Heroin is a powerful opioid drug derived from morphine, a naturally occurring substance typically found in Asia, Mexico and Columbia. Heroin first became a major problem throughout the United States after several years of widespread and rampant painkiller prescriptions. When opioid painkillers first hit the pharmaceutical market, manufacturers assured prescribing physicians that the medications were non-addictive and completely safe to use. This turned out to be far from true, and within less than a year there were innumerable individuals suffering from opioid painkiller addiction. As rates of addiction rose, overdose-related deaths began to climb significantly. Eventually, government officials caught on, and they began mandating restrictions on painkiller prescriptions. The supply of painkillers in circulation was dramatically decreased, and those who had developed physical and psychological dependencies were forced to search for an alternative. Unfortunately, this alternative was heroin – an illicit street drug that was both more affordable and easy to obtain. As a result the rates of heroin addiction skyrocket, and heroin addiction and heroin-related overdose continue to be major issues to this day.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) that in 2011 alone, an estimated 4 to 6 percent of individuals who abused prescription opioids eventually turned to heroin. More recent NIH data suggests that heroin is most commonly the first opioid that individuals use. It can be very difficult to assess the severity of heroin addiction unless you have lived through it firsthand, or unless you have watched a loved one suffer long-term. Andrew Warwick, a Maryland-raised 29-year-old, was first introduced to heroin at the age of 20. He sat down with us to describe his own personal experiences with heroin addiction – and recovery. He now has three years sober after several stints in residential rehab, and is currently an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Interview with a Heroin Addict
Question: How were you introduced to heroin?
Answer: I was first introduced to heroin when I saw that somebody at a party had it. I had used drugs before, and I ended up seeking it out. I had never tried heroin before and I was curious.
Question: What happened during your first time using heroin?
Answer: I’m pretty sure I got sick. I was already really drunk, so I don’t really remember the entire experience. I’d say overall it made me feel good; it made me feel a sense of relief. The feeling was very slightly euphoric.
Question: What was the appeal? What led you to using it a second time?
Answer: I’ve always struggled with bipolar disorder, and I definitely used drugs to self-medicate long before I tried heroin for the first time. The sense of relief it gave me led me to use it a second time. I couldn’t really describe it, but I think I was so miserable at the time that I just liked feeling messed up. I liked feeling distracted and numb.
Question: How long did you use heroin?
Answer: I used heroin for around five years, off and on. I was able to string together some short periods of sobriety, but I never really took recovery seriously. I didn’t ever fully commit – I always had one foot out the door.
Question: What were some of the worst things you experienced while actively using heroin?
Answer: Life in general was completely miserable. Withdrawal was horrible, the dependency was unbearable. Feeling like I needed a substance to live, that was such a gross feeling. I had to rely on people to get me my drugs – people I didn’t know or trust. My interpersonal relationships completely collapsed. I found myself in psych wards multiple times, where I would start to undergo withdrawal. After the first or second time, there was really nothing enjoyable about using. It seemed like everything fell apart around me and I became powerless; I couldn’t put the pieces of my life back together.
Question: When did you finally decide to get clean and sober, and what led you to this decision?
Answer: I overdosed in Florida. I actually died. They found my dead body in the bushes outside of a detox facility. I was rushed to the local hospital, and I was obviously given Narcan, which ultimately saved my life. After that, I had to go spend three full months in what I can only describe as a “Jesus Camp.” I lived in a small cabin with about ten other guys, did manual labor, and read the bible all day. It was a pretty awful experience all around. That was probably what I would describe as my rock bottom.
Question: What ultimately helped you get and stay clean?
Answer: I got involved in the 12 step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Before that, I just… I mean, I really couldn’t do it anymore. I had already put myself through so much. I knew what would happen if I picked up heroin again. I knew what road I would go down. I wanted to start living my life, not throwing it away day after day, chasing something that made me into the worst version of myself.
Question: What advice would you give to those struggling with heroin addiction and looking for a way out?
Answer: I would let them know that there IS a way out. It won’t feel like there is, but there is. If you put effort into your recovery you’ll be amazed by what you can achieve. In a matter of three short years I was actually able to get my life together. It will suck at first, too. It won’t be easy at first. But trust me, it will all be worth it in the end. I know that probably sounds a little bit cheesy, but it’s true. I’ve never been happier than I am today.
Heroin Detox and Withdrawal – Chapel Hill Detox
While heroin withdrawal is rarely life-threatening, it can be so physically, mentally and emotionally agonizing that attempting to detox at home usually results in an immediate return to use. If your or someone you love has been struggling with heroin addiction, medical detox will be a necessary first step. At Chapel Hill Detox, we offer comprehensive medical detox services to those suffering from heroin abuse and addiction. Some of the resources we provide include 24-hour medical care and supervision, individual and group therapy sessions, and introduction to the 12 step method of Alcoholics Anonymous, chef-prepared meals and constant access to our state-of-the-art-kitchen, and a wide variety of holistic resources. We also offer medication assisted treatment to opiate addicts, which will undeniably help alleviate intense psychological cravings while helping to lessen the pain of physical withdrawal. We understand that committing to recovery is one of the biggest and most important decisions you’ll ever make. We also understand that once you make the decision to get clean and sober, you will not likely want to worry about the details. How will you get to detox? Does your insurance provider cover the cost of medical detox? Our admissions counselors will gladly handle all of these details and more, ensuring that your admission to our facility is simple and straightforward. If need be, we will even help you schedule travel arrangements. All you really need to do is pick up the phone and make the call.
We look forward to speaking with you soon, and getting you started on your own personal journey of heroin addiction recovery today.