How to Help Your Loved One with an Opioid Addiction

Julie Bitely

| 4 min read

You may have heard that there’s an opioid epidemic sweeping the country. Addiction doesn’t discriminate. It crosses gender, race, and socioeconomic status lines – sometimes with deadly consequences. Would you recognize the signs of opioid addiction in a friend or family member? Would you know what to do to help? Dr. Lyndon Good, vice president and regional medical director at New Directions, said addiction is a chronic and relapsing illness. In the case of opioids, the drugs mimic endorphins, natural pain relievers found in the brain. Potent prescription opioids can create a pleasurable experience for some patients and users. “It gives a sense of euphoria and wellbeing,” he said. Many times, a person using opioids recreationally doesn’t realize they’re addicted until it’s too late and they need more and more of the drug just to feel normal. When the prescription runs out or can’t be obtained elsewhere, some turn to heroin, which can be extremely dangerous, as it can be cut or mixed with other harmful drugs. Good said there’s not necessarily one reason why some people become addicted while others don’t, but there are some factors that could make addiction more likely. Underlying mental health conditions, a family history of addiction and cases of extreme chronic pain could all contribute to a person’s greater likelihood of struggling with addiction. Think a friend or loved one might have a problem? Here are some signs to look for, ways to help, and how to support their recovery. Signs of Addiction
  • Altered physical appearance. A person experiencing addiction might not be as attentive to how they look, possibly appearing unkempt in the way they dress or in their personal hygiene standards. While high, their eyes may appear droopy and their pupils could appear very small and dilated. “They might look drowsy or have a lack of energy,” Good said.
  • Changes in routine. Performance or attendance issues at work or school could be a sign of addiction. Losing touch with friends could be another. “They often will lack motivation,” Good explained.
  • Secrecy. If you feel like your loved one is hiding something, you could be right. “Many of these people have to live double lives,” Good said.
  • Financial issues. Asking to borrow money often could indicate that paychecks are being spent on drugs.
  • Withdrawal. If your loved one has insomnia, sweating or vomiting that can’t be explained otherwise, they could be experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
How to Help
  • Approach with caution. Friends and family members with an addiction might not think they have a problem, making it difficult to bring it up. Offer love and support without judgement, and help them stick to any steps they decide to take to break the habit.
  • Don’t be an enabler. If your loved one is addicted to drugs, they might be willing to do whatever it takes to fuel their habit. Good said you should never help them acquire drugs by lending money. “You would not want to enable their drug use to go on,” he said.
  • Intervene. If a subtle approach isn’t working, Good is a proponent of family interventions with a trained interventionist. In his personal experience, he’s observed a lot of people who have entered treatment as a result of an intervention and says it can often serve as a promising first step.
How to Make Recovery Stick
  • Engagement. Once someone is in recovery, encourage them to get involved with community support groups. “Engagement in the recovery process is an essential ingredient for success,” Good said.
  • Consider medication. In the past, total abstinence from drugs was the preferred outcome when it came to addiction. In recent years, medications such as methadone or suboxone are often prescribed as a “harm-reduction” approach to beating drug dependency. When medications are used to facilitate recovery it is called Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT). Good said some patients can be eventually weaned off the medication, while others may require it long-term.
  • Provide emotional support. Stress can be a big factor in relapses. If you know a loved one is facing the loss of a job, divorce or a breakup, the death of a loved one, or any other major life change, make sure they’re emotionally supported. “Stress related to a major life change may render those individuals with a history of addiction more vulnerable to relapse,” Good said.
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Photo credit: Kyla Duhamel

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