The New Face of the Heroin Addict

The New Face of the Heroin Addict

When Ben found his wife Carolyn smoking heroin in the cab of a pickup truck with his 12-year-old daughter nearby, he finally set some boundaries. He thought he had been helping his wife with her substance abuse problems as he frequently pled with her to please get treatment. Ben had believed his wife when she said she could quit by herself without rehab. She swore she had been clean for approximately a week and had successfully detoxed on her own without medical intervention. It was not true. When Ben gave Carolyn a choice—she could either go to rehab or leave home—she chose to leave home.

Carolyn is just one example of the new type of heroin user. She lives in an expensive home, drives an expensive car, is married to a successful business man, and has three children, all in private schools. According to an in-depth CBS report, “the biggest increases in heroin use in recent years were found in groups that typically aren’t expected to go near the drug, including women, people with private insurance, and higher-income individuals.” During the past decade, the gaps in use “between men and women, people on Medicaid or with private insurance, and those with low or high incomes have all narrowed.” In fact, there is an increase in use “throughout many segments of society.”

The rehabilitation center, Michael’s House Treatment Center, agrees, stating, “Heroin use has a new image. It’s the chic drug choice for some in upper-income brackets, in exclusive neighborhoods.”

USA Today notes heroin has become so popular in Charlotte, North Carolina, “Dealers deliver to the suburbs and run specials to attract their young, professional, upper-income customers.” Professionals, including police officers, nurses, lawyers, and even ministers, are showing up at rehab centers seeking help.

As of 2015, there were 591,000 people in the U.S., ages 26 and up, who reported using heroin within the past year, with nearly half of those admitting to being current users. One reason for the use of heroin by suburban women is attributed to the crackdown on the use of prescription painkillers like opioids OxyContin and Vicodin.

As new laws made the drugs more expensive and more difficult to obtain, instead of shutting down the addiction problem, people addicted to the pills switched to cheaper and easier-to-find heroin. Center for Disease Control and Addiction (CDC) director, Tom Frieden, states that “the strongest risk factor for heroin abuse or dependence” is prescription drug use.

In fact, the CDC found that people addicted to prescription painkillers are 40 percent more likely to abuse heroin. But all is not lost if a heroin addict can be convinced to go to rehab. The success rate is high for those who receive treatment that includes addressing the underlying reasons that led to the addiction.

An addiction medicine specialist who has been treating addiction for more than 30 years confirms, “We do have the ability to deal with it on a treatment level. We have the medication and we have the know-how. We just don’t have the resources.” CDC officials agree, noting that the “heroin epidemic” can be reversed “by increasing access to substance-abuse treatment services.” One problem seems to be in convincing addicts to go to rehab.

How to Convince a Heroin Addict to Get Treatment

Convincing a heroin addict to get treatment is not an easy task. Many have tried unsuccessfully to give up the drug on their own. Others have been to rehab and relapsed. One thing almost certain is that a family member pleading with a loved one to get help will not work. A few suggestions that may help include:

  • Guide a discussion so the ultimate decision to get help is made by the addict. In the example given, Ben gave Carolyn a choice: She could not use around the children, which meant she could not stay at home. She was the one who made the choice to leave. After a period of time away from her home and children, she made the choice to go to rehab and found a place on her own that seemed to meet her needs.
  • Recognize the concept that an addict has to “hit rock bottom” is a myth. It is almost always possible for an addict to “sink lower.” Try stimulating a discussion about how much better life could be for the addict without the addiction. Have the addict think about ways life would be improved so they are the ones coming up with the answers and, ultimately, the solutions.
  • Present options for detox. Going “cold turkey” is miserable and dangerous. A proper program of medical detox will provide a combination of nutrition, vitamins, massage, sauna, exercise, and other physical therapies so the person is “weaned off” the drug. This minimizes the discomfort felt if use of the drug is suddenly stopped.
  • Assist the addict in finding a program that will meet his or her needs. There are many types of programs. It is important addicts find ones that appeal to them. It can be a holistic approach, an approach that combines with psychological counseling to address the underlying reasons for the addiction, or one that is faith based. Whatever appeals to the addict will have the most potential for success.
  • Recognize inpatient rehab has the best chance for success. For one reason, it removes the person from the surroundings where they have been using their drug. These programs also provide aftercare, which is an important part of rehabilitation.

Michael’s House offers encouragement. It reports, “Detox and therapeutic addiction treatments are effective. Patients who receive evidence-based interventions immediately stop abusing heroin and start learning how to live a life of wellness and balance.”


Rebecca has a background in medical writing and as a freelance writer with a B.S. degree in nursing, she has written on a variety of topics for physicians and other health services entities and worked for a number of years as a Certified Public Health Nurse.

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