How To Help Someone With An Opioid Addiction


According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS), 37 million people in the U.S. experience some kind of substance abuse problem. These issues involve drugs like opioids, alcohol, or other drug types. 

While it's true that some people use prescription painkillers recreationally or only when their doctor prescribes them, many do become addicted after taking them too often—and sometimes even develop a dependence instead.

Opioid use disorder or opioid addiction is the chronic use of opioids that causes clinically substantial distress or impairment. It affects around 20 million people worldwide, with 2.1 million living in the U.S. Each year, there are over 120,000 deaths worldwide associated with opioids. 

The most common opioids are heroin, codeine, morphine, fentanyl, and synthetic opioids like oxycodone. Opioid use disorder consists of an overpowering desire to use opioids and high opioid tolerance with withdrawal symptoms when ended. Dependence and addiction to opioids can lead to a severe form of addiction.  

Opioids are extremely dangerous drugs, but patients may not think twice about taking them when a doctor prescribes them. Opium detox is part of the recovery process. Learn more about opioid withdrawal and opioid detox clinics.

Substance abuse can lead to serious consequences, including overdose and death. Recognizing the warning signs of an individual using drugs irresponsibly is crucial to keeping them safe before things get worse. With this in mind, knowing how to help someone with opioid addiction can benefit anyone hoping to support a friend or loved one through recovery from opioid addiction.

Signs And Symptoms Of Opioid Use Disorder

Opioid addiction can be described as a chronic and relapsing disease of the brain characterized by intense drug craving and compulsive drug use, despite knowledge of its harmful effects and significant tolerance, physical dependence, and withdrawal. The most commonly abused opioids include oxycodone, morphine, heroin, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and codeine.

Key signs of opioid use disorder include: 

  • Significant tolerance of opioid
  • Significant physical dependence 
  • Strong desire to take opioids despite negative consequences for the user or others
  • Using opioids in larger doses or longer periods than initially intended 
  • Abrupt, rapid mood changes from one minute to the next
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed without significant impairment from the drug use

Ways To Help Someone With An Opioid Addiction

Loving someone with opioid addiction can be one of life's most isolating, frightening, and helpless experiences. It is hard to know what to do, how to help them, and where to begin. You want to support them and get them the help they need, but you also worry about their safety at the same time. As a result, you must better understand what's happening and how you can help your loved one struggling with opioid use disorder.

  1. Encourage Them To Get Professional Help

Opioid addiction can be life-threatening. It doesn't matter if you're struggling with addiction or know someone who is. It's vital to get professional help. 

If you're worried about your friend or family member, getting more information on the treatment options available at can be helpful. Treatment options include:

  • Inpatient Rehab

Rehabilitation centers offer an array of services to help patients deal with their addictions. These services include medical care, therapy, group meetings, and aftercare planning. 

Inpatient rehab is the most intensive option for those struggling with addiction. It offers the most comprehensive level of care for those who need it. The patient is expected to live at the treatment center during their stay to get around-the-clock supervision from doctors and nurses and access various therapies.

  • Outpatient Rehab (Home-Based)

Outpatient rehab (home-based) programs are often the best option for people who want to recover from addiction but don't want the commitment of a residential program. Outpatient rehab programs offer flexible schedules, which allow patients to live at home and continue with their daily routine while receiving treatment from experts in a clinical setting.

  • Medication Management And Counseling 

Drug addiction is a complex issue but can be treated with medication management and counseling.

The professionals who provide treatment for drug addiction usually work together to offer an integrated approach to the problem. They are often psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, or counselors. They may also be nurses or physicians who specialize in addiction medicine.

A treatment plan that includes medication for opioid use disorder and addiction increases the chance of success. The meditation used works by normalizing the brain's chemistry. It can also lessen cravings and manage withdrawal symptoms. 

How long it will take for a person to complete their program will vary depending on their individual needs. In most cases, the average total length of care is between 30 and 90 days. Still, it may take longer, depending on how long it will take them to enter treatment and how long it'll take them to complete all phases of the program.  

After completing their program, encourage them to maintain sobriety. It's also crucial that the person continue participating in 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous until they find a sponsor who has been sober longer than two years—and then follow that person's advice.

  1. Address Triggers

Addressing your loved one's addiction triggers is vital to help them overcome their addiction. Common triggers include:

  • Medical Conditions: If your loved one has a mental health condition, they may be more prone to developing an opioid addiction. This means that addressing these issues will help them stay in control and avoid relapse.
  • Stress: Stressful situations can increase your loved one's anxiety or depression, leading to substance abuse. It's easy for them to take drugs as a way to distract themselves from their problems or self-medicate for pain or other medical conditions.

  1. Remind Yourself That Addiction Is A Disease

You may be tempted to shame or blame your friend for their addiction. Note that addiction is a medical condition, and people with addictions need treatment, not punishment.

Shaming and blaming will not help them in any way. It will make things worse for both of you. Instead of being angry at your friend for having an opioid problem, you can demonstrate compassion by showing support. This could mean offering them a ride if needed or even visiting them often at their home or workplace—whatever works best for you.

Tough love can push people away from getting help. It might make them feel unworthy of assistance and make it harder for them to get help in the future. A better alternative is simply offering support and encouragement as they work through this challenging time in their lives. You can do this by telling them that you care about them and want them to succeed no matter what happens.

  1. Don't Set Deadlines For Sobriety 

You might be tempted to set deadlines for your loved one. You want them to get clean and sober, so you may think that everything would be okay if only they would stop using drugs. But this is not true. Any form of addiction is a chronic disease that takes time to overcome.  

You must not push and scare your loved one into quitting their addiction too quickly. This could lead your loved ones back into the same cycle of pain and suffering that they've already been through before finding help.

  1. Accompany Them To Their Doctor's Appointments Or Support Group  

If you want to help your friend or loved one get treatment, you can bring them to their doctor's appointments and support group meetings. If they don't want to go with you, that's fine too. Just don't make it a punishment—if they're not ready for inpatient treatment yet, let them know that other options are available. 

  1. Inform Physicians That Your Loved One Has An Opioid Addiction

Look out for your loved one. The best way to do this is to discreetly inform their doctors that your loved one has an opioid addiction. This way, they can prescribe an alternative.

Ask for treatment recommendations. Look for information on treatment options that are available and what would best suit your loved one. While at it, ask some trusted friends and family for recommendations of the same.

It will help if you carry Naloxone (Narcan), used in emergencies to reverse the effects of opioids on people who have overdosed. Naloxone is a non-addictive drug that can prevent death when administered in time.

Who Is At Risk Of Getting Opioid Use Disorder?

Opioid addiction is a severe issue in the U.S., and many people are at risk of being addicted to it. Opioids include prescription painkillers, heroin, and synthetic drugs like fentanyl and oxycodone.

Opioid addiction can happen to anyone who takes opioids recreationally or chronically over time. People who take opioids for non-medical reasons can develop a tolerance to the drug and become dependent on them. Tolerance is when your body requires more of an opioid to achieve its desired effect. Dependence is when you need more opioids to function, usually because your brain has grown accustomed to it.

Different factors can increase a person's risk of opioid addiction even before they start taking these drugs. They have a higher risk of opioid use disorder and addiction if:

  • They began using opioids as adolescents or young adults.
  • They have a mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety.
  • They are already addicted to alcohol or other drugs.
  • They use tobacco heavily.
  • They tend to engage in high-risk and thrill-seeking activities.

Bottom Line

Knowing how to help someone with an addiction can be challenging because substance abuse disorders can bring along a slew of other problems. Communicating with them, however, is essential. It will not only allow you to understand the motives behind their behavior but also allows them to know that there are people who are willing to help.

If you are concerned about your friend or family member, the best thing you can do is be present in their lives. Participate in their recovery by attending support group meetings and therapy sessions. Offer a shoulder to lean on when they need it and be open to talking with them about the problem. Do not shame or anger them because a lack of understanding may hinder your efforts to help someone who needs it.

Being present for that person can mean everything during their struggle, and it could just be what they need to get help. Plus, you can enlist the help of professionals to understand the best course of action for your loved one's recovery and to get through it together.

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