What Do Heroin Addicts Look Like?

What Do Heroin Addicts Look Like?

What Do Heroin Addicts Look Like?


A new study about heroin addiction showed that the demographics of heroin addicts have changed–not a surprise to people who work in addiction treatment–but still may shock many who may not even know they may be standing on the rim of an erupting heroin volcano.

Since the 1960s, the image of heroin addiction was the worst of the worst among addicts: men in inner cities, often quite young, completely cut off from society. Today, that picture has shifted to the suburbs.

The study by researchers from Washington University showed that in the 1960s, more than 80 percent of heroin addicts were men, while the gender breakdown now is almost even. The drug’s users were more racially mixed 50 years ago, too. Then, about 40 percent of those seeking treatment were white, while today more than 90 percent are white. The path to heroin shifted, too. In the 1960s, 80 percent of users said that heroin was their first opiate. Today, almost as many (75 percent) started with prescription opiates.

There are a few caveats to the study. First, the researchers were talking to people seeking treatment, which may skew the results. Many addicts cannot afford treatment. Second, a study today cannot provide adequate information about older addicts from 50 years ago. Most would be dead even if they had normal lifespans and their addiction may mean their lives were cut short, too.

But the study is a good warning sign for those who need a warning. Many people who remain disconnected from heroin base their impressions on images from their youth. Inner city druggies, as opposed to suburbanites who only drink or, at worst, smoke pot. Suburban parents who may have smoked a little weed know that no one they knew ever did heroin, so they think their teens will think the same way. It’s the drug of last resort for the most destitute. It’s easy for them to say ‘my kid would never try heroin’ or ‘I’ll never try heroin’ because that was a line no decent person crossed. That was going too far.

But economics have changed that picture. People who developed an opiate habit from prescription pills get to a point where $10 of heroin makes more sense than $80 for one oxycodone pill. The stigma of needles disappears when it is all so much cheaper. Everyone needs to recognize that today. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin recognized it in his state, which is a microcosm of so many other places battling heroin. You may not think heroin can touch your life or the lives of anyone you know, but it’s out there and it may be closer than you think.

If you or someone you love is struggling with heroin or opiate addiction, Recovery Connection can help. Contact our intake counselors at (800) 993-3869 to learn about the options open to you.