The media has painted a particular picture of a heroin addict. When you think of a person who uses heroin, you might picture someone who looks physically ill, has destroyed their relationships and is slumped in an alley with used needles by their side. But this isn’t the case for all heroin users. Unlike those who visibly struggle because of their drug addiction, there are others who are able to carry on what seems like a normal life despite their behavior. But can you be a functioning heroin addict and get away with it?
What Is a High-Functioning Heroin Addict?
A high-functioning heroin addict is someone who uses the drug but is able to maintain a certain lifestyle, including holding up their job and maintaining their relationships. These are individuals who can have their families, jobs, and school without raising any red flags.
Unfortunately, heroin use is becoming more and more prevalent in light of the opioid epidemic, which began in the late 1990s when opioid prescriptions were being written at an alarming rate. For some, addiction is genetic, and for others, chronic pain and lack of legal prescription opioids got them to this point. Sometimes experimentation simply got them hooked.
Heroin is a type of opioid, like morphine or oxycodone. It works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, not only blocking pain signaling like prescription opioids but also increasing the level of dopamine. Its impact on dopamine – the feel-good chemical associated with elevated mood, pleasure, and reward – is why heroin is so addictive.
Usually, heroin addiction is the result of a growing prescription opioid addiction. Many people who started taking prescribed narcotics for pain eventually became hooked on the drugs’ euphoric effects. But once the prescriptions stopped coming and the pills ran out, they turned to a cheaper, more accessible, and illegal alternative, such as heroin.
Can You Really Be a Functioning Heroin Addict?
Although you can be a functioning heroin addict, this usually doesn’t last. There are different personalities when it comes to addiction: the person with the “go big or go home” mentality and the person who uses just enough to “take the edge off.” Functioning heroin addicts are usually the latter.
These people may use just enough to maintain themselves and function “normally.” They might even use the drug only in social settings or “recreationally.” However, considering how potent and addicting heroin is, individuals who follow this pattern of drug use eventually succumb to a full-blown addiction that takes over their life.
Signs of Heroin Use to Look Out For
Considering how well functional heroin users hide their drug use and keep up with their responsibilities, identifying the addiction can be challenging. And even if you do have an idea, you might be too afraid to bring it up to this person for fear of upsetting them. However, there are signs of high-functioning heroin addiction, and these indicators can help you know for sure if your loved one needs help.
Below are some common signs of heroin use in functioning addicts to look out for:
- They lie a lot: Lying is a way of life for a functioning heroin user. They might fake doctor’s appointments or long hours at work when they’re really visiting a dealer or using drugs with friends or even colleagues.
- They’re frequently sick: If this person is always complaining of nausea, headaches, or just always seems to be having a rough day, they might be going through withdrawals or a “heroin hangover.”
- They make excuses for their actions: Similar to lying, the person might always have an excuse up their sleeve for their behavior. They might not take responsibility for their actions or even make it seem like you’re confused or overthinking.
- They hang out with people who also use drugs: The saying, “Show me who your friends are, and I'll tell you who you are,” rings true. Typically, those who abuse drugs like to surround themselves with other people who also use drugs. This helps them avoid any unwanted judgment or guilt.
- A lot of their money goes to drugs: If you’re a partner or close friend of a high-functioning heroin addict, then you may notice that they spend lots of money on things that aren’t clothes, groceries, other necessities, or basics. They might try to lie about or brush off any accusations about how they’re spending their money.
- They go off on their own frequently when out with friends or at work: Even functional heroin addicts have to use the drug frequently to feel “normal,” and to keep up with this need, they might step away frequently while in social settings or at work, to use.
There are many other signs that someone might secretly be using heroin. If you notice that your loved one is struggling with addiction, don’t wait to get them help.
Help for Heroin Addiction
If you notice that your loved one is addicted to heroin or any other drug, talk to them about getting help. Our Texas treatment center offers heroin addiction treatment along with other rehab programs that help clients heal both physically and mentally from drug use.
Starting with medically monitored detox, we help clients begin their recovery on the right foot by treating their withdrawals in a safe and comfortable environment. During detox, clients receive 24-hour care and medical assistance.
Our treatment programs also utilize psychotherapy modalities like CBT and DBT to help patients understand the source of their addictions and work through them in a healthy and effective manner. You don’t have to go through recovery alone.