The wickedest thing about heroin is that it takes advantage of your own body chemistry to get you addicted. In therapy, I learned that your brain actually produces opioids on its own. These natural chemicals are weaker than heroin, and your body only produces them in small amounts, but they’re important for your body to fight off anxiety and relieve pain. Taking heroin is like cranking your body’s natural pain relief system up to eleven.
It’s a stereotype for addicts to say heroin “takes the pain away”, but that’s literally what it does. Physical pain, spiritual pain, anxiety, all of that just goes away when you shoot up. And it happens instantly, in the few moments, it takes for the heroin to travel from the injection site to your brain.
Unfortunately for us addicts, your body isn’t designed to have this much opioid in your blood. Using just a few times causes your brain to shut down opioid receptors and stop producing its own opioids. This has two major effects:
- It takes more of the drug to has the same effect. You’re probably familiar with the term “chasing the dragon”, meaning taking higher doses of heroin to try to get the same high you got the first time you used. This leads to a vicious cycle. I’d take more heroin, my brain would shut down more opioid receptors, and I’d have to take even more heroin the next time. All the while, I got less and less high, even while I spent more and more money on heroin.
- It makes it hard to feel normal when you’re not using. When the brain stops producing natural opioids, everything feels worse. I remember banging my knee on a deep fryer at work. It left a small bruise which shouldn’t have bothered me that much, but when I was sober, it ached constantly. Small things, like my manager writing me up for being late to work, would send me into a full-blown anxiety attack, my heart racing until I could sneak off to the bathroom to use. Eventually, I ended up in a constant state of pain and anxiety unless I was using. I barely even felt high anymore. I just wanted to feel normal.
WHY IT’S HARD TO QUIT
By the time I’d been shooting up for six months, I knew I had a problem. I was depressed. When I wasn’t working or using, I was sleeping. It was a miserable way to live, but still, I kept using.
Now, if you read my first post, you know I used regularly for five years, and you may be asking yourself why I kept using for another three and a half years before getting help.
Every addict has their own story, and other people’s reasons are different, but I can tell you why I waited: I was terrified of withdrawal. I tried quitting twice in that first year of shooting up, locked myself in my room and dealt with the shakes and the vomiting and the runny nose. I told my mom I was sick, but really, I was drug sick. Both times, I ended up having to go to work, and both times, I ended up getting fired.
The first time, a customer insulted me and I flew off the handle, calling him all kinds of names, and my manager had to hold me back from punching the customer. Even though he fired me, I’m grateful to that manager. Without him, I probably would have ended up in prison. The second time I tried to quit, I couldn’t handle the stress of my job, so I just walked out halfway through my shift.
After that, I was afraid to quit, because with heroin I was able to hold a job, at least for a while. And without a job, what was I? Just another junkie. I was afraid to quit because I thought heroin was the only way to keep my life from falling apart.