How to Help Someone Addicted to Opiates

To help someone quit opiates, you need to understand the mechanics of addiction. We cover the basics here.

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ARTICLE OVERVIEW: To help someone quit drugs, you need to understand the mechanics of addiction. We cover the basics behind the brain science here. Learn about dependence, detox, and treatment with a section for your questions at the end.


Table of Contents:

What Addiction Really Is

Addiction is NOT a choice… it’s a disease [1]. People start taking drugs to get high. But when they’re addicted, they have developed a necessity for the drug in order for their brain and body to feel normal again. The body seeks balance, or homeostasis, at all times [2]. In a way, addiction is actually an adapted state of body and mind.

You may wonder, “When exactly does this happen? When does one go from taking drugs to get high to then needing them?”

The cycle of addiction begins with the first intake of a drug. Opiate drugs like heroin, morphine, or codeine makes you feel good. In fact, euphoria is a side effect of the drug. Some people want to continue feeling good and go back for more. Over enough time and repetition of the behavior, the brain eventually adapts.

How do opiates cause addiction in the body?

When someone intakes an opiate drug, their brain’s opioid receptors, those involved with pain and pleasure, react immediately [3]. Through neuro transmission, opiates affects areas of the brain and body. The way it works for pain relief is actually by changing the way we perceive pain. For this reason, opiates like morphine is often given to individuals who are experiencing severe pain. [4]

What causes addiction is this brain and body reaction. People start feeling good, then want more and more, only to eventually need the drug as a means of feeling normal. Meanwhile, the body can start deteriorating.

How long does it take to become addicted?

Well, it differs from person to person. Addiction doesn’t work the same for everyone. It can develop at different rates. It all depends on a few important factors. [5] The rate at which someone becomes addicted to a drug can depend on:

  • The person’s genetic vulnerability to addiction.
  • Their culture and the attitude it has towards drug use.
  • Their personality; some people are more impulsive.
  • Their state of mental health and need to self-medicate.
  • Their environment.
  • Their understanding of what drugs are doing to them.

For example, someone who uses and lives with others who approve will most likely end up addicted to that drug sooner than someone who lives in a drug-free environment. Still, just because someone takes an opiate doesn’t mean they’re addicted. Instead, they could be dependent.


Dependence or Addiction?

Opiate dependence occurs when the brain adapts to the opiate drug. [6] You know you’re dependent when you miss a dose and experience withdrawal symptoms. Tolerance is related to dependence. Over time,  you’ll need more of the drug to feel the initial effects of it. This is another brain adaptation.

You may wonder, “How can I tell if my loved one is addicted or dependent?”

This can be tricky, as signs aren’t always physical. Furthermore, some people who are opiate-dependent are able to meet responsibilities and even hide their drug use. As a means of learning more, you might want to consider the following questions:

  • Are your responsibilities at risk due to opiate use?
  • Do you find yourself craving opiates?
  • Do you find yourself in risky situations because of opiates?
  • Do you spend a large amount of time thinking about, obtaining, or using drugs?
  • Have you continued to use opiates despite work, health, or relationship problems?
  • Have you ever tried to quit but failed?

If the answer is “Yes,” to any of these questions, addiction may be present. You’ll want to consult a medical professional. Still, it’s common for a person struggling with addiction to deny everything.

Helping Address Denial

Kicking a drug habit requires a strong desire to stop. Most people who are addicted fear quitting because:

  1. They fear withdrawal.
  2. They are scared to face a life with pain.

People who self-medicate might be doing so for a good reason. Physical or psychological pain dissolves when you use this strong opiate drug. Facing the pain again…without the help of pain killer drug..can be terrifying.

The addictive potential of  drugs like morphine is incredibly high. In fact, opiates are the most addictive drugs known to man. And while physical challenges can be uncomfortable, staying in the same place – stuck in a cycle of addiction – might make the condition worse.

How can someone get over these barriers?

First, seek medical help. It is difficult to achieve long-term sobriety and avoid opiate relapse without the professional help of a reputable treatment program. It’s highly common for users to crave opiates due to the memory of how good it feels to be on opiates. For this reason, clinicians and scientists have developed a variety of effective treatments which aim to help addicts re-learn how to live without taking drugs.

Intervention Basics

People struggling with addiction most likely won’t approach you unless they’ve reached a point of despair through an incident or accident related to their addiction. As someone who cares, it’s in your best interest to do all you can as a means of avoiding this. The most efficient way to get this across is through an intervention.

You’ll want to take the time to plan out an effective intervention. [7] If you need a bit of help on this process, you can go to a professional interventionist. Feel free to call our hotline number here. We can connect you with our in-house interventionist to talk over your options.

Here are some critical things to consider when planning your intervention:

  • Carefully choose who attends.
  • Get some advice before you begin.
  • Plan communication in advance.
  • Prepare for anything as anything can happen.
  • Prepare to suggest consequences.
  • Provide a solution for recovery.
  • Follow through after the intervention.

The main goal of intervention is to have your loved one seek help. Don’t let drugs ruin your family. Call us to learn about detox, counseling, and treatment. Rehab can save lives…and restore your family.

Help During Detox

The first step in treatment is withdrawal. This is why treating morphine addiction usually starts with medical detoxification. During detox, opiates leave the body. Detox is most successful and safe when performed by medical addiction professionals. Why

Unpleasant withdrawal symptoms are expected but can be treated as they occur. In fact, doctors can help manage the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms with medications and psychological support. Yes, medications exist to make withdrawal less intense and/or severe.Medications used during detox usually include:

  • Buprenorphine usually helps relieve withdrawal symptoms and is used in the longer-term management of severe drug dependence.
  • Methadone can be used during detox and as maintenance therapy during treatment. After stabilization, the dosage is gradually reduced until the medicines are out of the system.
  • Clonazepam, trazodone, and zolpidem have been used for withdrawal-related insomnia, but the decision to use a benzodiazepine needs to be made carefully, as it can create a secondary addiction.

Help During Treatment

As you begin looking into treatment facility options, it’s important to understand how treatment works. Here’s what treatment usually looks like.

STEP 1: Diagnosis.

A medical professional such as:

  • A Licensed Clinical Psychologist
  • A Medical Doctor who specializes in addiction
  • A Psychiatrist

…will facilitate a conversation. The idea is to assess and evaluate the addiction to create a treatment plan. In order to establish appropriate treatment plan, the medical supervisor will ask about the particular drug(s) and the amount of drugs abused, determine the health condition and history of addictive behavior of the individual. The process usually includes a standard interview, a physical exam, and drug testing.

STEP 2: Creating a treatment plan.

According to information gathered in this first session, the medical supervisor will create an individualized treatment plan that fits the person’s needs. Changes in this plan can be made when necessary. Depending on the doctor estimation, the patient may be switched to an alternative opioid or simply be taken off of all opiates at once.

STEP 3: Supervised detox.

If long term abstinence is the goal, supervised detoxification comes next. Medical detox addresses symptoms to minimize their intensity and severity as they occur. When people come off opiates, they experience a variety of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms which can be so intense that they cause relapse. This is the reason why a medically assisted detox provides supportive care. The greatest benefit is is the chance to manage withdrawal symptoms in a sober, recovery-oriented environment…with medical assistance and 24-7 care. However, detox is just the beginning….

STEP 4: Medication Assisted Treatment.

Medications can then be used to help stabilize brain chemistry, thus increasing chances of staying sober. There are several medications that doctors prescribe during an opiate medical treatment to prevent relapse. The treatment of opiate addiction is usually accompanied by
the following medications:

  • Methadone to help reduce cravings, ease withdrawal symptoms, and prevent relapse.
  • Buprenorphine to help prevent drug abuse for the purpose of getting high.
  • Naltrexone to help prevent opiate drug abuse.

STEP 5: Psychotherapy.

Talk therapy then digs into the core issues that drive drug use. We are each unique. But, we often use drugs for the same reasons: to avoid emotional pain or to cope with what’s in front of us. Therapy in group and individual sessions can help unearth the past, the reasons we use opiates. Then, counseling encourages us to adopt new coping mechanisms. When combined with Medication Assisted
Treatment, ongoing counseling for 1-2 years during and after rehab has been shown to haven positive treatment outcomes.

STEP 6: Aftercare.

Treatment requires aftercare. That means that when a formal rehab program ends, the work continues. A person in early recovery will require a clear plan for how to transition back into life without using drugs. Often, the plan incorporates at least a few of the following

  • Ongoing counseling
  • Sober living housing
  • Support group attendance
  • Treatment alumni activities

To learn more about treatment options, give us a call. We understand addiction as a medical condition. We’ll walk you through the medical treatment.

How Many People Struggle?

Currently, America is facing an opioid epidemic, meaning many people struggle with addiction. Here are some stats on the crisis:

  • Drug overdose has recently become the leading cause of accidental death in the United States.
  • In 2015, around 52,000 people died from lethal drug overdose with opioids leading the epidemic. 20,000 of those people had overdosed on prescription painkillers while another 13,00 from heroin [8].
  • In 2015, out of 20.5 million Americans with a substance abuse disorder, 2 million had a disorder involving prescription pain relievers.

Where to Find Help

If you are looking for immediate help with opiate addiction you can always call the hotline on this page. Our compassionate operators are ready to take your call. Confidentiality is 100% guaranteed. And all calls will be answered right away.

You can also contact these medical professionals. You can begin the process of opiate addiction treatment with your family doctor and then get referrals from these. Here are some other suggestions:

  • Contact a doctor or a physician for a reference to reputable addiction treatment centers near you.
  • Search for a detox clinic connected with rehab.
  • Look for support groups that will be part of your treatment program.
  • Try to find contacts from the most competent and experienced clinical psychologists.

Otherwise, you can look to these hotlines for assistance.

  • National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI) 800-729-6686
  • National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Hope Line 800-475-HOPE (4673)
  • National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Service 800-622-4357
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse- Drug and Treatment Information 800-662-4357
  • National Suicide Prevention Helpline 800-273-TALK (8255) or 800-SUICIDE (784-2433)
  • Substance Abuse Helpline is available 24/7 at 800-923-4327
  • Relapse Prevention Hotline 800-RELAPSE (735-2773)


How to Help a Friend

First, get informed.

Before you set out to help your friend or loved one, make sure you are well informed about opiate addiction. Learn about how opiates affects the brain, what happens during withdrawal, and what happens during a craving. Get into the brain science of addiction and you’ll be much more informed to be a good guide.

Second, approach the addict at the right time.

The best way to approach an opiate addict friend or loved one is by learning how to use opportunities to express your concern. The CRAFT Model stands for “Community Reinforcement and Family Training.” This is a program that teaches loved ones how to stay safe around someone who’s using and to set limits. It shows excellent promise as a way of getting people into treatment and is often preferred to an intervention. However, you’ll need to invest 12-16 weeks as a family group in order for the program to be most effective.

Third, if all else fails, call the professionals.

Sometimes it pays to schedule a face-to-face conversation between family members and the person with an addiction problem. Assisted by a professional interventionist, you can carry out the intervention in a safe and supportive manner. The professional interventionist will help you gather the best possible combination of people close to the addict and learn how you can start setting limits. Call us to learn more.

Your Questions

It is important to keep this in mind when considering how to help a friend or a loved one: A person needs to be willing to change! Repeat these phrases to yourself, or keep them written down for when you’re ready to open up a discussion with your loved one.

“No one can make you go to rehab. You need to want to go for yourself.”

“You’re the only person who can decide to change. I’ll be here for you when you’re ready.”

“Let me know when you’re ready for help. I’m rooting for you.”

Still have questions about helping an addict? Please leave them here. We will try to answer all legitimate inquiries personally and promptly. In case we don’t know the answer to your particular question, we will gladly refer you to professionals who can help.

Reference Sources: [1] NIDA Easy Read: What is Addiction?
[2] NCBI: A physiologist’s point of view on homeostasis
[3] NCBI: The neurobiology of opioid dependence
[4] CDC: Prescription Opioid Data
[5] Pyschology Today
[6] NIDA: Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment
[7] The Surgeon General’s Report: Facing Addiction in America, Chapter 4
[8] CDC: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: Increases in Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths — United States, 2010–2015
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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