Most of us have heard of the opioid epidemic that is sweeping the United States. When we read these headlines, we can be empathetic to those struggling with this addiction and hope that they’re able to seek treatment.
We may even look into the causes behind the opioid epidemic, and educate ourselves on how local governments are trying to battle this surge of addictions in their communities.
However, the phrase “opioid epidemic” hits a little differently when you find out that your loved one has developed an addiction to opioids. Now, you’re not merely a spectator to the news; you may find yourself desperate for information on how to help and what to say.
If this is the case, we’ve compiled a list of things you can do to help your loved one through this difficult time.
What are opioids?
First, let’s explain what opioids actually are. Opioids are any drugs that interact with the opioid receptors in our brain. The most common opioids are high-level prescription pain medications, like oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, fentanyl, and morphine. The umbrella of opioids also includes illegal substances such as heroin.
Why opioids are so dangerous is because they are highly addictive. Someone may be prescribed pain medication after surgery, but they’ve prescribed it for too long, and they form a physical dependence on it. Now, after their pills are gone, they feel terrible, and they look for other avenues to feel better.
This may lead them to “shop” at different doctor’s offices, getting more prescriptions for painkillers. However, some doctors are becoming less willing to prescribe these dangerous medications, which then leads the person to pursue less-legal avenues. This can lead them to buy heroin, or heroin laced with fentanyl.
Since people often don’t know what combination of drugs are in the substance that they’re injecting into their bodies, they can accidentally overdose quite easily.
If they haven’t told you of their addiction
Let’s say your loved one hasn’t come to you and said they have a problem with opioids. Maybe you discovered their addiction on your own – you may have found pill bottles with different doctors’ names on them. Or you could have found a stash of pills in a baggie on their desk. Maybe you found a forgotten needle from their drug use.
Or maybe you’ve noticed that they’ve been having very out-of-character responses or actions. Maybe they’re isolating themselves or going out partying every night. Maybe they’ve stopped exercising or have lost weight. Maybe you noticed they’ve been spending a lot of money in a short amount of time.
Regardless of how you found out, you need to broach the conversation with them very carefully. You never want to sound like you’re blaming or judging them for their behavior. If they suspect you are, they will likely shut down or become angry at the accusation.
Instead, try to bring up the topic in a non-threatening way, when you’re doing something else together. Maybe while you’re on a walk or doing the dishes – something that doesn’t make the conversation seem so confrontational.
When you bring this up, first say what you’ve noticed. Try to stick to facts without imparting your opinion – factual information is harder for them to argue than what you think. This conversation could look like:
“Hey, I found some pills in a bag in your desk. What are those for?”
“I’ve noticed you have a lot of bruising on your inner arm. What is that from?”
They may try to wave away your comment, but gently stick with it and bring up another observation.
Throughout this discussion, you want to reassure them of your love and support. Remind them that you’re an ally, and only want what’s best for them.
Let’s say the conversation goes well, and they admit they have a problem. Or, in another scenario, let’s say they came to you and expressed their problem, and that they want to get help.
Again, be very compassionate and grateful that they shared this with you. Ask them how you can support them in seeking help.
If they’re not sure how to have your help, you can offer a few suggestions. You can help finance their treatment. You can research different treatment facilities and call around to them. You can offer to watch their kids or pets for the duration of their treatment.
These all, of course, depend on the nature of your relationship and this person’s specific situation. Think of what stresses this person out the most: is it finances? Making a decision? Stepping back from work? Customize your offer of support to what will be most helpful for them.
Looking into treatment options
One of the best ways to help is researching various treatment facilities and vetting them. Choosing a program is a big decision, and they want to make sure they go with the one that will be most beneficial for them.
Of course, there’s only so much you can know ahead of time. So, it comes down to asking the right questions.
What therapy method will they prefer?
Has your loved one been in therapy before? Or been to an AA or NA meeting? What was their experience? If it was positive, those can be good places to start in looking for similar treatment programs.
However, if it was negative, you’ll want to look for programs that offer different methodologies.
Are they looking for more traditional or holistic care?
Some people prefer treatment where they are prescribed more medications to replace the ones they’re on.
Others would prefer to get off the medications, as those were what may have led to the addiction in the first place. In these cases, it’s best to look into holistic treatment centers like The Exclusive Hawaii, where they can use experiential therapy to look at the deeper causes of their addictive behavior, while utilizing holistic services like acupuncture, yoga, and massage therapy to heal their physical bodies.
Where do they want to be?
Does your loved one want to stay close to home – so you and other family members can visit? Or would it be better for them to get away from their day-to-day surroundings?
There’s no wrong choice for any of these questions. It comes down to what will be the best foundation for your loved one to work off of to create sobriety in their life.