Statistics on Heroin Addiction

I’ve been doing a little research for a paper on drug legalisation and I’m trying to find out how many heroin users actually get physically addicted to the drug. So far I’ve had no luck on any of the major search engines and my local library isn’t being helpful. Would any of you good ignorance fightin’ folk out there be able to point me in the direction of a (preferably web based) report on this topic?

Any help is gratefully appreciated. Thanks.

I doubt you will find much. It would be a WAG at best. Reason is because only a percentage of heroin addicts seek treatment, thus identifying themselves as such, and casual users might never identify themselves. I assume you don’t want the “conventional wisdom” that everyone who does it will eventually become addicted!

You might search the archives of Lancet or JAMA to find possible research studies, but since they probably don’t do tests on humans in this area, it might not be what you’re looking for!

Of course, there’s always the chance that Duck Duck Goose will massage Google and find something more substantial for you!

Reading the OP I am not sure if this is helpful, but here goes. has a few statistics (follow the “drugs” and “statistics” links - I can’t get the URL to work) that may help. Also has lots of information, and try a google on “drug action teams” (link on the drugscope page) - they are responsible for co-ordinating the response to drug use in the UK.

If you want to e-mail me I can give you a personal perspective on heroin use leading to addiction, but this forum is not the place for my personal testimony!:wink:

all users are addicts, otherwise they wouldn’t be users

Untrue. Highly untrue. Are all drinkers of alcohol alcoholics? I think not.


To add to Qad’s reply, and in the direction the OP was headed, many people use many drugs a few times, or infrequently, without becoming addicted.

I’ve seen estimates that it generally takes about two weeks of regular exposure to heroin to become addicted, but I have no cite at hand.

Ah ha! I wrote a research paper on heroin this year. Any questions you might have about it, feel free to ask, because I know tons of stuff about smack. According to a DEA study in 1999, it reported that 208,000 people had used heroin in the last month. That gives a rough gauge of addicts. Also, the amount consumed before addiction wildly fluctuates, and can be based on purity, frequency, and psychological desire. There are people who have been hooked after shooting once. Hope this helps!

Psychologically addicted, yes. Physically addicted, no. This requires more than one use. It takes time and effort to be come physically addicted. Of course, anyone who is psychologically addicted to it will gladly spend the time and effort necessary to become physically dependant.

I think most drinkers of alcohol are addicted. Not in the “help I need another drink to get those pink elephants away” type, but very subtly psycologically and physically addicted. Having a drink relaxes you, make you feel good, your subconcious controls your behaviour to get another one. Whether you turn into a raving alcoholic or just social drinker depends on your body and brain chemistry.
Note I am not using the criterion of withdrawal symptoms as a marker of addiction. You can get addicted to many things - exercise, sugar hits, caffeine, crossword puzzles. The criterion I would use is: do you modify your behaviour to do this activity when there are plently of alternatives. E.g coffee (why not fruit juice). Beer (low alc beer). Chocolate (any thing else). In those three cases, if your subconcious chooses the first rather second, then in my mind you are addicted.

Whether that addiction is harmful and uncontrollable as in the case of an alcoholic, or perhaps even helpful (social drinker) is not the point.

If someone uses heroin more than a couple of times then they are addicted, as they are actively seeking out the substance, whether they delude themselves or not.

Has information for the EU

scm1001, you can certainly redefine the term “addiction” to make your statement seem more acceptable. But don’t expect the rest of us to buy it. Heck, even American Society of Addiction Medicine, which is regularly accused of overdiagnosing addiction, disagrees strenuously with your definition of it. As a practicing physician, your criteria for the diagnosis of addiction is useless to me, and not shared by anyone reputable in the field. I don’t mean to give offense, but that’s the facts as I (and the larger medical community) see them. Can you provide reputable cites for your statements?


I am not actually sure how you are criticising my argument. The medical proffesion is only interested in the first instance in “problem” addictions that can be easily studied. I am using a definition that most people are aware of. E.g I am addicted to chess, ping-pong, chocolate cake, internet etc. My point is all these harmless addictions/past-times involve behavioural change, in some cases as strong as that motivates heroin addicts, though not at a conscious level [involving say obvious withdrawal] like heroin addiction. Most of my behaviour seems to me to be controlled subconciously, with my concious occassionally making pitiful efforts to regulate my behaviour {no you are not going to eat that chocolate - Ok then only one - well perhaps two but no more…} but mainly acting as observer. When I get very involved in something (for a while it was bridge), something must be triggering pleasure circuits in my brain for me to keep going. These are often the same pleasure circuits that many drugs hit, but just more intensely.
At the moment I am addicted to silly games on my palm pilot - backgammon in particular. Will often spend 1-3 h day playing when I should be doing something else. This board is also a bit of an addiction for me. Luckily, they are pretty harmless, and may actually be good for my brain cells, but IMHO I am addicted in the same way a heroin addict is. I get a burst of pleasure when I win a game, or am able to answer a question first (pitiful huh?). Many marriages have broken up because of a persons addiction to say the internet, or gambling. Are you saying (i) you cannot get behavioually addicted? or that (ii) behavioural addictions are not related to the same brain pleasure circuits as drug based addictions or (iii) an addiction is only an addiction when it is a medical problem?

I looked up the addiction site you mentioned. Couldn’t find any definition of addiction there! They seem only interested in alcoholism and other chemical addictions. They leave the behavioural addictions to their physcology friends.

ad·dic·tion   Pronunciation Key  (-dkshn)
a. Compulsive physiological and psychological need for a habit-forming substance: a drug used in the treatment of heroin addiction.
b. An instance of this: a person with multiple chemical addictions.

a. The condition of being habitually or compulsively occupied with or or involved in something.
b. An instance of this: had an addiction for fast cars.

Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

To use your own words:

i.e. picking Pepsi even when coke is available? This makes it an addiction?

The key in addiction is that the behavior is habitual and compusive, even in the face of negative consequences. If a person doesn’t give up a behavior despite repeated negative consequences, then the behavior qualifies as addictive. Otherwise, it’s just pleasure re-inforced. I like kissing my wife. It makes me feel good. So I keep doing it. Is that a behavioral addiction? Only if I keep doing it so much I miss work, or it pisses her off because she can’t get her work done, or has some other kind of negative consequences.

Are you saying that everything done for pleasure is an addiction?

Hmmm…we seem to be hijacking this away from the OP’s question, and out of GQ too…

sorry mod, but…

I am saying it is the same pleasure circuits involved in a harmful addiction and a nonharmful habit like kissing your wife. So you have a graduated slope where it is impossible to draw a line. Whether it becomes a true blown addiction, a habit, hobby, or something else depends on your brain chemistry and the amount of pleasure it gives. I am emphasising the commonality (so you chose the extremes to contrast), you emphasis the differences (so I chose examples near the middle).

I am not really arguing about a definition of addiction (search the internet and you will see 100 definitions) but that much of our behaviour is controlled totally unconsciously, and that many of our habits are reinforced in the same way that things like heroin addictions are, though much more subtley.

I’ve used it before, and I wasnt addicted. It takes 2 weeks to a month of using every day to get addicted.

Those with statistics and data are encouraged to reply. Uninformed opinions and anecdotes are not as helpful in this thread. Thanks. - Jill