The question I’m a woman in my late 50s. In my teens, like many others in the 1980s, I took a great many drugs – among them heroin. I never really became addicted. Unfortunately, I once overdosed. This scared me and with the help of methadone I finished with smack. I then became pregnant and had several children, so it seemed like a door closed.

However, every few years I feel the irresistible urge to go back – and I do, using a few times a month over a six-month period. Then I become afraid and I’m able to stop. Each time, I find the whole process of getting smack and all the paraphernalia (I inject) so tedious and anxiety-ridden. However, I honestly feel my use is not problematic or doing me any harm, although the strength and quality of it over time makes me anxious at the beginning of each period of use. Should I just stop worrying about this and accept this is me?

I know about other people who use in this way. I am an educated, well-off professional in a stable relationship. My upbringing, although privileged, was very unhappy and pretty messed up. My parents both had major mental health problems and alcohol dependency, and both eventually died by suicide. I was cared for by multiple other family members/nannies/boarding schools. I wasn’t close to either of my parents, and didn’t feel affected by their deaths.

I smoke cannabis from time to time, drink alcohol abstemiously and am healthy. I’ve just come out of a period of using – I actually feel good, although full of angst about it all. I feel this is happening to someone else, not me.

Philippa’s answer You say, “I honestly feel my use is not problematic or doing me any harm,” and I honestly think if you really thought that you would not have written to me. But this is what the Addiction Monster does, it tells you that your habit is not a problem. It lies to you. It makes excuses, it squirms, wriggles and manipulates to keep you using. It tells you other people do it and are fine. It will always be able to make up convincing arguments as to why it is a good thing. One of its favourite messages to addicts of drugs and alcohol is saying you don’t have a problem as you are not waking up in the gutter every morning. That’s the Addiction Monster for you, always finding a reason to carry on.

One thing an addiction does, and especially heroin, is to fill the void where relationships should have been. I’m sorry you did not have a strong feeling of belonging and being loved while growing up. You were passed around, sent away. It sounds like a strong bond was missing for you. The price of love is the pain of bereavement and you have been spared that, but I think the cost to you is greater. It is hard to learn to love yourself when you haven’t had a secure, loving home to come from. Heroin obliterates the need of love.

Filling an emptiness inside yourself with an addiction may be a pattern you inherited from your parents. Such a void is often the result of a lack of an early bond. I can’t help but be suspicious that not being parented as you needed to have been will have left a wound and that it is easier for you to use heroin to disconnect from it rather than use sobriety to face it and to heal. The past always affects the present and it’s good to know how so that you can control it rather than be controlled by it.

You need therapy and you need Narcotics Anonymous ( You’ll need to learn what your triggers are for using and new ways to self-regulate and self-soothe and to soothe yourself within relationships. When you’ve been let down in childhood and didn’t have strong bonds to rely on, it is difficult to learn to rely on others to feel connected and it feels easier to disconnect. People at NA, who come from all walks of life, including the privileged, will have been on the same journey as you and they can understand and help you to stop playing with fire, because that is what you are doing now.

Your life, your heroin use, is not happening to someone else, it is happening to you. It is an illegal drug, so you are committing a crime by being in possession of it and supporting crime by buying it.

For now, perhaps you feel in control of your habit as you feel you can periodically pause your usage. This proof of control may become more difficult to find in the future as demonstrated by the fact that you are thinking about when to use again. Go to NA and talk. Smack does not come with a safety Kitemark; it might end your life prematurely and it will get in the way of your connection to yourself and to others.

Love yourself, love your children, love your partner, hate the Addiction Monster.

If you have been affected by any of these issues, contact Samaritans on 116 123; Mind on 0300 123 3393; or Narcotics Anonymous on 0300 999 1212

Every week Philippa Perry addresses a personal problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Philippa, please send your problem to [email protected]. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions.

  • The Book You Want Everyone You Love* To Read *(and maybe a few you don’t) by Philippa Perry (Cornerstone, £18.99). To support The Guardian and Observer, order your copy at Delivery charges may apply.

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