Coping with a Family Member’s Opioid Addiction

Opioid addiction, or opioid use disorder (OUD) as it is now known, is a national public health epidemic. Approximately 3 million people in the US and 16 million people worldwide currently have or suffer from OUD. Examples of opioids include morphine, heroin, codeine, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and oxycontin.

The increase in opioid drug abuse affects more than the person using them. It ruins families, relationships, ends careers, and of course, can end a person’s life. If you have a friend or loved one with a opioid addictionYou may be wondering how to deal with it. You’re probably wondering how you can help or what you should do.

Path to better health

First, if you have a loved one who is struggling with OUD, consider carrying Narcan with you at all times. Narcan is an over-the-counter (OTC) medication that quickly reverses a drug overdose. This free nasal spray became available without a prescription in 2023. Narcan vending machines are being placed in high-need public locations in cities and counties across the country. First responders also carry Narcan. Therefore, call 911 if you suspect your loved one has overdosed. If your loved one has overdosed, simply spray it into one nostril of the overdosed person. If you acted early enough, you should reverse the overdose.

Then, watching someone you care about struggle with addiction is incredibly difficult. It can make you feel helpless. You may feel that you are not prepared to help. You may even try to convince yourself that your loved one doesn’t have a problem.

The best thing you can do if you suspect your loved one is abusing opioids is to educate yourself about the addiction. This can help you spot warning signs of addiction, including:

  • A personality change.This may include mood swings and doing things that are unusual.
  • No interest in usual activities.Someone who is becoming dependent on opioids may not enjoy the things they used to enjoy doing.
  • Continue using opioids despite negative effects.Signs of this may include feeling sleepy during the day or falling asleep at strange times. They just can’t seem to stay awake or concentrate.
  • Be focused on satisfying your opioid craving. They may change doctors frequently or see several doctors. A person who has an opioid addiction may also use multiple pharmacies to help hide their addiction. They may request early refills or claim they lost their medications.
  • Lie and steal. People addicted to opioids will do anything to satisfy their drug craving. This includes lying and stealing, including stealing from family members.

Talk about it

It can be difficult to talk to your loved one about their opioid addiction. It is common to become defensive about opioid use. They will probably deny that they have a problem. They may even get angry.

It may be easier to talk to them with the help of another person. You could seek help from a substance abuse counselor, vocational counselor, clergy member, or even another family member.

Some people choose to undergo what is called an intervention. This is where a group of people get together to talk to a friend or family member about their addiction. Interventions can be helpful when your loved one has already denied having a problem. They are also useful when that person admits they have a problem but refuses to seek help.

Whatever way you choose to talk to your friend or family member, do it with love and support. Avoid blaming them for your addiction. It is important to encourage them to seek help for their addiction. It is also important to let them know that they are not alone. Addiction is a disease that can happen to anyone of any race, social class, or religion.

Recovery programs

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a national helpline for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This help line (800-662-HELP) it’s a freeConfidential treatment referral information service available 24/7. It is available in English and Spanish and provides referrals to local treatment centers, support groups, and community organizations. Callers can also request free publications and other information.

You can also go to your family doctor. They can diagnose OUD and offer treatment. There are medications that are effective in treating opioid disorders, especially when combined with behavioral therapy. These medications are approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to treat opioid use disorder and addiction: methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone.

Support groups of family and friends.

Addiction takes a toll on families. It tests friendships. It’s easy to blame yourself. Or you may be tempted to “cut off” your loved one who is struggling with addiction. On the other hand, you may find yourself excusing their behavior and enabling their addiction. All of these emotions are common.

Consider joining a support group that can offer you guidance during this stressful and confusing time. There are Nar-Anon Family Groups that offer worldwide fellowship for those affected by another person’s addiction. There is also Narateen for teenagers affected by another person’s addiction. There are other support groups as well. Many are regional. Most offer online support options. Your family doctor is often the best place to start looking for a support group.

Things to consider

If you or a loved one is struggling with OUD and has been prescribed pain medication for an injury or surgery, talk to your doctor. Tell them that you have OUD and that you need to avoid opioids to recover from the injury or surgery. Your doctor may have a plan to successfully treat your pain and reduce your risk of relapse.

Opioid addiction puts a strain on relationships. It is difficult to watch a loved one struggle and suffer because of addiction. It can also be alarming to see what addiction does to your personality. Addiction can also cause drastic changes in behavior. It can drive a wedge between close people.

It is important to never stop encouraging your loved one. Your road to recovery may be long. They can relapse. It won’t be easy for either of us. You will need to set limits or boundaries. If your loved one is a close family member, you may need to set these boundaries to protect your finances or home.

Keep in mind that opioid addiction is a chronic disease. It should be treated the same as other chronic diseases. Like these, it must be continually managed and monitored. Your loved one has an addiction, but it is also a disease. When you think in those terms, it can be easier to offer them your unconditional love and support.

Opioid addiction has no clear link to genetics. This means that it does not appear to be hereditary, according to the National Institutes of Health. However, people who have family members with addiction appear to be at higher risk for addiction. This could be due to lifestyle or environmental factors.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How can I tell if a loved one is abusing opioids?
  • If a loved one abuses opioids, does this mean they are addicted to them?
  • Should you confront a loved one about their opioid addiction?
  • Can a loved one overcome addiction on their own?
  • How can I tell if a loved one is experiencing opioid withdrawal?
  • Is there any test that can show if someone has been using opioids?
  • What pain relievers can be used instead of opioids?


National Institute on Drug Abuse: Effective Treatments for Opioid Addiction

National Institute on Drug Abuse: Recognizing Opioid Abuse

National Institute on Drug Abuse: Facts about the drug naloxone

National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus: Opioid Addiction

Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your primary care doctor to find out if this information applies to you and for more information on this topic.

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