretty much null and void. I am a friendly person, but when i quit using drugs, i had to step away from my comfort zone and local connections. I made a move to the city, got a mindless i hate my life kind of job, and i have been working it out on my own. My addictions remained anonymous to family and m
    ost friends, besides the select few, for choice reasons.
    When your high your high, and your low your low…sometimes its nice to just be in the middle and maintain a constant state. I feel my addictions were due part to mental or chemical imbalances, that were occurring in my brain. I feel better…but bored…

    For those wishing to get clean.
    I suggest, seeing your doctor. Your addiction may be linked with other medical conditions.
    Treat your mind. Take a vacation, leave town, smoke more pot.
    sorry to rant and rave, its 344am chicago, a/c unit went out in the middle of a heat wave. uggh.

  • Jacob

    edit. i got a new job , and i love….1 year 4 months…and every day gets better..i had to add that to shed some hope for those seeking to recover.

  • Yvette

    I’m just trying to get some input.. My kids father whom I have known for over 10 has been in and out of jail for various reasons. With that being said his family has been addicted to heroin even his grandma! Now keep in mind this was all new to me as family never was addicted to anything like that especially my immediate family. He did coke, then oxys, then heroin. All the while being being oblivious to it because he never told me or even would do it in front of me. We or shall I say he would fight with me on purpose and be gone for a few days. But once he got addicted to heroin he couldn’t hide it anymore. I kicked him out and he ended up getting in trouble and was facing prison time. To make a long story short he ended up getting accepted into a very good program and is in a different city and is able to really work on himself they offer school, jobs and basically show you how you should live your life. He’s been clean for 13 months now but still has 8 more to go. I know that no one can tell me the future if he will end up using again but is 2 years enough time to get over heroin? In the program he’s in they don’t offer any type of medication like methadone or suboxone…

  • Patrick

    @ Yvette – yeah there is no way to know when or if someone will relapse. My thought is to watch him carefully AFTER they leave long term treatment. That is when the true test begins.

    Long term works for many but it also fails for many people. It is not a magic bullet but if he already has 13 months then that is very significant, very encouraging…..

  • Yvette

    Thank for responding I really appreciate it. This is all new to me and I’m trying to handle it the best way I can for me and my children. Thank you again

  • babs that failed him…

    I was with a heroin addict for about 10 years who was also homeless, I had never known an addict or loved someone so much with all the baggage he had. I tried to give him a chance at a new kind of reality one where drugs were not the focus but a real life with someone who offered love and nurturing was a new start for him. He said it was what he wanted, it turned out he was just playing me and took me for all I had. all the while doing drugs behind my back with a crack whore he met at the methadone clinic he was in… I found out he had hep-C and now he has a pregnant addict girlfriend after I threw him out a year ago because I realized he didn’t want help just a clean safe place to sleep and I was the ticket he was looking for. I wish I could have been the “catalyst that was shining my light into his darkness” as he once said I was … I doubt they have a chance being they are both homeless, on Heroin and the fact that he beats her. I don’t know what to do to get my own healing from the trauma he put me through… I need help now and don’t know where to turn… any advice?

  • dillon

    Im 17 years old and a heroin addict currently in a recovery house. I have been through hell and back and im still not done with it, its a life long struggle. Honestly i think heroin is the worst drug because you become emotionally and physically addicted to it more than any other drug. Lately ive had the fuck its. I don’t have court untill october 7th and i have just been overwhelmed with life, and ive been thinking about throwing in the towel. Heroin addiction is a monster if you have anyone that is a heroin addict hold them closely and show them that you love them. I dont have anyone, im alone in this world and miserable i just don’t know if i can do this anymore. if you are a addict this isnt a fuckin game, get help to save your life.

  • Sandra

    Dillon – I am not a heroin addict, I was just on here to try and find something to help my friend, but your post seems so…sad. I had to say something. You’re so young – it gets so much better. High school is the worst time for a lot of people- and it sounds even harder for you. The good news is that all you have to do is survive it. Everyone changes who they are over and over again in their late teens and early twenties, trying to find what fits them, and you can too. All the upsetting stuff can just be some distant memory; something that happened to some guy you used to be, in a few years.

    I can also see that you’re basically screaming for help, but nobody hears, and I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry you’re alone right now. I’m sorry if it feels like nobody cares. I care. I know that doesn’t mean anything, because I’m just some stranger on the internet, but you will find more people, in REAL life who care. You def. won’t be alone forever. Also, it sounds like you are probably suffering from depression, just judging by your language. If you are, you should tell your doctor, they really can help. I was alone too when I was your age. It’s been 4 years, and I can’t even begin to tell you how much everything has changed. Hang in there, ok? You will thank yourself in a few years, I promise.

  • sarah

    Anything possiable believe i you and if you really want to get clean you will its just thta simple its really growing up and not letting life hurt yuo anymore , the only person that can hurt you is you, We give Life meaning remember that no matter what people say or do its how we enterpertate it. Dont let yourself be a victim , live this life. Sure its hard , but alot better then waking up sick looking for our next fix just to get by. Ive been cleen 22 months and love it there’s struggles but im free from that monster all I ask is to realize its you hurting you own your life! Love all Hope for all who suffer

  • sarah

    sorry for my spelling errors up late doing college hw sucks but gotta get done hope you can still understand the message much love, you know thats all we addicts need in the first place ! Ha HA xoxo

  • Forrest

    Im a recovering heroin addict myself. I’m the worst of the worst and I’ve walked through hell many times, I don’t have a vein left in my body. I’m 26 I have 3 years of recovery time and I’m telling you it’s possible to get sober and stay sober ONLY if your willing to do whatever it takes to get sober. Sponsor, 12steps, meetings+exercise+ some type of passion you have (becoming a major musician, becoming a lawyer…whatever)+good friends that give a shit about you+a little willpower to fight for your life=HAPPY SOBRIETY- GO TELL ALL THE DRUG DEALERS TO FUCK THEMSELVES+change everything about your life——-It sounds like a shit ton-because it is…Getting sober and staying sober will be the hardest and biggest thing you do in life…BUT if you do it right…The payoff is incredible…Your story is beautiful…AND remember this…A DRUG IS A DRUG…Alcohol and every other substance is off limits…Trust me if your a heroin addict you will become an alcoholic or whatever. Don’t believe me? Give it a try and find out what happens when you try to use other substances (it always ends in a fire for addicts ). I’ve learned the hardway over and over. If you want to be original stay fucked up and shady to life. Most don’t make it. If you really are tired of being sick and tired…embrace the pain get into treatment and do as I’ve said. Is there more to it? yes…But these are the basics. If you do the right things…I promise you it just gets better. I don’t think about using anymore, the cravings fade, the insomnia fades and you become human again. JUST GIVE YOURSELF A FUCKING CHANCE.

  • Anonymous

    I just detoxed from H for the first time.. now while I see the point being made about suboxone and methadone if no help is offered to help a heroin addict detox they just simply won’t.. I also got my dope in Portland Oregon.. but live in bend.. just went through 13 days of hell getting off this stuff and BC of the pain I never want to look back.. but if my town had better resources for heroin addicts and offered taper off programs like methadone or subs I would have kicked over a year ago.. heroin addicts team up with eachother BC they’re the only ones that understand eachother. and that’s huge.. however a friend and I who just detoxed decided we should relapse together today “just one more time” so there’s truth in that too.. luckily we came to our senses and didn’t cuz its just not worth it. I refuse to let this drug steal anymore of my life than it has and will do whatever it takes. glad I changed. my number cuz I don’t get those calls anymore

  • bnm

    I just detoxed from H for the first time.. now while I see the point being made about suboxone and methadone if no help is offered to help a heroin addict detox they just simply won’t.. I also got my dope in Portland Oregon.. but live in bend.. just went through 13 days of hell getting off this stuff and BC of the pain I never want to look back.. but if my town had better resources for heroin addicts and offered taper off programs like methadone or subs I would have kicked over a year ago.. heroin addicts team up with eachother BC they’re the only ones that understand eachother. and that’s huge.. however a friend and I who just detoxed decided we should relapse together today “just one more time” so there’s truth in that too.. luckily we came to our senses and didn’t cuz its just not worth it. I refuse to let this drug steal anymore of my life than it has and will do whatever it takes. glad I changed. my number cuz I don’t get those calls anymore

  • Sampson

    Hey, I didn’t read anything on this page but I was a stone cold junkie for 5 years. I stole from my parents, got them in debt, they’re still suffering unimaginable consequences for my actions. I gave them my pay checks for two years, it will never be enough. I’ve been clean for two years now. I feel fucking awesome and I’ll tell you my secret: MOVE. “They” may tell you not to but it really is the best thing, if only to get you grounded to the point where you connect with your true self if even for a moment. Just one conversation within yourself, enough to plant a seed. If possible, move to an isolated area so you will forcibly be alone with the ever flowing thoughts that come with sobriety. Develop hobbies and skills, believe me they’ll come with the boredom. Don’t get me wrong, no matter how easy it seems in the daylight, my addiction comes to me in my dreams. I fight off people trying to hit a vein or offer me smack. I don’t feel it in real life because I refuse to go find the source, therefore it does not exist. Who knows what will happen, it’s only been two years, maybe it’s not the best advice. All I know is that I feel human again. I am no longer a slave and my creativity is flowing. All I offer is love to whomever reads this. Give yourself the chance before you end up losing your soul. If you feel you have already, I found mine again. It’ll still be there waiting like a child saying “what took you so fucking long?”

  • Daniel

    Are you still sober after three years man? I’m very happy you found the 12 steps, I wish you the best.