There are two situations in which friends, family members, and work colleagues might find themselves in a position to help someone who is using illicit drugs: when the person seeks to stop using, through a recovery program; or when someone has overdosed. To know what to do for overdose, see the Rescue page.
Whether someone you know has recently started misusing opioids, is considering treatment, or is in recovery, they need a strong support network to help overcome addiction. But the truth is, opioid misuse can put a strain on everyone whose lives touch the person who seeks to stop using. That’s why recovery involves patience and new ways of thinking for all.
If you are a part of someone’s support network, here are tips to take care of that person — and yourself as well.
It might not be easy to discuss addiction, but talking about it is important. The first step is to tell your friend or loved one that you care about them. They may not be ready to open up, but letting them know that you are available and standing with them can encourage them to take the first step. You may have to bring it up at different times before they agree.
Being reliable, nonjudgmental, and consistent in your support can make a big difference: Starting a conversation may help them get started on a path toward recovery.
There are different types of treatment for opioid addiction. Once your friend or loved one agrees to treatment, research available programs to learn which type is right for them. Most will involve forms of group therapy, an important consideration for those who feel uncomfortable in such situations. Work with your friend or family members to find the right treatment.
Resilience is as important for those providing support as it is for the person in recovery. Addiction and the nature of the disease have very possibly caused tension, a lack of trust, resentment, or emotional exhaustion in relationships, be it among parents and child, couples, family members, or co-workers. In other words: Addiction can take a toll on all. That is why self-care is important for those in a support network.
Understand there will be ups and downs. Be sure that you yourself have support. Consider seeing a counselor or joining a support group. Find positive outlets to channel whatever you’re feeling, whether it be through a form of art, journaling, or exercise.
It will take time and effort as those in recovery seek to regain the trust of others. Sometimes the damage to relationships may have caused severed ties, a situation to simply be accepted.
No matter the recovery program that a friend or loved one is in, it’s important to remember one thing: Chronic substance abuse causes changes in the brain that affect emotions and behavior. Don’t take it personally if someone in recovery acts unpredictable or worse. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome symptoms can include mood swings, insomnia, increased levels of anxiety, irritability, and depressed mood.
But just as the brain has changed while on drugs, it can re-adapt to life without drugs, too. Recovery is possible, as many thousands have found, but it’s not always easy. Resilience can help friends and family as well.