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5 Unexpected Things I Learned from Being a Heroin Addict

#2. Methadone Can Be Worse Than Heroin

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For the uninitiated, methadone is a cheap, legal alternative to heroin that can be prescribed to help wean users off the drug. But trading a heroin addiction for a methadone addiction isn't exactly the Black Friday deal people make it out to be, because methadone is actually the more addictive substance. While heroin withdrawal by itself can't kill you and has physical withdrawal symptoms lasting anywhere from three days to a few weeks, withdrawing from methadone absolutely can kill you, and has symptoms that can last several months. I wouldn't wish that shit on my worst enemy. Not even you, Llarold the hipster barista.

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He's only addicted to thinking he's better than you.

Another problem is that methadone clinics aren't what you'd call "strict." They let you choose how to "taper off" yourself, and they're happy to keep selling you the drug as long as you want (there's a reason recovering junkies refer to methadone users as "lifers"). Then there are studies that have found that, in terms of cost to society and overall life-span of patients, a more effective strategy for getting clean is to just slowly taper off heroin use. It's probably worth noting at this point that, like methadone, heroin itself was first introduced as a safe, non-addictive cure for morphine addiction -- at least until they started marketing it to children as a cough medication.

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Good for what ails you, if what ails you is not having a childhood addiction to heroin.

I'm not saying that companies intentionally give drugs to addicts to keep them addicted, or even that methadone is a bad thing -- it allows a lot of people to manage their addiction and lead something like a normal life, and I wouldn't take that away from anyone who wants it. But I am saying that trading one opioid for another shouldn't be your only choice, because it can easily end up being just another addiction. You know the stories about how some little island in the Pacific had a rat problem, so they flew in snakes -- then they had a snake problem? Same deal. Except this time the snakes are inside your veins.

#1. Withdrawal Can Last the Rest of Your Life

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I told you that heroin withdrawal lasts around three weeks at the most, and that's true, but this shit doesn't end at withdrawal: You can still end up with PAWS.

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Do heroin and bears will murder you.

PAWS is a deceptively adorable acronym for post-acute withdrawal syndrome, and the symptoms are similar to PTSD: depression, insomnia, restlessness, feelings of guilt and shame, inability to think clearly, and, in my case, very vivid nightmares. In one, I have a bag of dope in my hand and I am looking for a place to shoot up, but every time I find one, I get interrupted. The dream always ends when I have a needle in my arm: I'm about to push off, and right before I can feel the effects, I wake up. PAWS is like my addiction taunting me, every night, and it can last anywhere from a year, to several decades, to forever. But even without PAWS, I know I'm never going back to the way I was before -- I'm "hooked" forever. Even if I don't use for 20 years, one slip-up means I'll get withdrawal symptoms almost immediately. This is why you will see recovering heroin addicts refuse pain medication at the hospital: They'd rather go through surgery without morphine than have to go back to that very first day they tried to kick.

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No thanks. Appendicitis doesn't actually sound too bad.

These days, Sally and I are broken up (I dumped her when she rolled over on me in jail, and not in the fun way. Now she's in prison for something unrelated), and I've been clean for 11 months. But my problems aren't over, because the drug itself isn't the problem -- the addiction is. Remember, I was using heroin every day for weeks before I developed a physical dependency, so heroin was just my attempt to fix problems that were already in place. If you know someone who's using or has used, you should know that this isn't as simple as them making bad decisions. They're running from something that, to them, seems a whole lot scarier than a needle.


This article was written before the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman and is dedicated to the memory of everything he did outside his illness. Ed Byrne is still taking it day by day and can be reached by email. JF Sargent is a dick-joke journalist at Cracked.

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