The Effect Of Heroin Addiction On Criminality

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Research into the dynamic contrast of heroin users helps to allow a better understanding of drug-related crimes; considering individuals who commit crimes in order to gain funds for the habit, and users who simply commit crimes because they are under the influence. According to Darke (2011), some of the major harms directly linked to regular use of heroin include serious and often life-threatening psychopathology, and the indirect effects such as criminality and social marginalisation that arise from the use, causing users to become unpredictable, impulsive and often display violent types of behaviours.

This report aims to allow perspectives from three interviewees’ and achieve an insider’s point of view to understand why they commit crimes. Some research studies have found that a lot of acquisitive crime is committed by dependent users of heroin in order to pay for their drugs, with a suggested estimate of £15,000 to £30,000 a year to fund drug habits. Many people who are dependent on drugs like heroin were involved in criminal activity before addiction, so the drug use may not be the cause of the crime, but instead situations such as poverty and unemployment being the principle underlying factor (Drugwise, 2019).

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It has been suggested that many heroin users commit crimes in order to feed, clothe and house themselves and their families because their incomes are used to purchase the drugs (Shapiro, 2017). Other users of the drug are or have found themselves at one point, homeless or living outside of their means, and it is at that point which they resort to crime. Some users are unaware or reluctant to admit they have an addiction, and it will only become apparent at the point they find themselves taking such desperate measures in order to get their next fix.

The link between crime and heroin addiction has been moderately documented, yet more recent studies have displayed a shift in focus to more modern ‘legal highs’ and psychoactive substances. Despite this, there has been strong evidence that illegal drug markets such as heroin can drive sudden outbreaks in serious violence; either by stimulating thefts and robberies to benefit drug dependence or through the psychoactive effect caused by the drug (Redgrave, 2019).

According to Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990), “Impulsivity and low self-control, coupled with opportunity, leads to the criminal act.” This quantitative analysis report explores how the interview participants credit meaning to their life events, the environment that may have caused them to begin using heroin, and factors that may have encouraged continuous usage of the narcotic. Furthermore, this may enlighten the cause of the criminality in each participant and show possible similarities and differences between the individuals, their circumstances and attitudes to explore cyclical behaviours of drug use and crime.

Description of Sources

The sources used in this report were three interview transcripts with both former and current heroin users. The interviews were conducted by James Morgan who was undertaking research during his time volunteering at the needle exchange. The interview participants were recruited here and offered a £10 Tesco voucher to each individual for partaking in the study and offering to discuss their personal experiences with James. Each source presents their experiences in ways that are somewhat similar in many ways, yet in other respects, they completely differentiate. The interviews were recorded and later transcribed. In each one of the participant interviews about their heroin use, there is a direct link to criminality.

Warren states at the beginning of his interview that he woke up one morning and realised he was not mentally addicted as he first thought, but he was having physical withdrawal symptoms. The need to acquire the drug exceeded his morality in this interview, and he claimed he would “go out on the raise” to raise money to support his and his girlfriend’s addiction, while benefits he was receiving carried on the upkeep of their home. Warren claims that depression increased his use, which increased his need for money and therefore increased the amount of crime he would commit, including shoplifting and robbery. Warren says he was stereotyped by his friends and he ended up losing them due to mistrust, and sequentially he ended up associating with other users, and in due course, was influenced to commit increasingly violent crimes and ended up in prison after stealing from an individual held at knifepoint.

Ray states that he started using heroin in prison, therefore his criminality began before he started using the drug. Upon his release, he found himself homeless and began committing petty crimes such as shoplifting and burglary to fund his habit. Ray shows a cycle of dependency based on negative feelings and emotions of his personal circumstances, and claims the habit increased as he felt his life was spiralling out of control; eventually committing bigger crimes for an increased financial gain and losing consideration for people who may get hurt. Rays crimes appear to be reckless, impulsive and remorseless and he shows no fear of returning to prison, perhaps due to the probability that he will still have access to the drug behind bars.

As with the other two participants, Sonia committed such crimes as shoplifting to fund her drug habit alongside her partner who was also a user. When asked about how they decided to go and steal, after explaining that her partner was in and out of prison for years, she confirms that she and her partner were often shoplifting together. It becomes apparent that Sonia downplays her personal responsibility and shifts the focus to the demeanours of her partner, spending much of the interview talking about crimes that he was prosecuted for. She claimed that her partner was violent, and this reflected on her behaviour as one day she was arrested for violent conduct against another female. Sonia admitted to being under the influence of the drug at the time, which aggravated her actions.

These sources have provided the study with varied situational circumstances yet, ultimately, there are resounding similarities within the samples. One critique of qualitative research in general, and in this case, is that the information supplied is subjective, interpretive and based on personal experiences, and there is an assumption that the sample reflects on and represents a wider community of heroin users. This research lacks generalisation, which can damage the credibility of the conclusion when trying to apply this research to similar work (Fussey and Crowther-Dowey, 2013). That being said, this study may also be difficult to replicate as a different group of sampling could change the conclusion of the research completely.

Description of Nodes

To analyse the interview transcripts means to systematically organise the data into systematic codes and examine them for relationships, connecting specific types of data and identifying broad themes (Neuman, 2014). There are very few themes in this research for the purpose of allowing a comprehensive focus on the research question and identify only what is applicable in this case. By analysing the transcripts, the categorical similarities enabled clear emphasis on a small number of subjects.

The first parent note, attitudes, can be described more intensely as the interviewees’ feelings toward their situations and lifestyle.

“ Like doing commercial burglaries and stuff, doin shops and smash and grabs, yeah, and it went from, just yeah, burgling, every day yeah at a house, burgling stuff like that, it went from that ton burgling shops, big franchises, vans full of fags, and stuff like that, and er it started becoming a little bit reckless, because I didn’t care who I’d hurt in a way, it was like nothing else mattered, and it sort of went from then to there then.” (Ray)

There is a clear connection that when the participant displays negative feeling and emotion, they are increasingly desperate, therefore, more reckless and more inclined to commit a crime. Notably, all three participants say that they’ve ‘had enough’, referring to their criminality and addictions, and this represents a positive attitude as a positive step toward a change for the better.

“You know, I’d just had enough of having to go out on the raise, just fed up of having to go out stealing, y’know, waking up in the morning feeling rough and having to try and keep some for the morning, it was just too much.” (Warren)

The second parent node, crime, incorporates three daughter nodes to narrow down the topic. Criminality before drug use has few entries, but it demonstrates that at least one of the subjects alleged they were in prison for committing a crime before they began using heroin. This controversially exhibits that it was not the heroin which resulted in the criminality in this case, however, it could have changed or developed the types of crime the participant was involved in subsequent to drug use. Funding habits was a selection of interview quotes that make a clear mention of committing crimes specifically to raise money for this purpose.

“Jm: would you make the decision together to score or would it be one of you?

P: we just did our normal thing, we’d get up in the morning, we’d keep a bit for the morning, sort ourselves out, make ourselves feel better, go straight into town you know I was on the raise, I’d come back with like four car stereos, I’d have made eighty pound, sixty or eighty pound.” (Warren)

The final daughter node in this category concerns crimes that were committed under the influence, often different types of crimes that incurred violently evolved behaviours.

“Ah, it was awful, I’d got into an argument with some girl, she’d attacked me, and I was just completely out of my mind, high and whatever, off crack, not sure if I’d had any heroin, but I just bettered her with a stick, it was really bad it was, you know, for the offense I think should have gone to prison, you know I was very remorseful, still now it affects me, like that I am actually capable of,” (Sonia)

The final theme is drug use, which begins with a general discussion of drugs and highlights when drugs, more specifically heroin, are mentioned. This theme node also narrows down into two subcategories; realisation of addiction and recreational use. These accentuate when a participant refers to when, for example, they realised they were addicted to heroin and often displays a relationship as they could not give up criminality because of the effect of the drug, or because they had to make money to purchase it. Finally, recreational use refers to remarks of casual use of drugs, not only limited to heroin, nevertheless the interviewee makes reference to ‘not being addicted’.

“No, I was still telling everybody that I didn’t have a habit, and I was er still denying it to everyone, even to myself I was lying to myself, I knew it in my head really, but yeah, admitting it to myself was something else then, I mean if anyone asks me friends or anybody, I’d say no, I’m not a smackhead.” (Ray)

One explanation we can acquire from these nodes in regards to the research question is that, on a broad scale, the attitude an individual may have toward their own situational circumstances has a detrimental impact on the decision to begin using heroin from the first instance. From then on, a shift in attitude explains impulsive and reckless behaviour, and the subjects fall into a cycle of committing crimes in order to gain heroin, and often among these interviewees, commit further crimes due to the effect of the drugs.


It has been established that, even though one participant was involved in criminality before their heroin addiction, the drug itself is a clear factor when it comes to committing crime. The life of an addict appears to revolve around their next fix, so raising immediate funds with no genuine form of income forces them to turn to crime, which explains the overwhelming sense that most of the crime committed by the participants are for monetary gain. To summarise, all of these individuals show that they do not necessarily need to be under the influence of drugs to commit acts of theft because they do so in order to fund the drugs.

It would appear that the majority of violent crimes referred to were committed subsequent to heroin use and threatening behaviours, although not completely transparent in the interviews, were again acted upon after using heroin or out of desperation to be able to secure a source of income to pay for an immediate fix. Where it is important to note that criminality does appear to be affected by the use of heroin, that is not to say that it is a generalisable summary that reflects on all heroin users, but it would seem applicable to the interviewees in this case. That being said, the findings align that it is fairly viable to identify future problematic heroin users by patterns of behaviour and substance abuse, allowing for targeted intervention to prevent inferior drug use and the onset of crime in the future. 


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