Kicking heroin: Make the decision to live

[Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of columns on the perils of heroin. See the first column here, the second column here, the third column here, and the fifth and final column here.]

Rick Jacobs
Rick Jacobs

Heroin is, in a word, relentless. It just doesn’t let go.

My daughter, Lisa, described it this way:

“Recovery from heroin addiction is almost a miracle because it is not only your body that screams for the drug, your brain wants it, too. Without heroin, life feels unbearable.”

Falling in love with heroin is extraordinarily easy.

Severing the relationship is anything but. Rehabilitation is almost never a one-time thing.

“Not everyone is one and done. Sometimes we see people here three and four times,” said Rebecca Kennedy, a peer specialist at Lakeside Hospital here in Bartlett. “And it breaks my heart because it always gets worse.”

Kennedy, a former addict who celebrated four years of sobriety this past February, is well aware of the grip that a heroin addiction has on the people she sponsors.

Is it, I asked her, the most addictive of all the others?

“From what I have seen, yes, especially IV drug users. There’s just something about the power of that particular opiate. Nothing else is good enough. Food isn’t good enough. Sex isn’t good enough. Love isn’t good enough.

“Nothing kicks off your endorphins like heroin.”

As difficult as it is to successfully kick a heroin addiction, there are lots of reasons to try. First and foremost is that you will live longer.

Much longer.

According to American Addiction Centers, a person who becomes dependent on heroin is 6-20 times more likely to die compared to a person in the general population. Clearly, postponing treatment will likely make you a statistic, almost like a game of Russian roulette.

“There are no old heroin addicts. You won’t find any. They die. If you don’t do this (seek treatment), the next time (you use) could be the last,” Kennedy said. “My daddy always told me, you only get so many cranks in your car and to use them wisely. I believe our bodies are the same way. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been clean 10 years, that next shot could be the one that takes us out.”

Kennedy speaks from experience.

“I just got off the phone this morning with a mother whose daughter had been out of town for treatment. She’d been home eight hours and OD’d.”

She’s not alone. After my first column in this series I received an email from Bartlett resident Tim Stevens. He and his wife, Sharon, lost their son, Cody, to a heroin overdose just a few weeks ago. He was only 29 years old, and the circumstances are heartbreaking.

“He fought a long hard fight for years. Get help. Get clean. The devil’s potion would pull him back. The night before his death, he had graduated (from long-term rehab) seven months clean. But the one drug that never lets go called him back.”

Another Bartlett resident, Lisa Renner, shared a remarkably similar story with me. Her son died just a few days before Cody. He was also 29.

“My son, Jake Renner, died 2/1/2017 for heroin overdose. He had struggled for over 10 years, multiple rehabs, and had periods of sobriety. He was smart, funny, loving and a great athlete. He was my heart.”

Sadly, relapses, which can be extremely dangerous, seem to be an accepted part of the long process of heroin rehabilitation. I asked Lisa, currently in rehab for the fifth time in seven years, why she thinks heroin is so difficult to beat for good. She told me that, in addition to the ease of procuring the drug, knowing what it will do for you is nearly always too hard to resist.

“You can’t stop everyday life from happening. And when an addict gets hurt, or stressed, or sad or lonely or whatever, they will never forget the one thing that could take all of that away instantly. We all want that instant gratification and know what will give it to us.”

Kennedy offered another perspective.

“Heroin has such a hold on people they think that it is the only way. They get comfortable in the middle of their addiction. They get used to waking up being sick. They get used to waking up having to look for money. They get used to waking up trying to figure out how to cop dope that day. They get used to that chaos.”

There’s yet another roadblock to seeking help. And it is formidable.

“They’re scared of the withdrawals,” Kennedy said. “Let’s face it. It’s going to suck.”

Lisa was more descriptive.

“The physical part is far worse than anyone who hasn’t experienced it could ever imagine. You want to lay there and stay completely still and hope that if there is a God that He put me out, please. You can’t function at all. You have feelings of anxiety and panic, and depression and thoughts of it never getting better. And for three days you are overwhelmed with feelings and cravings to use again just to feel better.”

In fact, after long-term use, most addicts find they take heroin simply to avoid the nightmare of withdrawals.

“The pain, the sickness and the overall destruction of withdrawals are enough to keep you using, at any cost, in order to not have to suffer,” Lisa told me. “You are no longer using the drug to experience any high at all. You keep using heroin because of the intense fear of the withdrawal itself.”

Still, three days or so of feeling miserable pale in comparison to the horrific nightmare of addiction. Beating the monster is possible. If you, or if someone you know, is currently battling this demon called heroin, or any addiction, seek help now, before it’s too late.

Kennedy is living proof that it can be done. You just have to believe.

“There’s always hope. If you want it bad enough, there’s always hope. You have to make that decision that you don’t want to die young.”

RICK JACOBS is an author, columnist, process server and family man who lives in Bartlett with his wife and grandchildren. Contact him at