Opioid Addiction: Getting Help for a Loved One

06 Dec Opioid Addiction: Getting Help for a Loved One

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Witnessing the painful, frustrating, saddening, deplorable and debilitating experience a loved one goes through during opioid addiction is heartbreaking. An unrelenting disease has infected this individual, a person who means so much to you and has so much to offer the world.

Substance abuse.

Now, for family members, friends, and spouses yearning for a solution to help a loved one overcome their addiction, finding the answer is anything but simple. Each person is different.

Sufferers of addiction each have their rationale and anecdote behind as to how their reality came to be. Some addicts are more transparent with their problem with loved ones, and are able to communicate how they are feeling. Others, stay in the shadows of their addiction, too embarrassed and worried of the consequence that might surface from their admittance.

If you do know a loved one trying to overcome their addiction, it’s best to take a strategic approach that encourages positivity, optimism, affection and empathy while providing tangible advice. Many times, loved ones are unable to give the support a substance abuser needs because they are too emotional, angry or misinformed about the situation.

In order for people to provide loved ones with the help they need, they must first educate themselves.

The misconception of addiction

Is how become part of the statue to perceive and categorize substance abuse as a “criminal’s problem.” Many simply lack the understanding that addiction is a multifaceted, deeply rooted disease in which many moving parts and complexities. Assuming that addicts lack moral decision-making or inhabit a “weak” mental fortitude has only elongated a faulty, misrepresented ideology.

Most assume addicts have much more control to alter their lifestyle, but choose not to because they’d rather continue using—when in fact—addicts have very little to no control as their brain is chemically-altered.

What is Substance Abuse Addiction?

Addiction is a life threatening, chronic illness that physiologically highjacks the brain’s decision-making. The addict, who is coherent to the destructive and dangerous consequences the situation involves, is unable to control their drug-seeking behavior and succumbs to the brain’s demands to use.

Similar to diabetes, psoriasis, heart disease, etc., addiction can be successfully managed when implement with the correct treatment options. Without practicing consistently with drug-management cognitive behavioral treatment (CBT), many addicts will relapse and fall back to square one.

Chemically, when drugs such as opiates, alcohol, methamphetamine, etc., are used, the brain’s normal communication with nerves becomes interrupted.

Drugs such as these produce an unnatural stream of dopamine, which floods the brain’s “reward system” and releases potent feel-good effects.

Overtime, the continual use of drugs will begin to “rewire” the brain’s chemistry and process of receiving signals (i.e., nerve cells). That is why when drugs are not consistently provided—the brain begins to “panic” and “demand” for its host to provide the missing chemicals needed to function normally. The urge to use becomes so powerful, that the host no longer has self-control or will power to do “what’s right.” Metaphorically speaking, the addict becomes a puppet, and is obliged to follow the rules of its puppet master (i.e., the brain).

Following are several tips and best practices strategies loved ones can use to help addicts overcome their disease:

Early identification of a Problem

Society has painted an irrational depiction of how addicts can overcome their battle. Many feel that the only way to intervene is to do so after the person has hit “rock bottom.”

Although this may be true for certain people, overall, this ideology is colossally flawed, and spotlights just how uninformed and naive society’s views on addiction are.

Early identification of a problem may be subjective, as many addicts are excellent at camouflaging their illness. However, it will most likely always happen before a life-threatening incident has occurred or any visible modifications in appearance, attitude, and behavior.

Early identification of a problem requires the loved on to notice subtly changes, such as:

  • Changes in sleep pattern and diet
  • Long-hours spent away from home or at work
  • Money issues become more frequent
  • Loss of job
  • Dropping out of school

Early identification of a problem represents the “fork in the road” regarding whether or not the issues lessens or increases. But how does one approach a loved correctly without embarrassing, or initiating a possible altercation.

First and foremost, this person must prepare himself or herself before intervention both mentally and physically.

Being in the right state of mind before approaching a loved one is imperative to not only their chance at acceptance, but also your wellbeing,

Positive energy is real; when someone gives off an angry, uneasy vibrancy—this will inevitably translate negatively, and only weaken your influence and intensify the discussion.

There is no tried-and-true formula inhabiting such a mindset, and it is up to the individual to explore which methods work best that will encourage a positive framework.

Whether that means temporarily stopping their substance use, consulting with a professional, educating themselves further on addiction, speaking with someone who has endured a similar dilemma, squashing a quandary with a co-worker, going on a brisk walk, reading a book—whatever may have you—it’s important this individual is in the right state of mind.

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Other tips:

Don’t bring up the discussion while the person is under the influence. If you’re able to recognize whether or not your loved one is using, it’s best to disengage and wait for a different time. A loved one may not be able to conceptualize your intentions nor their own abuse. In other scenarios, bringing up the topic may initiate a “drug-driven” outburst that might result in a violent altercation, police intervention, public embracement, etc. This also goes back to you yourself not being under the influence as well, as this prove counterintuitive or appear hypercritical.

Establish a dialogue. In order to convey your message effectively, you must be able to find adequate time to communicate with a loved. Don’t approach the loved one during stressful situations, or times where guests are present, or before you or they are about leave for work or school, or directly before bed. Become conscious of your surroundings, and find the best possible time and place to discuss in a meaningful, constructive dialogue.

Flood your loved one with… love. Although this may be nothing to new to them, reiterate your love and concern for this individual. Empathize your understanding of the situation, as well as your apprehension for their wellbeing. Anger and love are simultaneously interconnected, however, not everyone can correlate the two as unified. Take a deep breath and showcase how you perceive love to be, and hopefully, they will do the same.

Bring tangible evidence to the conversation. Many times, addicts are so controlled by their compulsion to use—they are unable to identify their behavioral changes. It’s essential for you to correlate your intervention with constructive examples have how their addiction became noticeable. Someone can only have a certain number of excuses before their validity loses value.

This shouldn’t be done as tool to diagnose your loved one, but rather, bring an observational element to the discussion, which can be used as benchmark.

Speculation breeds animosity. The truth of the matter is, you don’t know why your loved one is abusing substances. You may think you’re without-a-doubt 100% positive, but in reality, the real may be too multifaceted or deep-rooted to fully understand. By correlating reason with action, you weaken your influence, as that might be the furthest thing from the real reason.

If the problem continues to escalate, and words only elongate the problem, strategize your approach. Like they say in business, “Don’t work harder, and work smarter.”

Be careful of the language you choose to use. Mention of the word “treatment” may automatically evoke an inaccurate association of its meaning; in other words, treatment may be defined as a long-term recovery program, detox facility, having to go meetings everyday, etc.

Treatment has many meaning, which are dependent on the individual. For less at-risk loved ones, treatment may simply mean visiting a professional, or recognizing that he or she has a problem. Keep an open mind when approaching a loved one, and don’t pretend that you know that there is only one solution towards ending their abuse.

Other Tips on What Not to Do:

Try not to lecture: It’s difficult not to be emotional, but it’s important to maintain a calm, cool and collective tone and message. Don’t treat the loved one like a child or give an ultimatum that you will leave if he or she doesn’t stop.

Don’t Empathize With All Their Behavior. Sometimes the time between sharing empathy and being a Martyr can be obscure. An over-empathetic discussion can rationalize the love one’s behavior and instigate more reckless abuse. Share your empathy, but also don’t consistently appeal and commend their actions.

Project yourself to their responsibilities. When a loved one endures addiction, their prioritizations and responsibilities falter. If you choose to “pick up the slack,” their will protected that their actions carry little consequence. By allowing them to face their responsibilities head on, they will have a better understanding of the damage they are causing.

Limit Arguing. It’s hard not to feel angry and raise your voice, but it’s imperative that you don’t do so. Speak of your concern and displeasure, but do so in a confident voice that expresses seriousness, compassion and optimism.

Don’t blame yourself. “May be I should have paid more attention.” How could I instigate and encourage their behavior?” “What mistake did I make to cause this to happen?”

These self-examining questions can plague a loved one internal, and correlate their mistakes with a loved one’s behavior. It’s important to remember that it isn’t your fault, nor was there anything you could have done to prevent this to occur.

It is not your fault, but your love and advice might be the cornerstone towards their recovery. Ultimately, you are merely human, and there is only so much you can do to help them from a powerful, overwhelming situation.

What to do during an emergency?

Drug emergencies are not always easy to recognize, as sometimes a person’s conditions are subtle.

If the person is visibly drinking or taking drugs, stay alert to the amount indulged.

When contemplating medical assistance, does your love one have any of the following symptoms? If so, it easy important that you call 911 immediately:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Convulsions and seizures
  • Displaying violent, abnormally aggressive behavior
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shows signs of weakness and an inability to walk
  • Paranoia or hallucinations
  • Threats of self-harm or harm to others

Remember to not put yourself in a dangerous situation if a loved one is in a state of extreme agitation or displaying violent behavior. Either remove yourself from the situation or lock yourself in a room. However, if a loved one is unconscious, call 911 and conduct the following first aid until help arrives:

For seizures, do:

  • Loosen tight clothing (particularly near the neck)
  • Protect the person from falling, and remove the area of any sharp or heavy objects
  • Cushion the loved ones head with a pillow or soft object
  • Do your best to turn the best on their side, because if vomiting does occur, they won’t be at risk of suffocation

For seizures, don’t:

  • Put your fingers in their mouth and try to hold onto their tongue
  • Try and force to stop having a seizure by yelling or throwing water at their face
  • Initiate CPR until the seizure has fully stopped, and shows no sign of breathing
  • Place anything in the person’s mouth


“Get Help for a Loved One Struggling with Opioid Use or Addiction.” Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. 15 Mar. 2019. https://drugfree.org/article/get-help-for-a-loved-one-heroin-opioids/

Condron, Patrick. “How to Help an Opiate Addict.” Drugabuse.com. 15 Mar. 2019. https://drugabuse.com/opiates/how-to-help-an-addict/

“10 Steps to Take if an Alcoholic or Addict Refuses Treatment.” Addiction Center. 15 Mar. 2019. https://www.addictioncenter.com/treatment/stage-intervention/10-steps-to-take-if-an-alcoholic-or-addict-refuses-treatment/

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