Why Do Heroin Addicts Continue to Endanger Their Lives?

It’s utterly incomprehensible to an unaddicted person—why would a heroin addict continue to inject or smoke this substance that could kill them at any moment? Indeed, it makes no sense at all. But then, when a person is well and thoroughly addicted, reason is not what they are operating off.

Why is that? It’s because of the effects these and other heavy drugs have on the mind and body. The first times drugs are used, there’s some effect a person enjoys. It could be euphoria, relaxation, relief from problems or oblivion from all life’s worries and concerns. If the person uses a stimulant like cocaine or methamphetamine, he could enjoy the energy and confidence that floods through him while he’s high.

Hand holds an empty syringe

After those pleasant sensations wear off, the individual may choose to renew the sensation with more drugs. But even as he’s enjoying the effects, he’s giving up some of his rationality in favor of the drug’s effects. He’s yielded his own abilities to the artificial surge of confidence or relaxation he gets from his chosen drug. As he continues to use drugs, he chooses this artificial reality over his own capacity to enjoy life or accomplish goals.

The fundamental reasons for this choice vary. Some people are trying to escape from real-life trauma and pain. Others feel hopeless about fitting in with a social group or they just want an adventurous escape from boredom and tedium. Drugs and alcohol offer apparent relief from stress as well – whether that stress derives from the person’s own irresponsibility or from a hostile individual or environment. Of course, that apparent relief comes with a high price.

The Damage Adds Up

Each time the person reaches for drugs, he’s adding toxins to his body. He’s blunting his own ability to think and act by covering up his abilities with these drugs. This damage does not go away when the drugs wear off—they accumulate. Day by day, he has less rationality within his reach. His body is more and more toxic. Every day, he limits his own ability to function and the drugs gradually take over his self-determinism and ability to think clearly.

Actually, for some people, the metamorphosis from non-addict to addict takes place in a single instant. When that first sensation of heroin or pills or methamphetamine surges though their bodies, they are lost. And they know it. They know this is something they must come back to, again and again.

For others, it’s slower. They dabble. It’s a weekend activity. They don’t even notice how it gradually becomes daily. Or maybe there some setback, upset or disaster and they reach for the pipe or needle to make it go away.

Gradually, the drugs lower their awareness in every area of life. They are less aware of what other people think of them, of problems their life that need to be addressed, of their own physical condition and their grooming. They are less aware of what drugs are doing to them so they see no reason to quit. This is how they slide into full-blown addiction.

When Addiction Rules the Day

Eventually, drugs are in control of their decisions. Many addicted people talk about how finding their drugs for the day is their first thought when they open their eyes in the morning. They are going to do whatever it takes to get the heroin or other drug that keeps them from getting dopesick. If that means stealing from mom or dad or lifting a few things from a store or forging a check, that’s what they will do.

It’s like they’ve lost the ability to access their own values, honesty, productivity and rationality. Those qualities are still there, but they are completely buried by the need for drugs.

Concerns about overdoses, infections and physical harm take a back seat. For many, even staying alive or dying with the next injection is beyond their ability to be concerned. Some people have talked about hearing of a new batch of heroin on the street that’s killing people and their thought is, “Wow, it must be powerful—where can I find some?”

Along with relinquishing concern about themselves, some addicted people actually wish for death. They’ve tried to quit many times, maybe even went to rehab a few times, and never stayed sober. It feels like it would be okay if they died. They have no hope at all and no sense of self-worth.

Amazingly, They Can Still Recover

The fact is that these changes all result from the deadening effects of the drugs. It’s not the individual. Families often don’t know this and are instead baffled that the person they love can turn into such a monster. Actually, they didn’t—they are overwhelmed by the need for and effects of drugs.

When a rehab program really works and helps them get the traces of drugs out of their systems, and then helps them recover from the mental trauma and learn new life skills, they can return to the person the family has missed for so long.

Recovery is real and happens every day. Don’t give up on the loved one you feel is gone.
They can come back.

When you need this kind of help, contact Narconon Arrowhead at 1-800-468-6933. We can help. We have been helping individuals with just this kind of recovery for more than two decades. Call us today.


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.