When a loved one is experiencing the pull of addiction, family and friends often feel the need to intervene. With this also comes a lot of questions such as “how can I help my loved one stop?”, “why do they keep using despite their consequences?”, or “how do I really know if they have a problem?” All of these are both necessary and terrifying questions to ask, and where exactly do you do that? Below are a few tips that could help shed light onto the true nature of addiction and some things to consider when trying to reach out to someone in need.

First and foremost it is important to determine if a loved one actually has an addiction problem. Opiate addictions can be particularly hard to catch since most of the time opiates can be prescribed for legitimate medical reasons. Dosages can change rather abruptly and the dates that prescriptions are supposed to end can move around a lot depending on pain levels and circumstances. Dr. Jonathan D. Morrow (M.D, Ph.D), an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, stated that a few of the telltale signs of addiction are, “If you’re using for a longer time than prescribed, that’s a warning sign, if you’re using it for reasons other than prescribed – for example, because you’re depressed or anxious or bored, that puts you at really high risk”. Some other signs of addiction may actually qualify for a substance use diagnosis, matching the most current criteria for diagnosing a substance use disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5).

The criteria include things such as:

  • Taking opiates in a larger and longer amount than intended.
  • Having an unsuccessful effort to control the opiate use.
  • An excess of time spent using or recovering or obtaining opiates.
  • Experiencing cravings to use.
  • Failure to attend work or school obligations.
  • Withdrawal from social or recreational activities.
  • Continued use despite consequences (psychological and physical included).
  • Involvement in physically hazardous situations to obtain or from using substances.
  • A need for more and more of a substance to get high.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopped.

If any or all of these symptoms are noticed in a loved one, addiction is probably evident.

Once addiction is suspected, reaching out for help would be the next step. Contacting treatment centers or seeking medical advice from professionals can help guide loved ones in the right direction as to what level of care is needed and what treatment options would be the best for that individual. Recovery and help look different for each person so making sure that the right fit is found is important for successful results. This can be a helpful tip if the addict is willing to go into treatment, but what if they are not open to the suggestion? Harvard Medical School has done some research on the matter and they have found that a more nurturing and supportive approach to substance users is more productive than the “tough love method”. The tough love approach can lead to a loved one hitting a “rock bottom” (ultimate low) which can be successful some of the time but it also runs the risk of a loved one overdosing before it is hit. Although families are encouraged to be supportive in this process, boundaries and limits also need to be discussed and set so that the support is not taken advantage of. Making a list of what the family will and will not do until treatment is agreed upon can help speed along the recovery process.

It is also encouraged that the family members seek education around addiction. Addiction is a disease and the more that the family knows about the disease, the more they can help guide the addict to staying on track with treatment methods. Along with treatment is attendance of NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings. These are essential support groups that addicts can attend that are free and available every day, all across the globe, and throughout the day and night. These meetings can help addicts gain knowledge and support with understanding how their disease works. Families can also be encouraged to attend Nar-Anon or Al-Anon meetings that are specifically made for family members of addicts and alcoholics respectively. These meetings can help family members learn more about the disease and can help family members in a supportive way discuss issues they are having with their loved one’s disease. They are also free and are similarly available throughout the day and across the United States as well as many other countries.

In summary of many of the suggested tips,

  1. Family members should first see if they are able to determine if their loved one has an addiction.
  2. Once an addiction is detected, reaching out for help is important, and treatment facilities or medical evaluations can help determine which treatment options are best for that particular individual. If an addict is willing or unwilling to obtain help, then families should approach it in a supportive and nurturing way.
  3. While families are encouraged to be supportive, they also should set limits and boundaries on what they will and will not do for an addict until treatment is attended.
  4. Families are also encouraged to seek education on addiction as it is a disease and understanding how the disease works can bring understanding into how the addict behaves and how the family can continue to support.
  5. Lastly, families are encouraged to attend AA or NA support groups (Al-Anon or Nar-Anon) to help them learn how to manage and process their loved one’s addiction.

Using these tips can help any family member gain answers to their questions around how to deal with an opiate addict.