Ask a Junky – Avoiding Addiction

Question: “Is it possible to use heroin and not become addicted?”

Answer: Before I address this question, I want to preface it by stressing how addicting heroin is. It’s not like any other drug. I don’t mean to downplay the seriousness of any addiction. Many drugs can be physically addicting, but I’ve tried ‘em all and been addicted to ’em all, and very few come with the same physical and mental anguish as heroin. Physically, it’s impossible for any person on the planet to use heroin, or any opiate, for enough consecutive days and not become addicted. The human body and the opium poppy are made for each other. Morphine, which heroin metabolizes into within 3 minutes after being injected, is the perfect painkiller and when used appropriately, it has helped billions of people and saved countless lives. It works by acting as an artificial endorphin. Naturally, endorphins are released by neurons as a reward mechanism, attaching to opiate receptors which are located in the pleasure and pain section of our brain. They are released when we do things that are healthy for our body like exercise and sex. When the body experiences pain, natural endorphins are also released and attach to the appropriate receptors. Another neuron then sends the signal down the spinal cord to the part of your body affected, easing the pain, to some extent. When Morphine – the artificial endorphin – is injected, it crosses the blood-brain barrier and attaches to every opiate receptor in the brain. A signal is then sent through your entire body, causing a euphoric rush that is basically unmatched by any other chemical, natural or artificial. People who are injected with Morphine experience basically no discomfort at all. It is so powerful that it also over-taxes your opiate receptors, causing them to work overtime. Consequentially, the body constantly requires more and more of the drug to feel the same effect. This is why opiate tolerance is so rapidly developed among users. When overused, either recreationally or simply for too many days in a row by chronic pain patients, the body gets used to the artificial endorphins. When the opiate receptors stop receiving them, they send the opposite signals from your brain through your body, causing the user to experience real discomfort and pain. This is why opiate withdraw is often painful enough to cause even the most determined addict to cave and keep using.

So, even though heroin can technically be used on a limited basis without addiction, it’s a very risky game to play. Often the rush of an injected opiate itself, while not physically addicting, can cause those who experience it to still mentally crave the drug. It can be an unforgettable, and sometimes life-changing experience. Deciding whether you should use heroin for the first time is a decision that should be taken very seriously. It’s estimated that over one-fourth of those who try it become addicted. Once addicted, your life will change forever. It is a battle you do not want to fight. No matter what your experience with other drugs or addictions has been, heroin addiction is a beast unlike any other.

All that being said, if you’re really committed to using and not getting addicted it can be done. To outline how it can be done, I’m going to defer to an expert, Dr. H who runs the website In his book, The Heroin Users Handbook he outlines a few rules to help those who want to chip (using heroin occasionally) avoid addiction.

These numbers are derived primarily from the halflife of Morphine. A drug’s half-life is how long it takes for half of it to leave your body. Drugs are measured like this because it’s nearly impossible to distinguish how long it takes all of it to leave your body, since everyone has a different metabolism, which is affected by different factors, like food intake and consecutive days of drug use. To see the halflife of all common opiates, refer to my Opiate Bioavailability Chart.

Remember, heroin metabolizes into Morphine after injection. So while the half-life of heroin is under 10 minutes, the Morphine in your body has a half-life of about 3 hours. Meaning, if you take 400 mg, half of it will be gone in 3 hours. It then goes down exponentially. So in six hours, there will be 100 mg, in nine hours- 50 mg, and so forth. How long it takes it all to leave, will be dependent on your body and circumstances. Dr. H. points to a study that shows generally all of the Morphine will be gone in about 48 hours. The rules listed here are based on these numbers and quoted straight from his book.

How to Stay Unaddicted:

  1. The number of consecutive days you use is always followed by twice that many days without using.
  2. Never use more than three consecutive days.
  3. Never use more than four times a week.
  4. Never use more than twelve times in a month.

If you follow these rules, you give your body a very good chance of avoiding addiction. But you’ll still have to exercise extensive willpower. In addition, everybody’s body is a little different. Some will be more sensitive to the drug than others. Many people will still experience some mild withdraw symptoms after only a few days.

Dr. H makes another very good observation. When dealing with something as seriously addicting as heroin, you can’t play around with a numbers game. Meaning, one day is 24 hours. Not one night at 6pm and then the next night at 4pm. Playing this game will greatly increase your chances of addiction.

When deciding whether or not to use heroin, there are other factors to consider other than addiction. There are many risks that come with heroin use: legal trouble, health concerns and social stigma are just a few. How you are going to use heroin is something else that should be taken very seriously. I outline the pros and cons of each route of administration in my previous posts Ask a Junky: Routes of Administration, Part 1 and Part 2.

I can assure you that chipping, or using heroin occasionally without being addicted, is a much better way to use than becoming a physically dependent addict and will help you enjoy heroin for longer. That is – if you can pull it off. It goes way beyond willpower or having an addictive personality. The opium poppy will get you if you don’t follow these rules to the letter. And even if you do, it’s not foolproof and requires a lot of mental discipline. Avoiding the needle may help, but every route of administration can lead to addiction. Just ask anyone addicted to Oxycontin or any other opiate pill. My goal is to provide you with enough information so that you can make an educated and informed decision. Going into it blindly without any rules or structure around your use will lead to addiction, I guarantee it.  So please, be a smart drug user. Never do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable and always practice religious harm reduction every time you use. This drug can ruin your life, as it has millions of people before you. So don’t convince yourself that you’re any different, that will only have you addicted faster. Remember, playing with the poppy is playing with fire. Always treat it with the utmost respect and recognize what it can do to you if you let your guard down for even one minute.


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