The Secret Lives of Functioning Heroin Users

"I use on a lunchtime at work, only a couple of lines or so, which I smoke in the handicap bathroom."
Photo: Boris Roessler/DPA/PA Images

This article originally appeared on VICE UK. If you are struggling with drug dependency and are looking for help, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Recent statistics released by the Home Office showed that there were 3,744 drug-related deaths in England and Wales in 2016. This is a 70-person increase since 2015, and the highest number since comparable statistics began in 1993. One of the biggest take-homes from the stats was the fact that 54 percent of the deaths were due to opiates, with the majority (1,209) being due to heroin and/or morphine.


It made for grim reading, as did Max Daly's recent VICE article that highlighted rising heroin-related deaths among under-30s: from 95 to 154 between 2012 and 2015.

This all points to heroin's continued penchant for causing intolerable sorrow in the lives of abusers and their families. However, there remains a section of functioning heroin users: people who seemingly go about their lives with a (relatively) normal façade. Being another slave to the media's stigmatization of heroin, I find it difficult to believe someone can use it and not just subside into a Trainspotting-esque sphere. So I sought out some users, past and present, to discover the realities of their lives.

Jane, 29

I work in the head office of a banking group, earning 30k-plus. I do well in my job. I get a pay rise every year and consistently fantastic appraisals.

I only ever smoke heroin. I never wanted to pin [inject] it, and I never would. On average, I use three $13 bags a day, though sometimes it's more, and sometimes it's less.

I wake up and have my first line before I have my morning coffee. I use during lunchtime at work, only a couple of lines or so, which I smoke in the handicap bathroom. I then have some more when the kids go to bed. I don't feel normal without having my lines throughout the day, but I don't use too much, otherwise, I wouldn't be able to function.

Only three people know about "my secret." My best friend, my partner, and the father of my kids. I'm very lucky to get along with my kids' dad really well; he doesn't even drink, let alone touch drugs, and knowing I have his support really means the world to me. My other friends, colleagues, neighbors, and acquaintances do not have a clue. The trick to this is keeping up a good appearance. It's amazing how people judge a book by its cover… you will never be referred to as a "smackhead" if you don't look like one.


Given the choice, I wished I could have kept it to the odd weekend use. It's scary how quickly taking it on a Saturday and Sunday becomes taking it Monday, then Thursday. Then before you know it: bang! You're hooked.

People start taking drugs for lots of reasons. For me, it was my depression. I really don't know what would need to be done for me to quit; I would need to access support without fear of judgment. I would literally kill myself if people found out about my use. I couldn't cope with that.

WATCH: Swansea Love Story – The Teenage Heroin Epidemic

Christopher, 34

When I started using heroin, I was buying a gram a day and smoking it. After moving to Bradford in 2010, this progressed to injecting. I would spend $95 to $135 per day to keep my habit under control. I would have to save two $13 bags (0.4 grams) for the morning to get me going. Once I felt able to function, then I'd make the call to reload for the day.

My occupation was owner/proprietor of a takeout shop. I had competent staff and had a second property attached to the takeaway, where I lived, [which] made the addict life much more doable. Also, I was an importer and distributer of class C schedule IV pharmaceutical Diazepam. I did this for around eight years, and eventually it caught up with me, and I got sentenced to 20 months in prison.

I now count myself as a recreational user; I could use heroin once a week, once a month, or once a year. In the past, I was physically and mentally addicted to heroin, but due to my circumstances, I was able to kick the habit with no outside help.


My family knows of my previous addiction to heroin and of my drug importation but not of my sporadic use of opiates to this day. I live alone with my girlfriend, and she knows everything, and I have no need to hide anything.

The approach to assisting active users depends on two things: Does the user want to become clean from heroin or to be able to sustain a life while using heroin? Either way, I think the answer is that the way the marketing of heroin addiction is being sold to the public is on par with how homelessness is perceived: your life, your choices, your fuck-up, your problem.

Charles, 43

I now have a script. I wake up, take 1mg of Subutex, go to work, and do the same every day. When I was an addict, I used to buy half a gram every evening and smoke just over half of it. In the morning, I'd wake an hour early, smoke the other 0.2g and what was on the tin foil tube.

I was an addict, and I guess I'm a prescription addict still, although I maybe fall off the wagon once a month. I'm a qualified engineer, but I currently work as a machine operator. My work colleagues know I'm an ex-addict, but I've generally found that as long as you do your job well there's no issue.

My wife uses with me. My children don't know, except my eldest, who's 19. A few years ago, he found out when his mother overdosed and the ambulance service had to bring her back. Regardless, my work, my children, and my bills always come before any drug, regardless of how addictive it is.

I absolutely wish I'd never tried it, but it's hard to get out of your psyche. I've gone cold turkey at least ten times. I've tried every method and substitute there is, but it just seems to make things worse.

*All names have been changed

Thanks to Dan Owns at Sesh Safety for his assistance.

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