By MICHELE HEWITSON



What does a heroin addict look like? The image of the user, from one who knows, is of someone "living in this really scummy flat wearing dirty clothes [who is] going to have to score off the streets and sell your body and steal for drug use."



Now meet Tim Harding. His is the addict's story told in tonight's Inside New Zealand. For most of his years as an addict he "had a business going, lived in a nice house."



His mother and sister, despite having suffered through the loss of another sister to a drug overdose, had no idea that he was using. His sister tells us the only clue was that Tim had "gone away" emotionally.

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When she heard about his addiction through a concerned friend, she demanded to see his arms. He hit her. Outwardly, that was as nasty as it got for this close-knit, middle-class family.



And that is the point of this frank documentary: drug addicts don't necessarily shoot up in gutters. They could be the nice couple living next door, like Tim and his addict partner.



Tim's story begins with his wedding to the soulmate he met in rehab. It then moves backwards, tracing the beginnings of an addiction through a recovery.



How does a smart middle-class bloke with two kids and a loving family get involved in a world widely portrayed as one inhabited by the seedy and the criminal?



It's the easiest thing in the world to do if you really want to, says Tim. And he wanted to. "Heroin to me is like chocolate, it's yummy."



And while there's "a lot of talking out of the side of your mouth," he says there are a lot of people "who use it who you wouldn't think would." He's shot up with lawyers and dentists.



There is, too, the attraction - fatal for a few, including Tim's best friend - of a culture that is "just an elitist thing." It's attractive, in a conspiratorial sort of way, with a language of its own, like all sub-cultures.



As hard as the drugs are to give up, "it's even harder when you have to give up your culture and your friends."

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There's nothing glamorous about the culture painted. Detox, which looked to Tim "like an unclimbable mountain," is horrible. "Smell is disgusting, everything you touch is coarse and gritty and you hate it. You're sweating all the time, you've got cramps in your stomach and legs."



But neither is there the usual shock-horror approach to the subject.



It's a documentary about a disease. As Tim says, would you say to somebody with clinical depression or diabetes, "Get over it?"



* Inside New Zealand: Dark Side of the Moon, TV3, 8.30 pm