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Supporting a Heroin Addict - 6 Ways to Help and Support Positive Change

You can’t make them quit - you cannot do it for them, but you can play an important role in supporting change and through emotional and practical support you can increase their odds of movement in the right direction.

Addiction is a chronic condition that’s characterized by recurrent relapse and treatment need. Though it’s frustrating to watch a person you love fall repeatedly back into the same problems, it’s important to keep working at positive change and to accept that setbacks are an unfortunate reality of addiction.

Here are 6 great ways to offer support and to encourage health and well-being over the course of a lifetime.

Six Ways to Help

  1. Get as educated as you can about the nature of heroin addiction, the brain changes associated with addiction and the difficulties inherent in overcoming opioid addiction. As you learn more about the chronic nature of addiction and the commonality of relapse you may feel less frustrated by setbacks and more able to continue on offering valuable support and encouragement.
  2. Accept that it’s not up to you to decide on a treatment goal. Listen to your loved one, respect their chosen objective and help them to achieve their goal – whatever it may be. For example, though you might hope for abstinence, your loved one might prefer a more gradual harm reduction approach. Help them work toward that goal and know that by making some progress today you improve the chances of even greater progress tomorrow.
  3. Offer to provide transportation to and from treatment appointments (offer to attend these meetings too, if that’s welcomed).
  4. Consider whether your whole family might benefit from family therapy to reduce dysfunctional dynamics that contribute to the problem.
  5. Encourage your loved-one to broaden their social networks beyond those associated with drug use. Encourage participation in positive activities in the community.
  6. Know what to do in the event of an overdose. The opioid antagonist naloxone can be a lifesaver in the case of heroin overdose. Have naloxone at home and know how to administer it (ask your doctor about acquiring this medication). Unfortunately, heroin users are at elevated risk of overdose during and after treatment attempts, when temporary stoppage leads to a tolerance reduction.

More Than Just Abstinence

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

Though abstinence and complete recovery from use is the best possible outcome, it’s important to note that even when treatment doesn’t result in full abstinence, it can still improve health and well-being and it is still worth your support – no matter how many times it is needed over the course of a lifespan.

Beyond abstinence, people involved with heroin addiction treatment tend to use less heroin, and the longer a person stays with treatment, the greater the reduction in use.

Reduced Use is associated with:1

  • A decreased risk of overdose, infectious disease and other health complications
  • Decreased criminality
  • Improved social, emotional and cognitive functioning
  • More involvement in drug-free society
  • Better functioning in relationships (romantic/familial/parenting, etc.)

Treatment helps people make small improvements that increase their likelihood of full recovery, and significantly, it also helps to keep them alive until the day they become ready to try seriously for full and lasting abstinence.

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