The Sad State of Many Heroin Addicts

heroin addict

When the unaddicted public thinks of heroin addicts, I suspect that they think of someone strung out due to withdrawal sickness, the way Frank Sinatra was in the movie Man with a Golden Arm. Or if they know something about the drug, they might picture someone “on the nod,” in other words, nodding off as the opiate makes them drowsy.

Not many people realize that many heroin addicts just get enough of the drug to “get well,” as they call it. What they mean is that the amount of heroin they have will just keep the dopesickness, the withdrawal pains away. It’s not nearly enough to get high.

When a heroin addict has lost pretty much everything, there’s not going to be enough money to get high. Just enough that the cramps, the anxiety, nausea, vomiting, and pain don’t kick in.

The Village Voice newspaper ran an article about a young man and his girlfriend who would panhandle to get him the heroin he needed. The article commented, “In the park, the heroin has been bad lately, nothing strong enough for a good nod, just enough ‘to get well.’”

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health 948,000 people used heroin in 2016, a sharp increase from 404,000 in 2002. More than two million are addicted to the abuse of pain medication. For some people, there’s no difference between these two. If they can’t get one kind of drug, the get the other. Plenty of drug dealers sell both pills and heroin, take your pick. If you’ve got enough money, you probably pick pills. If you’re broke, heroin is a fraction of the price.

The Main Focus of One’s Life

The fact that these heroin addicts are not getting high does not mean that they lead normal lives. For many of them, they have very few resources. They don’t work normal jobs that give them predictable income. These normalcies are long gone.

Through panhandling, petty theft, sex work or whatever they can devise, they gather up money and turn it over to their drug dealers. For ten dollars, they can get a good hit of heroin. From the time they open their eyes in the morning, this is their job – get enough of the drug to keep from getting sick. If they don’t score before they start getting sick, then the drug they finally lay their hands on will help them “get well.”

When a person reaches this state, they are a long ways down the road of heroin or opiate addiction. But my years with Narconon have shown me that it doesn’t have to be this way. Heroin addiction can be overcome—even for some very long-term addicts. They can reclaim their self-respect and become productive once again.



Sue Birkenshaw

Sue has worked in the addiction field with the Narconon network for three decades. She has developed and administered drug prevention programs worldwide and worked with numerous drug rehabilitation centers over the years. Sue is also a fine artist and painter, who enjoys traveling the world which continues to provide unlimited inspiration for her work. You can follow Sue on Twitter, or connect with her on LinkedIn.