The mind of a heroin addict: the struggle to get clean and stay sober


For a heroin addict, recovery is a life-long process. Philip Seymour Hoffman had been clean for 23 years before he relapsed in 2013, and died from an apparent overdose last week.

To many people who have never grappled with addiction, it can be difficult to comprehend the desperate desire to use, even after so many years sober. To gain deeper insight into drug addiction, we asked recovering heroin users to share their experiences with us. Nearly 300 people responded, describing their struggle to get clean, and the ongoing battle to stay sober. Here, we publish a selection of those responses.

For the past 26 years I’ve thought of heroin every day

When I first gave up heroin, I could never tell myself it was forever  

I see what happened to Philip Seymour Hoffman everyday in my hometown  

I live in real fear that I’ll relapse

No one sets out to be a heroin addict. It’s not a lifestyle choice

If you are an addict you are either using, clean
or dead. There is nothing in between  

After all these years, I still have some kind of sick fascination with heroin  

Hoffman’s death has not resulted in feelings of sorrow, but thoughts and feelings of nostalgia  

It’s easy to think that because you have been clean and sober for so long that using one time will be OK. It’s easy to become complacent in your recovery  

Every single time I relapse, my life spins out
of control  

The ‘War On Drugs’ has been a dismal failure  

I wish people would understand that addiction is a symptom  

The media’s ‘It’s so sad’, ‘How could this happen?’
style coverage of a celebrity overdose pisses me right off 

There are panicked rushes to inject in public toilets, a desperation to hide injection sites from employers and perpetual fear of a crackdown 

I spent 14 years begging on the streets, eating out of bins, almost dying from infections and having hell inside my skull  

Once addicted, your life then becomes a dedication to your addiction  

The feeling is almost impossible to explain to someone who has never done an opiate  

It’s important to maintain a strong support system

When I was living in Amsterdam at the height of my habit, junkies were being fished out of the canals two-at-a-time most weekends. None of us expected to live very long  

Heroin encases you in a little cotton-wool house and nothing hurts anymore  

I believe in giving up drugs on your own terms  

I have no words of wisdom to offer an addict as he destroys everything he loves for 30 minutes of nirvana 

We are all fighting life and pain  

I was essentially babysat for a couple of weeks by people in Narcotics Anonymous, who fed me, talked to me and took me to meetings until I could look after myself again  

Addiction is a great equal-opportunities malady. It takes one and all regardless of class, creed or distinction  

I have four sons. The two youngest were born addicts 

If something happens to trigger my need, the craving comes back as fresh as it was the very first week of sobriety  

It shames me to write this now, but I did continue using – mainlining – for the first few months of the pregnancy  

Once you’ve relapsed, the life you had in recovery seems like someone else’s  

Sometimes I think I would like to shoot up water just to experience the whole ceremony surrounding the event 

I started using when I was 12, by the age of 36 I was shooting up methadone between my toes  

I came so close to total disaster. It was like I was walking blindfolded towards the edge of the cliff

As an addict in my early 20s, I nearly succumbed to several heroin overdoses  

When I heard about Seymour ‘going out’ (as we say in recovery) after 23 years, it scared the crap out of me

We get deaths like this every few months, either in the media or in our recovery community  

Whenever I hear of a celebrity drug death, especially when it relates to smack (heroin), often the first thing that comes to mind is the hypocrisy which surrounds drugs and junkies  

I find it hard to remain vigilant when there is a high-profile overdose.