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How to Help an Opiate Addict

  1. Table of ContentsPrint
  2. Help for Opiates Addicts
  3. Approaching a Loved One About Opiate Addiction
  4. Opiate Addiction Treatment
  5. Are Opiates Addictive?
  6. What Are the Signs of Addiction?
  7. Am I Addicted to Opiates?

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Help for Opiates Addicts

Opiates are some of the most abused drugs in America, with prescription opiates accounting for up to 5.1 million cases of addiction.

Around 210 million doses of opiates, including morphine, OxyContin and Vicodin, were prescribed in the US in 2011, so it's not surprising that the problem is extensive.

Opiates are any drugs that are derived from the opium poppy. Effectively, all opiates affect the body in the same way. Opiates are prescribed for treating moderate to severe pain, such as post-operative pain, back pain etc. They can also produce euphoria, which makes them potentially addictive if used over longer periods of time. Opiate overdose accounted for more deaths in 2014 than car accidents (Rudd, 2016). Consequently, they should be prescribed sparingly and only when absolutely necessary.


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Approaching a Loved One About Opiate Addiction

Common losses that make an addicted person see the need for treatment are the destruction of important relationships (with spouses or children, for example), significant health problems, financial devastation, and loss of freedom (e.g., going to jail). As you talk to your loved one, you can empathetically and non-judgmentally bring up some of the major losses you've seen them endure due to their substance use. Avoid blaming your loved one for these losses and instead place your focus on your concern for them and the need for treatment.

Express that you're here for them and that you're on your side, but make it clear you won't be enabling their drug or alcohol abuse. 

You can also talk about what you and others who love them have lost during their addiction and lay out clear boundaries you expect them to respect from this point forward. Express that you're here for them and that you're on your side, but make it clear you won't be enabling their drug or alcohol abuse anymore, if you have been.

It's very likely that your loved one will be angry and defensive and may blame their problems on any number of other factors besides their substance use. For example, if their using led to them losing their job, they might say their bad boss is to blame. You can prepare for this by having clear examples of ways their drug use led to adverse consequences. If it helps, you can bring notes so that you don't find yourself getting into a heated argument or engaging in emotional pleas that are less likely to work than a rational and empathetic conversation. Remember, your loved one may not respond with an enthusiastic "yes" to treatment right away, and they may come away from the conversation visibly angry. But they may process what you said and the support that you expressed over days, weeks, or months and come to you at a later point asking for help. You can also come back to them at another point (give it time—don't nag) and ask again if they'd be willing to consider getting into treatment.

Should I Hold an Intervention?

There are certain methods you can use to help your loved one decide to pursue addiction treatment. The first and most well-known is an intervention. It’s important if you take this approach to plan it well and only include those who can offer loving support and concern for the addicted individual. Avoid including people who cannot contain their judgment or temper their emotions. Consider also that a large group of people approaching your loved one can intimidate them and put them on the defense, so you may be better off holding a one-on-one conversation where they may be more willing to open up to you.

If you need, you can enlist the help of an interventionist who can take the reigns in the planning and implementation of the meeting. They can also help you to work out some of the details prior to sitting down with your loved one, such as where they'll go to rehab, how much it will cost, insurance coverage, and more. Your loved one may have many obstacles to cite about why it's not possible to go to rehab, but you can help overcome these by working out the details ahead of time.

Another method that has shown success in getting those who need help it to accept treatment is Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT). This therapy type is intended for those closest to the addicted individual and teaches positive communication and other tips in managing the relationship and encouraging treatment.

NOTE: If your loved one has been in rehab for opiate addiction and relapsed, continue to assure them that you will support them through additional recovery efforts. Many people relapse several times before successfully getting sober. You can help your loved one go back to treatment by reassuring them that there are many reasons a treatment program may not have worked the first time and they might benefit from a different approach.


Opiate Addiction Treatment

Opiate addiction treatment follows a fairly standard regimen, but the specifics depend on the particular drugs and the amount of drugs you've been abusing as well as your health and addiction history. You may be switched onto an alternative opioid like methadone or buprenorphine; alternatively, you might simply be weaned off opiates altogether.

Before beginning the process of detoxification and treatment, a medical professional will likely create an individualized treatment plan for you. This plan may be changed continually to make sure it is meeting your needs.

Medically assisted detoxification is helpful in achieving long-term sobriety from opiates. Withdrawal from opiates can be uncomfortable, and in some cases, distressing enough to trigger relapse. Supervised detox provides supportive care to manage the withdrawal syndrome and a sober environment in which to focus on recovery.

In treatment, doctors may prescribe you medications to help prevent relapse. The following medications can play an important role in treating opiate addictions:

  • Methadone: Methadone is long-acting synthetic opioid agonist. It reduces cravings and alleviates symptoms of withdrawal in order to prevent relapse.
  • Buprenorphine: Buprenorphine is a synthetic opioid medication that works as a partial agonist at opioid receptors, partially activating opioid receptors to produce a safe level of opioid effects. The drug has a ceiling, meaning effects only reach a certain point. This discourages abuse of the drug for a “high.”
  • Naltrexone: Naltrexone is a synthetic opioid antagonist, meaning it blocks opioid receptors in the brain. This drug works to prevent opioid abuse by blocking the euphoric effects.

Understand that detoxification alone is rarely enough to prevent relapse. The most successful treatments combine medication and behavioral therapy to ensure that you succeed in your recovery. During therapy, you'll discuss and uncover the reasons for your addiction and be taught methods to reduce the risk of starting the abuse again. You'll also be encouraged to build up a supportive network outside the center.

Finally, you'll go through the recovery stage, but you won't be on your own. Your family can help you through this difficult stage, or you can use the support networks you've built up while recovering from drug abuse. These networks help to prevent you from relapsing.

Addiction treatment professionals are a vital part of recovery

What’s better for opiate addiction recovery: a hospital or an addiction treatment center? Despite the incredible medical care that a hospital can provide, opiate users who were treated at a formal treatment center had significantly lower rates of death, according to a 2017 study. Identifying addiction and receiving treatment that not only addresses the medical needs, but also the psychological long-term needs of those addicted to opiates, is an important aspect of recovery.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2017). Opioid Abusers at Higher Death Risk When Addiction Specialists Not Part of Care. Medline Plus.


Are Opiates Addictive?

Because opiates cause sedative and euphoric effects, they can be addictive to users, even when taken as prescribed. Many users end up taking higher doses than those prescribed and continually increasing the doses as their bodies become tolerant to the effects they produce.

Once the opiate is withdrawn, withdrawal symptoms kick in, with very unpleasant flu-like symptoms, such as:

  • Cramping.
  • Nausea.
  • Fever.
  • Runny nose.
  • Sweating.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Cravings.

What Are the Signs of Addiction?

The main symptom of opiate abuse and addiction is that you keep taking the drug no matter what.

The main symptom of opiate abuse and addiction is that you keep taking the drug no matter what, even despite consequences to your health, your family, or your work obligations.

While it may be sensible to take the drug after surgery, if it's several months after the surgery and you keep on refilling your prescription, you may need to talk to someone about a possible problem with your use.


Am I Addicted to Opiates?

Having a prescription for an opiate prescription medication does not guarantee the safety of that medication. You can still become addicted to it, especially if you do not take it exactly as directed.

Signs that you might have a problem with opiate addiction include the following:

  • Taking drugs well after you medically need to and be afraid of running out.
  • Taking the drugs for the euphoric high.
  • Obtaining supplies from friends, family members or even from dealers.
  • Stealing drugs or money to buy drugs.


Sources:

  • National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). What to Do If Your Adult Friend or Loved One Has a Problem with Drugs
    Nathan, P. E., & Gorman, J. M. (Eds.). (2015). A guide to treatments that work. Oxford University Press.
  • Rudd, R. A., Aleshire, N., Zibbell, J. E., & Gladden, R. M. (2016). Increases in drug and opioid overdose deaths-United States, 2000-2014. MMWR: Morbidity and mortality weekly report, 64(50-51), 1378-1382.
  • American Addiction Centers. 2018.
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