There was an interesting article on the BBC News website this week examining the stereotype of the heroin addict. The focus of this piece was Cory Monteith who was found dead from a heroin overdose a few weeks ago. Anyone who watched this actor/musician in hit TV show Glee or being interviewed will likely find it difficult to picture him as a ‘junkie’. This is because many of the people who end up falling into heroin addiction do not fit this stereotype.
The Junkie Stereotype
When heroin addiction is discussed, most of us will automatically picture the stereotypical junkie. The image we will have will be:
- somebody who does not take care of their personal hygiene and wears dirty clothes
- a person who is unemployable
- a person viewed with suspicion in their community
- this person will have turned to crime to support their habit because they are unable to hold down a job
- they will steal from their family and friends
- this person will likely live in a squat
- they will have a criminal record
- it would be easy to tell that they are addicted to drugs
- they buy their drugs in back alleys from dodgy looking criminals.
While there are definitely heroin addicts who do fit this stereotype, there are also plenty of others who do not.
The Reality of Heroin Addiction
Many heroin addicts are able to engage in their habit while maintaining a show of normality. In fact, there are high functioning heroin users who:
- look fresh-faced and physically well – just like Cory Monteith did
- appear to be doing well in life
- have a career that may be taking off
- may be loved and respected by family and friends
- will have no need to turn to crime to support their habit
- may be so good at hiding their addiction problems that even those who are closest to them do not suspect a thing
- can live in a big house and drive a fancy car
- may be respected members of their community
- may have never had any dealings with the police
- has heroin brought to his or her office or home by someone who looks respectable and wears a fancy suit.
The Danger of the Junkie Stereotype
The stereotype of the junkie meant that Cory Monteith was able to hide his addiction problems from many people. Perhaps if his problems were more obvious, he would have been encouraged to get help earlier. In fact, Cory did enter rehab at the age of nineteen, but he had many years afterwards where he seemed able to hide his problems. The dangers of the junkie stereotype include:
- giving people addicted to heroin a false sense of comfort because they can deceive themselves that the fact that they do not act like a junkie means they are okay
- the fact that they are doing relatively well in life means that other people will not be putting as much pressure on them to stop
- meaning that other people play down their problems
- meaning that they are less likely to be offered help
- the fact that their addiction can go undetected for years can mean that the person may have suffered a great deal of physical and mental damage before they reach a stage where they seek help
- high functioning heroin users are not held back by the same financial constrains facing other heroin users.