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Recovering Addicts Mourn Lost 'Love Affair' with Needles

Grieving the Needle

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Updated August 18, 2005

Heroin addicts trying to kick the habit often profoundly grieve their lost "relationship" with the needles they use to inject the drug, according to a new study by a University at Buffalo doctoral student.

This intense personal connection with the needle, which some addicts described as a "love affair," may be a factor in the high relapse rate among recovering addicts, according to the study's principal investigator Davina Moss, who recently earned a doctorate in counselor education from the UB Graduate School of Education.

For the study, Moss interviewed 12 heroin addicts in a detoxification facility. Each described the intense grief experienced while away from the drug and great sorrow for personal losses resulting from the addiction.

"I was surprised to hear the addicts in the study describe their love for the needle," Moss says. "This has not been reported before."

"They described a feeling of 'oneness' with the needle, how they would caress the needle, and how they would never forget their first time using the needle -- much like someone would describe a first love."

As If They Were Mourning

One user in the study even suggested that if he didn't crave the feel of the needle, he might be able to kick his habit, says Moss, who has worked with heroin addicts for 13 years.

Moss also found that recovering addicts grieve the loss of heroin as if they were mourning a loved one's death. They expressed a love for the drug much like one loves a spouse. Such intense feelings have been reported in other studies of heroin addicts, as well as in studies of other drug addicts and alcoholics, Moss says.

The Heroin Culture

The study also found that recovering heroin addicts grieve losing the "heroin lifestyle," partly because they're addicted to the challenge and excitement of scoring the drug. "They mourn the loss of the heroin culture," Moss explains. "Heroin addicts develop a strong bond among themselves -- much like you find within a family or cult. They have their own slang, they watch out for each other and share information on where to get the drug," she says.

"When heroin addicts start recovery they have a hard time pulling away from this culture. They miss the bonding, the language, the excitement of drug activities."

Grief Counseling Recommended

Based on the study's findings, Moss recommends that grief counseling be integrated within treatment programs to help addicts overcome the feelings of loss they experience as they break off their relationship with heroin and forsake the drug's culture.

"Heroin addicts have great difficulty ending their relationship with the drug," Moss says. "Their unresolved grief is not being addressed in treatment programs."

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