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Sociopaths and opiate addiction

Heroin and oxycontin belong to a class of drugs called opiates. Lovefraud recently received a letter from a reader that raised the issue of heroin addiction in sociopaths:

For nearly two years after my relationship with him ended, I was on the web researching heroin addiction because I assumed this was where all of his abusive behavior came from, but I stumbled upon information on sociopaths, and realized that he fits every trait…I know substance abuse behavior can mimic sociopathic behavior, but it is clear that the man I was in a relationship with is a sociopath, and was able to use his addiction as an explanation and excuse to further manipulate the many people who offered help to him… The man I dated definitely went beyond the regular lying and stealing that takes place and went far into the realm of sadism- taking great joy in manipulation and emotional devastation of others. He was breaking into cars and taking great risks to his physical safety as a child/young man, well before his drug use started. It makes sense to me that people who are sociopaths and do not have a conscience would be more likely to become heroin addicts, as seeing others being hurt by their behavior would not be a deterrent. Whereas someone with a conscience would feel just as good when they take the heroin, they would be more likely to think about its effects on others, and stop the behavior.

I trained in three public urban hospitals where the prevalence of opiate addiction was so high that I treated countless numbers of these patients and encountered them on a daily basis. That nearly all were sociopaths was an inescapable reality. It did not seem possible that all these people were sociopaths prior to becoming addicted, so I have long believed that heroin especially makes people into sociopaths.

My beliefs have been confirmed by a number of scientific studies. One particularly thorough study was published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology in 1998 (Vol. 107.p 412-422) entitled, A Typology of Antisociality in Methadone Patients by Dr. Arthur I. Alterman and colleagues of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

These researchers studied 252 men in methadone maintenance programs. Their average age was 40. The researchers looked extensively into the backgrounds and histories of the subjects and had them complete a number of personality tests. They also interviewed them using Robert Hare’s PCL-R.

The study identified 6 groups of subjects, each with a unique psychological profile. 72 percent of the sample were sociopaths. That means that only 28 percent were not significantly antisocial. The researchers believed that in perhaps 17 percent of the sample the sociopathy was due to the addiction. The take home message though was that 55 percent were highly psychopathic as measured by the PCL-R. About a quarter of the total sample were married and we can assume the rest had relationships of some sort.

Government statistics indicate there may be as many as 2 million opiate addicts in the US. There are only 650 methadone maintenance programs in the US with an estimated 120,000 clients. These clients are likely similar to those of the reported study, but it is reasonable to believe that non-sociopaths are over represented in treatment programs, so the 28 percent figure may be an over-estimate with regard to the total addict population.

One of the most interesting findings of the above study was that Machiavellianism was high in the 55 percent of methadone clients who were sociopaths. Machiavellianism was measured by the 20-item MACH-IV which measures egocentricity, a lack of concern with conventional morality, and interpersonal manipulativeness. These symptoms would predict a great deal of distress in the spouses and romantic partners of the subjects- not to mention the children born to these parents.

The results of the study raise other important points I have made on this blog. First, among the very antisocial and manipulative opiate addicts there were a range of PCL-R scores. This means that you should not be concerned with trying to decide if the person who is hurting and manipulating you meets some magical cut-off score. Instead look at the list of traits Donna has posted and see if the description more or less fits.

Also, childhood and teen problems cannot always be identified in people who are very psychopathic. Things happen in late adolescence and early adulthood that change people. Furthermore, just because we can’t prove a given person had antisocial tendencies early in life, doesn’t mean they weren’t there. The other implication of this is that at-risk young people require careful, loving, hands-on parenting even if they seem OK. Addiction may be an event that tips at-risk individuals into the realm of psychopathy.

The brain opiate systems are central to love and attachment in humans. This fact may account for the propensity for sociopaths to use heroin. It may also be that opiate drugs specifically poison a person’s ability to love, making him/her egocentric, grandiose and manipulative.



63 Comments on "Sociopaths and opiate addiction"

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  1. Wini says:

    Wboyle: Welcome. I like most of your theory, I too believe it’s environmental … but, I believe they perceive situations dysfunctionaly, believing in what their egos tell them than to listen to wisdom by an elder in their environment … whether that elder be a family member, school system, church, family friend.

    Because they only listen to their own egos … there is no room for wisdom. I believe they refuse to go back into a humble state of mind. I believe they perceive being humble as a weakness and society seems to go along with this theory. Oh, yeah, everyone likes when someone is nice … but, if you are a nice loving person, society just walks all over you … like, you’re easy to con.

    Peace.

  2. Elizabeth Conley says:

    Ready to Learn,

    How old is your son?

    You may find yourself with custody again after a few agonizing years. Try to get your own life back on track. Here’s why. Drug addicts rarely break free from their addictions. Chances are your X will spiral downward again, leaving your son in need of a home. You need to be waiting with a good home when that day arrives.

    I know women who have lost the custody battle and perception battle on every front. Their S/P/N ex spouses have successfully convinced the courts and all their mutual acquintances that the wife/mother was crazy, spiteful, delusional and even dangerous.

    Then the mother pulled herself together in subsequent years, while the father fell apart. Remember, they’re the cluster Bs. Falling apart is what they do.

    You are a wreck right now because you were in the frag pattern of one or more of those explosions. Apart from him, you’ll heal. After he leaves the “stage” of the courtroom and his legal triumphs over you, he will act out his illness again. It’s only a matter of time. Just be ready when he does.

  3. Matt says:

    Elizabeth Conley:

    Good advice to Readytolearn.

    Your points about drug addicts rarely breaking free from their addictions and cluster Bs falling apart are true. I needed to be reminded of that.

    Last night I was out having a drink with friends who were in from out-of-town and I saw S swanning around the bar — he looked worse than the last time I saw him 4 months ago. It’s obvious he’s back on drugs. And it’s obvious that he’s going to have to find the money somewhere to pay for the drugs. His life is on a downward spiral.

    I always say I want to be sitting in court the day he is sent back to prison. When I saw him last night, I realized that it’s no longer a question of IF he gets sent back to prison, but a question of WHEN he gets sent back to prison.

  4. Elizabeth Conley says:

    Well Matt,

    I’ve seen this play out, only the mother involved was so upset that she engaged in some really self destructive behavior after the messy divorce and loss of child custody. At the time it was easy to believe she was a nut. Her behavior was startling.

    Then she pulled herself together, her S ex fell apart, and she got her daughter back. The daughter is 5 years older and badly emotionally damaged, but she’s back with her mother. This is less than ideal, but better than nothing.

    I think this mother would have been happier if she hadn’t fallen apart quite so messily after the loss of her marriage and child. She did some very dangerous things. She had no support. I certainly didn’t understand, and neither did anyone else. Education is key.

  5. Matt says:

    Elizabeth Conley:

    I’ve seen it play out, too. At the time I saw a friend’s mother unspool I thought “what the hell is wrong with her? If she doesn’t grab the reins, she’s a goner.”

    Fact of the matter in divorce court she was a goner. From the word go.

    By the time my friend and his siblings were returned to her all I remember thinking is “the murder took place 5 years ago, only the bodies haven’t yet hit the ground.” Still, their mom was able to right their ships. But, what a cost everybody paid because of the sociopathic husband/father.

    I didn’t understand then. But, boy do I understand now.

  6. Elizabeth Conley says:

    I’m really glad the family reunited and healed.

  7. OxDrover says:

    Matt and Elizabeth,

    As long as my Ps had a COMMON ENEMY (me) they were together fighting me, but when I took myself out of the picture when I went into hiding, they TURNED ON EACH OTHER and brought down their house of cards.

    I think (and this is just a gut opinion) that as long as they have an ENEMY to focus on they can stay in the game and focus, but if you are no longer playing their game and fighting them, they lose focus and go back into their self destructive games, bringing themselves down.

    The Trojan HOrse Psychopath could have actually pulled off his game and killed me before I even wised up that he was after me, BUT he could not wait a few months to get his hands on another vehicle (though he had some of ours to drive) and “borrowed” the money from my egg donor after I refused to loan it to him. Then when he and she lied to me ab out it, I started to get suspicious. Not too long after that a friend of mine actually found his mug shot and his sex predator listing on the internet and sent it to me from TExas. So then it all started and since for several complicated and unfortunate glitches in the law, though he was not registered at his new address (my egg donor’s house) because he had not been officially “assessed” in Arkansas, he was not arrestable.

    The sheriff did point me in the right direction though, and after I fled (frustration to the max) he and his GF, my son C’s wife, turned on the rest of us….and ended up in jail/prison.

    The TH-P is out on parole now, and h is PO is not keeping a good eye on him, didn’t even know he had a no contact order, but I have been riding the PO’s butt like I ride the Fat Ass and using a whip as well (would never use one on Fat) to keep him on track. The TH-P has a whole little church as his dupes now, but I have no doubt he will be back in prison again soon. I told the PO’s boss that if the guy is picked up for another child molestation I will be on the capitol steps screaming THEIR names. I have proof that the guy was trolling for a 12 year old boy near the house he rented from me. (I went door to door with his mug shot and rap sheet informing the people living near him who and what he was.)

    I am sure the PO is tired of me, and the Parole board as well, but I won’t back off til he is off parole in August 2011, but you know, He WILL NOT MAKE IT THAT LONG WITHOUT ANOTHER CRIME. I just hope he gets caught and sent back.

  8. Elizabeth Conley says:

    Ox Drover,
    “when I took myself out of the picture…they…brought down their house of cards.”

    That’s what I’ve seen. When they’re messing with someone, they’re focused. When they don’t have a focus, they foul up.

    ” He WILL NOT MAKE IT THAT LONG WITHOUT ANOTHER CRIME.”

    That’s a fact.

    Let’s just pray that crime isn’t child molestation. Does his new church full of dupes know his child predator history? They shoulc be warned, even though many of them would take the risk anyway. Nice Christians can be unbelievable stoopid when it comes to predators of all styles. They have a bunch of idealistic ideas, and don’t realize how dangerous their fantasy lives are for the women and children of the church.

  9. OxDrover says:

    DEar Elizabeth,

    The only thing I know about the church is that it is some penacostal-type church in a pretty good sized town in mid-south ARk (I know the name of the town) I am betting that he met them when some of them or someone connected to them was doing in-prison ministry. I might could track it down, but then I might be accused to stalking myself.

    He is a registered sex offender here in AR but he got “demoted” from a HIGH LEVEL FOR VIOLENCE (in Texas) to a LOW LEVEL FOR VIOLENCE (in AR) because none of his crimes of molestation took place in this state! DUH!!!!

    Anyway, he is registered but as a level 2, instead of 4, he is not listed on any websites nor are his address(es) posted. IN texas he would have had his “poster” in the local newspaper.

    I tried to get his PO to get him “reassessed” but the assessment department is a YEAR BEHIND it took them 10 months to get him assessed as it was, and I HAD TO THREATEN TO GO TO THE PRESS TO GET THAT DONE.

    They are 5,000 cases behind and have only enough personnel to do 5,000 a year, and they are getting, they say, 6,000 new cases yearly. So, chances are he could rape a nun and it wouldn’t get him a level 4.

    It is very frustrating. That is why I am so very much for the 3 strikes you are out laws.

    I may just take up that as a political cause now that I have some energy. I bet there are others who would join me in the task! I have not had a “cause” to persue for a long time in my usual self-righteous way LOL but I may just take this one up.

    Texas is passing a new law now to put GPS ankle bracelets on DV offenders and others with restraining orders, and I think that is a great idea too. I think sex offenders should get to wear one on a permanent basis for life as well.

    I usually feel that a lot of political activism is just like setting yourself on fire to protest something, it just burns you out and doesn’t accomplish much, but maybe the 3 strikes and you are out law would be a do-able thing.

    You are right about “nice Christians” being unbelieveably stoopid with psychopaths and enabling them big time. The little country church were we went fell for him hook line and sinker. He was really good at the “repentence” thing! Oh, my goodness was he good! They were still patting themselves on the back for saving another soul from satan when the cops hauled him and my DIL off to jail! LOL

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