How to Help a Loved One with an Opioid Addiction

Pain medication addiction, also known as opioid addiction, has become an epidemic – and the past year brought a number of overdose and addiction cases to the national stage. While this has caused politicians to weigh in and states to propose law changes, many people are unsure what to look for or how to help a friend or loved one dealing with a painkiller addiction.

Opioids are highly addictive pain medications – for example, hydrocodone (an ingredient in Vicodin®), oxycodone (OxyContin®), morphine (Kadian®) and codeine – mainly prescribed by medical providers to treat a variety of pain problems. Many people take these medications as prescribed, but a growing number of people are abusing them.

The problem spans different ages and socioeconomic groups – teenagers raiding their patients’ medicine cabinets and taking pulls recreationally, middle-age adults misusing pills prescribed for migraine headaches or older adults addicted to painkillers prescribed for chronic pain. Abuse of prescription pain pills can lead to drug overdose and even death; it can also be a dangerous gateway to heroin and other illegal substances.

5 Ways to Help

The road to overcoming an opioid addiction can be long and difficult. Here are five ways you can take action to get help for your loved one.

  1. Start the conversation. Tell your loved one that you’re worried about their health and safety. Although they may not appreciate your concern initially – shock, anger and denial are common reactions for a drug-addicted person to display when being confronted with their addiction – you may just save their life.
  2. Show them you care. It’s important to acknowledge the pain your loved one is experiencing and offer them your support. Remind them that you’re not there to judge or scold, but to encourage them to get help.
  3. Focus on solutions. They should know they are not alone, and that there are other ways to manage chronic pain and other factors fueling their addiction.
  4. Connect with others. The problem of opioid addiction is so widespread that many people know someone who has been affected. Communicate with friends and family or join a support group to learn more about what worked for others.
  5. Seek professional support. If further intervention is needed to get your loved one into treatment, speak to your medical provider and get a referral to an addiction specialist.

Watch for Warning Signs

How do you know a friend or loved one is addicted to painkillers? The physical symptoms of an opioid addiction can vary, but may include:

  • Slurred or incoherent speech
  • Increased pain despite taking higher doses of medication
  • Drowsiness or sleepiness
  • Slowed breathing or trouble breathing
  • Acting “high” (appearing abnormally excited or sedated), confused or unable to concentrate
  • Withdrawal symptoms such as irritability or nervousness

Be on the lookout for behavioral changes and subtle signs of addiction, including:

  • Missing work or important social functions on a regular basis
  • “Losing” prescriptions or claiming to have accidentally “spilled” a medication in order to get another prescription filled
  • Visiting more than one doctor for different ailments in an attempt to get more prescriptions