What Life Is Like for People Who Abuse Prescription Drugs and Illegal Opioids

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The opioid crisis is an important issue, because people who are hooked on prescription drugs, and people who are addicted to illegal opiates like heroin are dying at record rates. In fact, the devastating number of fatal opioid-related overdoses in 2016 is expected to climb when the 2017 numbers come in.

That is sobering news because healthcare experts and law enforcement officials have been willing to try innovative and bold methods to stem the tide of fatal overdoses, including expanding access to naloxone, a life-saving antidote that saved thousands of lives in 2017.

But lost in all the numbers, statistics and talk about overdoses is that there is a real human toll being exacted on people across a wide range of ages, races and economic circumstances.

The truth is that opioids don’t discriminate, and anyone can become addicted to prescription painkillers, and when that path is cut off, illegal opiates are often the next step.

So instead of talking about some of the issues triggered by opioid abuse, let’s take a slight detour and talk about some of the people who are suffering through one of the worst public health emergency crisis in U.S. history.

What It Feels Like To Have An Opioid Addiction

You don’t have to be struggling with an opioid addiction to understand how it feels to be under the compulsion of this drug, because there are plenty of first-hand accounts that can bring those horrors home to you.

One story is told by Sam Snodgrass, who started using heroin years ago but had it under control enough to earn a Bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s degree in experimental psychology and a doctorate in biopsychology.

In fact, Snodgrass became so knowledgeable about drugs that he was awarded a post-doctoral fellowship in pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Arkansas.

Then one day, it all came crashing down.

Snodgrass gave in to temptation and used methadone, and for the next 20 years, he became a full-blown opioid addict. In the last 18 months of his addiction, Snodgrass became homeless and slept on the street, at shelters, and at the houses of anyone who gave him their floor for a night.

He describes opioid addiction in this way: (1)

Our craving for opioids is measured in hours. Four to five hours after our last use we begin to starve. And we crave. Everything but our need for these opioids falls away. And we focus solely on what we have to do to survive. We don’t have a choice. We really don’t.

Snodgrass goes on to talk about the overwhelming desire that opioid addicts feel to satisfy their craving:

We become desperate, and in our desperation, we do things that we know are wrong; we do things that we know are not us. But this doesn’t mean we don’t care. If you are starving, you still love. What it does mean is that we are so desperate in our starvation that we will hurt the ones we love to end that hunger.

One of the tragedies about drug addiction, in general, is that abusers rarely understand how profoundly these drugs alter the chemicals in their brain:

No one told us that these opioids cause changes in brain structure such that they become more important for our survival than food. We don’t understand this, and neither do you. And this lack of understanding can rip a family apart. It can replace love with resentments and anger. On both sides. And in this pain, in this lack of understanding, we lose each other.

Another long-term abuse of illegal opiates described addiction in this way: (2)

I just found love and peace. Heroin is a wonder drug. Heroin is better than everything else. Heroin makes me who I wish I was. Heroin makes life worth living. Heroin is better than everything else.

But pretty soon, the ugly side of the drug begins to assert itself:

Heroin builds up a tolerance fast. Heroin starts to cost more money. I need heroin to feel normal. I don’t love anymore. Now I’m sick. I can’t afford the heroin that I need. How did $10 use to get me high? Now I need $100. That guy that let me try a few lines the first time doesn’t actually deal. Oh, I need to find a real dealer? This guy is a felon and carries a gun—he can sell me the drug that lets me find love in the world. No, this isn’t working. I need to quit. To answer your question, heroin feels nice. That’s all, it just feels very nice. You can make the rest up for yourself. Attach your own half-truths to this drug that will show you the world and for a moment you will be as clever as Faust.

The good news is that the addict who shared these feelings eventually entered treatment, got on a maintenance drug, and is in recovery.

Treatment For Abuse of Prescription Drugs and Opiates

In real human terms, opioid addiction can’t be brought under control until patients seek treatment for abuse of prescription drugs and opiates.

If you are struggling with opioid abuse and you live in Massachusetts, Serenity at Summit New England Addiction Treatment Centers in Haverhill is only 45 minutes from Boston and offers a full range of treatment services that can help you get back on your feet.

Please call us today at 844-432-0416 to learn the options you have to get you on the road to recovery.


  1. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/what-it-feels-like-to-be-an-opioid-addict_us_596fbfd0e4b0aa14ea76d8c4
  2. https://www.buzzfeed.com/lukelewis/700-words-that-explain-exactly-what-it-feels-like-to-do-hero?utm_term=.wrX8xYmlEE#.yurKZPkj55



Staff Writer

Serenity at Summit employs a diverse staff of writers that share a common passion for helping those who are struggling with substance abuse find the care they need. With years of experience in the substance abuse treatment industry and decades of experience in writing and research, our team of writers constantly strive to present accurate and helpful information that is easily digestible and encourages people to seek help.