As a general rule of thumb, addicts or “junkies”, as they are referred to in movies and pop-culture, are usually dirty, messy and generally unpleasant to be in the vicinity of. Surely, that is all just fabricated movie nonsense right?
While quite a lot of it is indeed added for dramatic effect, most of these opinions are indeed well founded and do exist for a reason. Let us look at how addiction and dependence influence the addict, making them break social norms and ignoring hygiene rules that everyone understands as given.
Clean clothes, regular showers, and general self-grooming. A priority? For most functioning members of modern society, these are a given. For an addict, it is unimportant at best and outright unnecessary at its worst.
There are times when personal hygiene and appearance is deemed low priority even for normal non-addict members of the society. It is usually decided by the situation and the environment said a person is in. For example, it is unnecessary for a fireman to be wearing a three-piece tuxedo on a call. It is likewise, irrational to expect a soldier that has been laying in a ditch while on a scouting mission, to be smelling of roses and clean-shaven. With a good enough excuse, most generally accepted hygiene transgressions can be and usually are forgiven. An addiction is not one of those excuses.
When looking at this topic from the viewpoint of the addict, a fragrant and washed hair is utterly unimportant when your body is literally screaming for the next dose of their drug of choice. To put it simpler, if you would be bleeding and in dire need of medical assistance, you would no doubt care very little for the state of your clothing and whether or not your nails are trimmed. Such is the mind of the addict – the next dose is all that matters.
It is always about the priority and from the perspective of the addict, nothing but the drug can take that priority. This need to chase the next hit is so powerful that most things fall to the wayside and get very little attention. In this war, the first casualty is usually self-respect, sense of hygiene and the need to look presentable.
Prolonged abandonment of basic hygiene principles can lead to many undesirable results, many of them manifesting in health issues.
The substance itself that the addict has grown to depend on makes a lot of difference to the appearance of the addict. There are many drugs out there that are so damaging and taxing on a human organism, that their health is either in direct danger of failing or making them look many times older than they really are. That said, this transformation is rarely attributed to hygiene, while it definitely should. When a person has not had a shower for half a year, the dirt, grime, and sweat can make the skin lose its elasticity and are usually dry, swollen, wrinkled and even cracked. Pores clogged get infected and before long the addict is covered in sores, abscesses, and severe acne.
That is if you can get close enough to even have a look. Addiction can make washing clothes and hair just as unimportant as showering itself. Layers of dirty and sweaty clothes permeate an unpleasant odor that is uncomfortably obvious to anyone but the addict himself. A human being gets used to many things, especially if they are as gradual as an addict’s descent into hygienic hell.
The smell becomes stronger over a period of time, but because the addict is with that smell all the time, it kind of “grows” on him. Much like an annoying noise will be eventually turned out in order to allow you to focus, the same thing happens with smells and even feelings. The addict in many cases is absolutely oblivious to how they appear to others. They may not notice that they have been wearing the same set of clothing for weeks on end, that their house or apartment is an absolute mess or that their hair is long overdue for a good wash and a trim.
Most addicts, that have been trying to hide their vice from their loved ones, friends or parents are usually shocked and surprised when they are met with solemn faces of an intervention group. They usually think they are very sneaky and careful not to display their drug use paraphernalia all the while their own bodies and their appearance give it all away.
If you see a sudden lack of care for personal hygiene in a friend or a member of your own family, do not hesitate to look into the reasons behind this sudden change. It could be something as innocent as a broken shower that is being repaired for a few days, or it could be the root of something much worse. Better safe than sorry, as they say. Especially when it comes to people you care for.