Though we live in a time when more people than ever understand the importance of improving their physical health, many are in crisis mode. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared opioid abuse a public health emergency in 2017, and according to its data, over 47,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose in 2016 alone.
With over 11.4 million people who have misused prescription opioids, and 2.1 million who have been diagnosed with an opioid use disorder, almost every individual has been affected by addiction, either directly or indirectly.
When a friend or family member is struggling with opioid addiction, you may feel uncertain about what you can do to help. Fortunately, there are several options available, as was made abundantly clear during a recent interview I conducted with Jon Read, senior advisor at Confidant Health.
Understand What You’re Getting Into With Treatment Facilities
As the opioid crisis has gained more notoriety, a large number of addiction treatment facilities have popped up. While many friends and family members naturally want to get their loved ones into treatment, Read notes that they often go about it the wrong way.
“Too many people fall into a trap of looking at unreliable sources of information when trying to choose a care facility. Most of these addiction treatment centers are for-profit institutions, and so every facility will tell you it’s the right one,” he says.
This same problem extends to the data that facilities provide to highlight their success rates. Improper follow ups may be performed, or data may be cherry-picked to convince family members that a particular facility is the best place for their loved one to seek treatment..
“You can’t ignore the need for treatment,” Read says, “but you have to do your due diligence to make sure you’re getting quality information. Consider your loved one’s needs — do they also have mental health challenges that require dual diagnosis treatment? Or do they simply need substance abuse treatment? Even little things like looking at a facility director’s previous experience and clinical certifications can give you better insights into whether a facility is truly the right fit.”
Enrolling your loved one in a treatment facility that doesn’t adequately address the underlying issues related to their addiction will likely result in failure. Holistic therapy, medical detoxification, counseling and other techniques work for some people — but not everyone. Look for objective sources of information so you can better understand what will help your loved one.
Learn More to Avoid Becoming an Enabler
Education entails much more than learning about the dangers of opioid abuse.
Quite often, someone struggling with abuse will be ashamed to bring up their addiction with their loved ones. By learning the signs of addiction, you will be better equipped to recognize when someone is displaying the compulsive behaviors associated with opioid misuse. This will empower you to step in and intervene in appropriate ways.
A key part of educating yourself about opioid addiction is learning what not to do. Ignoring unacceptable behavior, covering for drug-related mistakes or lending money can all enable the addiction, rather than actually solve the problem at hand.
As Karen Kahelghi writes for Psychology Today, “By stepping in to ‘solve’ the addict’s problems, the enabler takes away any motivation for the addict to take responsibility for his or her own actions. Without that motivation, there is little reason for the addict to change. Enablers help addicts dig themselves deeper into trouble.”
Truly helpful behavior often requires more of a “tough love” approach.
If you are concerned about a loved one’s apparent opioid abuse, you can’t try to ignore or downplay the problem. You must address the issue head-on. The sooner you step in and discuss your concerns with your loved one in an appropriate, non-accusatory manner, the easier it will be to keep the abuse from getting even worse.
Ultimately, the most important thing you can do to help your loved one who is struggling with addiction is to provide love and compassion. “The better you understand the nature of addiction, the easier it will be to set appropriate boundaries and know what to say to encourage your loved one to seek help in a positive way,” Read advises.
“Shaming and demonizing the user will often only make things worse.”
This is especially true when a loved one relapses back into drug use after a momentary period of sobriety. “Many people who are addicted to opioids already feel worthless, or like they’re a failure. These feelings become even stronger when they relapse. Your loved one is already beating themselves up about their perceived failure. Withholding love or demonizing them will only make them feel worse.”
At the end of the day, your love and friendship should not be conditionally based on your loved one’s total abstinence from drugs. Providing emotional support throughout the treatment and recovery process can serve as a powerful anchor and motivation, regardless of where your loved one is on their road to sobriety.
Helping a loved one deal with an opioid addiction in a healthy matter can be a major challenge — but this doesn’t mean it is impossible. When you understand the ways you can help and have a positive impact on your loved one’s life, you can become a valuable resource along the road to recovery.