There are two situations in which friends, family members, and colleagues might find themselves in a position to help someone who is misusing drugs: when the person seeks to stop using them by entering a recovery program, or when the person experiences an overdose. To learn what to do for overdose, see the Rescue page.
If 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 opioid misuse can put a strain on everyone who is close to the person involved. That’s why recovery requires patience and new ways of thinking for all.
If you are part of someone’s support network, read below for tips on how 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 raise the issue several times before they decide to seek treatment.
Being reliable, nonjudgmental, and consistent in your support can make a big difference. Starting a conversation may help your loved one 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, you can help them research available programs to learn which type is right for them. Most involve forms of group therapy — an important consideration for those who feel uncomfortable in such situations. Work with your friend or family member to find a treatment program that feels right for them.
Resilience is as important for those providing support as it is for the person in recovery. Addiction can cause tension, a lack of trust, resentment, or emotional exhaustion in relationships, whether between parents and child, other family members, couples, friends, or co-workers. In other words, addiction can take a toll on everyone. That is why self-care is important for those in a support network.
Understand that there will be ups and downs. Find support for yourself. Consider seeing a counselor or joining a support group. Find positive outlets to channel whatever you’re feeling, whether through art, journaling, exercise, or other pursuits.
It will take time and effort as those in recovery seek to regain the trust of others. Sometimes the damage to a relationship cannot be repaired — a situation that those involved need to learn to accept.
Chronic substance abuse causes changes in the brain that affect emotions and behavior. Don’t take it personally if someone in recovery acts unpredictably or worse. Symptoms of post-acute withdrawal syndrome include mood swings, insomnia, increased levels of anxiety, irritability, and depressed mood.
But just as the brain changes while a person is using drugs, it can re-adapt to life without drugs, too. Recovery is possible, as many thousands have found, but it’s not easy. Knowing the types of challenges to expect can make it easier to cope with them when they arise.