How to Help a Loved One with an Opioid Addiction

Addictions of any kind can ruin lives and families, but an opioid addiction is an especially difficult kind of addiction to face. For one thing, the withdrawals that an opioid addict experiences are extremely severe. In addition, many people develop opioid addiction through no fault of their own–it happens simply because they are taking a prescription that their doctor prescribed them.

In many areas of the United States, opioid misuse is on the rise. So, what can you do if you think a loved one may be suffering from an opioid addiction?

The first thing you need to do is know the signs and symptoms of an addiction to opioids. Here are a few symptoms you can look for:

  • Drowsiness.
  • Poor coordination.
  • Random mood swings.
  • Abandoning of responsibilities.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Nausea.
  • Constipation.
  • Depression and/or panic attacks.
  • Poor decision making.
  • Irritability.
  • Shallow breathing.
  • Physical agitation.

It is important to remember than an opioid addiction can develop quickly, and that between 8 to 12 percent of patients who are prescribed opioids end up with an opioid use disorder. Because of this, if a loved one is prescribed opioids, it is always wise to keep an eye out for any symptoms of dependence. If you do begin to suspect your loved one is abusing opioids, you need to consider what to do next. Acting quickly is important, as opioid addiction is easier to treat is caught early, and the damage to an individual’s life can also be minimized with early treatment. Here are a few steps towards addressing your loved one’s addiction.


1. Don’t use shaming language.

People dealing with an opioid addiction are likely already feeling a deep shame about their problem. What you need to keep in mind is that anyone can develop an addiction to opioids, and often, an addiction can happen simply because someone takes their prescribed medications. When you first approach your loved one about the issue, show compassion and let them know that you understand it could happen to anyone. Let them know you’re ready to help them through the process of recovery.

2. If you are ignored, think about planning an intervention.

It is not uncommon for people struggling with opioid dependence to be in denial at first. After all, many people develop this addiction from taking prescription drugs, and the side effects may not begin to cause a negative life impact until later down the road. If you find that you approach your loved one, and he or she dismisses you or refuses to listen, you may want to speak with others who care about your loved one, and then approach him or her as a group. Sometimes, having several people confronting an individual at once can help to convince him or her that the problem is actually serious.

3. Figure out where to set boundaries when needed.

If you’ve confronted your loved one, and he or she refuses to seek help, you may need to set some boundaries. What the boundaries are will vary depending on the situation. Often, setting boundaries will look like not providing your loved one with money, housing, etc until they agree to seek treatment. Expect that your loved one may lash out when you begin to set boundaries, but understand that they are important. You need to protect your own well-being, and you also need to make sure that you are not enabling your loved one in the addiction.

4. Provide support for treatment.

If your loved one does agree to go to treatment, make sure you support them as much as you can. Being in treatment for an addiction leaves people incredibly vulnerable. Make sure you visit your loved as you can, and provide financial or other support as you are able. Even just calling when you can to let your loved one know that he or she is not alone can be extremely beneficial.

5. Offer to be a support partner after treatment.

Sadly, many opioid addicts end up relapsing after treatment. These relapses are normally brought on by outside life stressors. Let your loved one know that you will provide a support system for him or her as they stay clean. Let them know they can call you when they are down or stressed. Check in with them often and ask how they are doing. While this may seem simple, it can help keep your loved one from slipping back into addiction.

These steps can all be helpful in dealing with a loved one struggling with an opioid addiction. The last thing you need to remember is to take care of yourself as well. After all, you cannot be a caretaker for anyone else if you’re running on empty. Go to a support group, get a therapist to talk about the situation with, and surround yourself with supportive loved ones. Make sure that your own mental health is in good shape, so that you will be in the best position to help your loved one.


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