Suspect A Friend Is Suffering?

Answers To Frequently Asked Questions
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How To Help A Friend

If you believe someone you know has opioid misuse disorder, you might consider approaching them about it. Reaching out to someone with opioid addiction can feel difficult even for people who have professional training, but starting this conversation could save the person’s life. For more ideas on helping a friend or loved one with opioid use disorder, you can contact us. Our team will give you more information about our programs and help you schedule an appointment.

How To Tell If My Friend Has An Opioid Addiction?

Opioid use disorder does not always come with clear signs. However, you might notice changes in a friend or loved one’s behavior that doesn’t seem typical of them. They could also make an offhand comment that gives you concern.

A person may have an opioid addiction if they:

  • Regularly take an opioid in a way not intended by their doctor
  • Show major changes in mood, including frequent mood swings
  • Stock a “backup” supply of opioids
  • Take opioids even when they don’t feel pain

Subtle signs of opioid use disorder include social withdrawal, frequent sleep problems, and a loss of interest in activities and hobbies.

How Do I Talk To My Friend?
If you want to talk to someone you know about opioid addiction, remember that a non-judgmental and careful approach often works best. Try focusing on the following three aspects:

  • “I” statements: Framing your discussion around the addiction’s effects on you will help you avoid language that could feel accusatory.
  • Your friend or loved one’s health: Focusing on your concern about the person’s health will let you express your worries without making the person think you’re angry.
  • The addiction’s impact: Centering the conversation on the disease’s effects will separate the person from the addiction, providing perspective.

Combining these three strategies may give you a better chance of receiving a positive reaction than using one on its own.

Should I Stage An Intervention?

You might consider conducting an “intervention” if your friend or loved one refuses to cooperate. Motivation from friends or family can make a difference. However, interventions like the ones seen on television have no supporting evidence for their effectiveness. Confronting someone in this way could actually discourage them from seeking help. The National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests giving the person incentives to see a professional instead. You can contact us for help.

Can My Friend Really Be Helped?
A trained professional can help your loved one or friend start on the path to recovery. If the person cooperates, you can look through treatment options with them and reassure them in this time of transition. In the situation that they refuse to get help, you can try showing them programs. Asking them to bring a possible addiction up to their doctor could also make a difference.
Can My Friend Handle It On His Or Her Own?
Repeated drug use changes the brain, including parts of the brain that give a person self-control. These and other changes can be seen clearly in brain imaging studies of people with drug addiction. These brain changes explain why quitting is so difficult, even when an addicted person feels ready.
Do Treatment Centers Force People To Stop Taking Drugs Immediately?
Your friend or loved one may be afraid of being forced to stop using drugs and what will happen. You can ensure the person you care about that professional treatment centers will keep them safe and as comfortable as possible if a detoxification process is needed.

Treatment is always individualized based on the person’s needs. However, if someone is using a drug upon admission to a treatment program, one of the first things needed is to help safely remove the drugs from their system (often referred to as “detox”). This is important because drugs impair the mental abilities needed to engage with and stay in treatment.

When patients first stop using drugs, they can experience a variety of physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms, including depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders; restlessness, and sleeplessness. Remind your loved one that treatment centers are very experienced in helping patients get through this process and keeping them safe during it. Depending on your loved one’s situation, there may also be medications to reduce these symptoms, which makes it easier to stop using.

How Do I Determine Which Problem Came First? Addiction & Depression.
It is very possible your loved one needs to find treatment for both depression and addiction. This is very common—it’s called “comorbidity,” “co-occurrence,” or “dual diagnosis” when you have more than one health problem at the same time. Encourage your loved one to discuss all symptoms and behaviors with the doctor. There are many nonaddictive drugs that can help with depression or other mental health issues. Sometimes health care providers do not communicate with each other as well as they should, so you can be your loved one’s advocate (with their permission) and make sure all related health care providers know about all of the health issues that concern you. People who have co-occurring issues should be treated for all of them at the same time.
What Should I Do If I'm Afraid My Friend Will Self-Harm?
If you know someone who is so depressed that they will do self-harm, there is a hotline that can help: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You are also welcome to call to discuss your friend’s symptoms and get advice on how to best handle the situation.
How Can I Support My Friend If He Or She Goes Into Treatment?
This is a great conversation to have with your friend’s treatment provider if your loved one gives the provider permission to speak with you. Different patients need different levels of support. If there are difficult dynamics in a family group or set of friends, the counselor may recommend little contact for a while. It is important to tell friends struggling with addiction that you admire their courage for tackling this medical problem directly through treatment and that as long as they stick with the treatment plan, you will offer encouragement and support. When residential treatment is over, your friend will have to re-enter the community and it will be a difficult time.

There will be triggers everywhere that could promote a relapse—such as driving by places where the person once took drugs or seeing friends who provided those drugs. You can encourage your friend to avoid these triggers, and you can make an effort to help identify those triggers. However, people addicted to drugs have to fight much of this struggle on their own, without the help and advice of friends, using the knowledge and skills learned in treatment. Offer as much love and support you can as long as your loved one continues to follow the treatment plan. If the patient relapses, you should encourage additional treatment.

Do 12-Step Programs Or Other Support Groups Work?
Although they are not a treatment or a substitute for treatment, self-help groups like 12-step programs can be a great source of support and encouragement while a person is engaged in treatment, and after. The most well-known self-help groups are those affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and Cocaine Anonymous (CA), all of which are based on the 12-step model.

Most drug addiction treatment programs encourage patients to participate in a self-help group during and after formal treatment. So long as they do not discourage participants from taking medications (which are a crucial part of treatment for opioid addiction and can be helpful in treating alcohol or nicotine addiction), these groups can be particularly helpful during recovery, as they are a source of ongoing communal support and encouragement to stay in recovery. Information on local meetings can be found on their websites. Support groups for family members of people with addictions, like Al-anon or Alateen, can also be helpful.

There are other groups in the private sector that can provide a lot of support. To find meetings in your area, contact local hospitals, treatment centers, or faith-based organizations. These organizations often coordinate support groups for substance use.

My Friend Is Considering Treatment, But Is Embarrassed. What Should I Say?
Many employers, friends, and family members will be compassionate if they see a person is making a sincere effort to recover from a substance misuse problem. But you can also reassure your friend that laws protect the privacy of a person seeking drug treatment—or in fact, any medical treatment. Health care providers may not share information with anyone else without a patient’s permission. Some jobs may require a doctor’s note saying an employee is being treated for a medical condition, but the nature of the condition need not be specified.

Become A Peer Support Mentor

Peer support workers are people who have been successful in the recovery process who help others experiencing similar situations. Through shared understanding, respect, and mutual empowerment, peer support workers help people become and stay engaged in the recovery process and reduce the likelihood of relapse. Peer support services can effectively extend the reach of treatment beyond the clinical setting into the everyday environment of those seeking a successful, sustained recovery process.

Peer workers and peer recovery support services have become increasingly central to people’s ability to live with or recover from mental and/or substance use disorders. Community-based organizations led by peer workers also play a growing role in helping people find recovery. Both mental health consumers and people in recovery from substance use disorders have recognized the need for core competencies, and both communities actively participated in developing these core competencies for peer support workers.

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