Opium Eating: An Autobiographical Sketch

Mar 6, 2014 by

opium eating Opium Eating: An Autobiographical Sketch by an Habituate was originally published in 1876 and offers a unique and glaring window into opiate addiction. During the 19th century opium addiction captured many and this anonymous account comes across as very honest. The author tells us a little about his life, his first experience with opium and his life as an addict.  It is a cautionary tale about drug addiction as valid today as it was back in 1876.

To give you an idea of the author’s style, here are a few paragraphs on the Habituate’s inability to get clean. Probably a good book for kids to read in school…

“I have not for a number of years made an effort to renounce opium. I know that my unaided efforts would prove fruitless. My constitution would no more stand the test than it would the abstinence from food. Death would follow sooner from want of opium than it would from want of food. Seventy- two hours’ abstinence from opium would, I think, prove fatal in my case ; and I believe that I would die by the expiration of that time. It may be impossible to conceive, without actual experience, the singular effect opium has upon the system in making itself a necessity.

Being no physician, I am unable to give a technical description of that effect, but, with the reader’s indulgence, I shall try, however, to describe it in my own language. When opium is not taken by the habitue for twenty-four hours, his whole body commences to sag, droop, and become unjointed. The result is precisely like taking the starch out of a well-done-up shirt. The man is as limp as a dish-rag, and as lifeless. He perspires all over, — feels wet and disagreeable. To take opium now is to brace the man right up ; it tightens him up like the closing of a drawstring. Such is the effect in the internal man, and it pervades thence the entire system.

His mortal machine is screwed up and put in running order. The opium not taken at the expiration of the twenty-four hours, rheumatic pains in the lower limbs soon set in, gradually extending to the arms and back; these grow worse as time passes, and continue to grow worse until they become unendurable. Contemporaneously with the pain, all the secretions of the system, but more notably those of the stomach and bowels, are unloosed like the opening of a floodgate, and an acrid and fiery diarrhea sets in, which nothing but opium can check. All the corruption engendered and choked up there for years comes rushing forth in a foul and distempered mass. The pain and diarrhea continue until the patient is either cured, if he has sufficient will and constitution to withstand the torture, or is compelled by his sufferings to return to opium. During the period of time endured without opium, the body is fiery hot and painfully sensitive to every touch or contact. So exquisite is the sensibility, that to touch a hair of the head or beard, is like the jagging of needles into the body. The mouth continually drules, and in some instances is ulcerated and sore.

As to eating, it is hardly to be thought of; a mouthful satisfies. Of the suffering hardest to withstand, is the apparent stationary position of time, which arises, I presume, from the rigid, intense condition, and intense sensitiveness, of the whole system, and the hopelessness of the thoughts which march like funeral processions through the mind ; this, in connection with the sinking state of the spirits, and the awful aching of the heart, places a man in a predicament which no other earthly suffering can parallel. There is no prospect in life ; opium has so transformed the human body, that it no longer has natural feelings ; there is no expectancy, no hope, for a different future. The appetite for opium at this time is generally master of the man ; it rages like the hunger of a wild beast.”


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