The average life expectancy of a heroin addict* is 52 years old. That’s 25.8 fewer years than the average life expectancy of 77.8 years for U.S. citizens as of 2020.
This average age can fluctuate, however. In 2007, the average life expectancy of a male heroin addict was 47.
*Important note: We avoid stigmatic language such as ‘addict’ or ‘heroin user’ as much as possible. However, we will use this language in this article to inform and equip those struggling with drug use and their loved ones.
Why Is Life Expectancy Lower For Heroin Addicts?
Life expectancy for heroin addicts is low because there’s an upward trend of heroin use in the U.S. and chronic heroin use can have major, life-long health implications.
The average age of a heroin addict is 24 years old. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the upward trend of heroin use in the U.S. is driven by young adults aged 18 to 25.
The number of people meeting the DSM-IV criteria for heroin dependence has increased drastically from 214,000 in 2002 to 626,000 in 2016.
Starting heroin at such a young age and developing a physical dependence on the substance makes a person more susceptible to developing health complications earlier in life.
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What Factors Impact The Life Expectancy Of A Heroin Addict?
Several factors impact life expectancy for those who use heroin. Many of these are caused directly by the substance, while others can be indirect factors related to heroin use.
A study conducted in Australia found that men were seven times more likely to die from heroin than their peers, but women were found to be 17 times more likely to die than their peers.
It’s not known exactly why, but women appear to be more susceptible to premature death from heroin use than men.
The study concluded that heroin users lost an average of 44 years of potential life due to drug abuse.
A major issue within the community of people who abuse heroin is contracting HIV and AIDS.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in 10 HIV diagnoses in the U.S. can be attributed to injected drug use.
Viral infections such as HIV and AIDS are transmitted through the blood or other body fluids. A heroin addict may contract the infection by sharing needles or having unprotected sex.
Needles, syringes, and other heroin injection paraphernalia may contain traces of blood or other body fluids carrying HIV.
The CDC notes that HIV can live inside of a needle or syringe for up to 42 days.
These are considered high-risk behaviors by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and put those involved at a higher risk of contracting or transmitting viral infections.
Chronic Liver Disease
Long-term heroin abuse can also lead to chronic liver diseases, which have been connected to both hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that affects the liver’s ability to function.
This is a very contagious virus that can be transmitted through sources like food, water, or close contact with another person.
The same risks associated with contracting HIV or AIDS apply to hepatitis B and C.
Sharing items like needles and other drug paraphernalia and having unprotected sex can lead to a person contracting the virus.
Another factor that can negatively impact a heroin addict’s life expectancy is a fatal overdose on heroin.
It should be noted that overdose on heroin alone, while possible, is not likely. Most cases of lethal overdose involve mixing heroin with other drugs.
Heroin is particularly dangerous when it’s mixed with central nervous system (CNS) depressants such as alcohol and benzodiazepines.
Overdose is one of the leading causes of premature death in heroin addicts, but this is preventable and treatable with proper measures.
Heroin addicts are 14 times more likely to die from suicide than their non-opioid-dependent peers.
This reality can be due to many factors related to heroin abuse, such as:
- impact of heroin on mental health
- developing or worsening symptoms of mental illness
- isolation and decrease in close relationships
- feeling hopeless and depressed
What Can Increase The Life Expectancy Of A Heroin Addict?
The fatalities associated with heroin abuse are preventable. Health complications can be treated, mental illnesses can be addressed, and the addiction can be healed with treatment.
The best way to lengthen the life expectancy of a heroin addict is to treat the root issue of addiction. Without removing the drug abuse, health issues and mental illness cannot be resolved.
Addiction treatment programs that can treat heroin dependence include:
- outpatient rehab
- inpatient rehab
- medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
- medical detox
Addiction Treatment For Heroin Abuse
If you or a loved one want to find treatment for heroin dependence, help is just a call away.
When you call our helpline, you’ll be connected with someone who can assist you in finding an addiction treatment program.
Choose between live-in and part-time programs to find a schedule and balance that’s right for you or your loved one. Call us today to get started.
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- American Journal of Public Health—The Economics of Heroin Treatment
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—HIV and Injection Drug Use
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—Provisional Life Expectancy Estimates for January through June, 2020
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)—Drug Use and Viral Infections (HIV, Hepatitis) DrugFacts
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)—Reduced Longevity Among Male Heroin Abusers, 1962-1997
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)—What is the scope of heroin use in the United States?
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: PubMed—Life expectancy and productivity loss among narcotics addicts thirty-three years after index treatment
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: PubMed—[Life expectancy of the drug addict]