What is dependence?

Man seeking heroin addiction and recovery information

When you take drugs like heroin (opioids) on a regular basis, changes take place in your brain and nervous system so you need to continue taking the drug just to feel normal.

What’s more, your body keeps on changing, adapting its own responses so that often more and more drugs are needed just to get through the day. With drug dependence’s acute (or short-term) symptoms – like cravings and withdrawal – and its chronic (or long-term) effects – like depression and liver damage – it’s little wonder that a lot of users say that they feel “out of control” and that drugs have taken over their lives. For many, treatment offers a way to get some control back over their brain, their body, and their life.

Stigma and exclusion
Using heroin and similar drugs has been heavily stigmatised in the past – just like having a disability or a mental health problem has been. But times are changing: a 2009 public opinion poll for the charity DrugScope found that 19% of people had a direct or close experience of a drug problem. That’s 1 in 5 people who have some understanding of what you are going through. The same opinion poll found a massive 88% of people support the state providing drug treatment for people who want to address their problems.

Of course this doesn’t mean that everyone will be understanding of your situation, or that your recovery journey won’t have moments when you feel people are judging you, but it does mean that things are getting better.

Remember that you are not alone, there are support groups out there that can help. Recovery from dependence is possible and people have been through similar experiences to you. A selection of personal Stories of survival are available for you to watch, we hope you find them encouraging and useful.

Most people now recognise that people with drug dependency have a medical problem and need treatment. And like any other medical condition treatment is really important. In the short term, stabilising your symptoms should be the first priority: reducing the harm you do to yourself and others, minimising withdrawal, reducing cravings and the frequency of use. In the long term, getting away from a lifestyle that is centred around your opioid dependence and tackling some of the reasons why you used drugs in the first place may help you move towards recovery.

My Recovery My Choice can help you find out more about the ways that you can move forward from here and how to begin the journey. If you have tried, unsuccessfully, to stop using heroin in the past then you are not alone. The majority of people try and fail at least once. If you are no stranger to treatment, it may be worth taking the time to read through your recovery options to find out what’s new, both in terms of your choices and what is known about them. If you are worried about a friend or family member who might have a problem, the information here can help you start a conversation with them, and help them start their journey.