Sweat poured off my body and I lay curled in bed, shaking uncontrollably. Physically, I looked like I’d just come back from a long-term stay with Bear Gryll’s in the wild. The “unabomber zodiac” became a nickname of choice for people who knew me during that transitory period of my life. Late that night, a nurse practitioner walked into my room and said, “We haven’t seen heroin withdrawals like this in years.”

Opiate addiction is an American epidemic. Maybe you didn’t know that; maybe you did. In this article, I will try to raise awareness of the American opiate dilemma and offer some advice for those beginning the initial stages of treatment, specifically detox. I persevered through a nightmare detox from opiates and heroin, and I’ve been continuously sober from the day I checked into detox at a hospital on May 24th, 2012. The grim words uttered above by the nurse practitioner stay with me to this day. It’s a reminder of where I came from: hopeless in the bondage of opiate addiction and heroin addiction. Follow my advice and join me in a life of liberty from opiates and heroin. Your life or the life of your loved one probably depends on it.

  1. Your life is not ending when you begin detox; it is just beginning – but it may feel like it is ending.

One of the most common things I hear from my friends in recovery from opiate addiction is, “I felt like I was dying when opiate withdrawals began.” Having been through it myself, this is true. But you won’t.

Heroin withdrawal

Withdrawals will be incredibly uncomfortable. Detox medications like Suboxone®, Subutex®, and clonidine can alleviate some discomfort; however, you’ll eventually have to “buy 6-eapb” Some in the treatment industry argue that detox from long-term use of medications like Suboxone or methadone is more painful than detox from oxycodone or heroin.

Few treatment centers and recovery centers recommend long-term use of Suboxone®. It can be a very effective detox medication, but no medical professional I know who operates in addiction treatment recommends Suboxone “maintenance.” It is swapping one addiction for another. Many active addicts I knew would sell their Suboxone® medication too. Opiate addicts favor Suboxone® because it is cheap to buy on the streets when opiates and heroin are in short supply.

Anxiety, perspiration, restless legs, insomnia, feeling like I had the flu, vomiting and diarrhea were some of the primary symptoms I battled during my heroin/opiate detox. More information on heroin/opiate withdrawals.

Make other family members and friends aware of the situation.

There’s a good chance most of the family already knows. To be sure, however, inform other family members and friends about the situation. Let them know you appreciate their consideration and encourage them not to provide money or a place to stay for an active opiate addict. With the rest of the family on board, it will be increasingly difficult for an opiate addict to support active addiction.

Some people feel ashamed talking about something like opiate addiction, especially a parent who feels that addiction reflects poorly on them. Please know that addiction affects families from all walks of life. By choosing transparency over secrecy, you can have an impact on the course of your loved one’s addiction. I am not claiming you can sober them up, but I am saying you can choose to refrain from contribution to active addiction.

Family conversation

5. If your loved one suffers from opiate addiction, there is very real risk of incarceration, overdose or death. You should know this.

Unfortunately, this is the nature of opiate addiction. Many addicts travel too far across addiction’s bleak bridge into the confines of jail, or even worse, death. It does not matter whether an opiate addict hails from a healthy or unhealthy background. Once addiction takes hold, the risks are present. The risks of incarceration, overdose and/or death increase as addiction progresses.

Many family and friends are unaware of the four stages of addiction. Each of the stages presents certain characteristics.

1st stage: Experimentation

2nd stage: Social and/or regular use

3rd stage: Problem use

4th stage: Addiction/Chemical Dependency

Offer the opiate addict the opportunity to change

This principle allows family and friends to begin positive enabling. Positive enabling refers to behaviors that encourage change in a person suffering from opiate addiction. The first step towards positive enabling requires an end to negative enabling behaviors. Once the opiate addict no longer receives financial support from family and friends, it is time to offer the opportunity to change.

Let your loved one know you care about him/her, but that you cannot continue to contribute to their addiction. Let him/her know if they desire to change, you will help them find treatment.

Make sure you do your research before choosing an appropriate treatment center. There are a variety of treatment centers, and cost is not always indicative of a treatment center’s effectiveness. I usually suggest a nonprofit treatment center with a strict focus on 12 step recovery. This suggestion comes from years of medical research that substantiate 12 step recovery’s effectiveness. It is also the only medically-proved method to bring about sustained, quality sobriety. I also recommend a same-sex treatment center. Co-ed treatment centers tend to have issues with guest interaction. Discovery Place offers all of this with our 30-day residential recovery program and long-term recovery program. Long-term care for someone with opiate addiction offers the best chance for sustained sobriety. Medical research states 90-days, minimum, provides an ideal opportunity for a lifetime of recovery. You should also consider offering articles on the topic of opiate addiction detox, the first step in the treatment process.

Almost all opiate addicts do not possess the means to financially contribute to treatment. If you are in a position to assist, I highly encourage it. Without the assistance of family and friends, many people with opiate addiction would never have the opportunity to recover. If an opiate addict is not in a position to contribute, and no family or friends are willing, direct them to SAMHSA’s website. This resource can help an opiate addict find a state-funded treatment center.

One of the best times to offer help (in the form of treatment/rehabilitation) is when an opiate addict faces legal consequences. These situations can be a wake-up call and hasten an opiate addict’s decision to change.

This video offers some very helpful advice for those looking to bring about change in an opiate addict.

5 Tips for Family and Friends of Opiate Addicts

  1. No “negative enabling.”

Do not engage in “negative enabling.” Negative enabling is a term that refers to giving an active opiate addict some form of resource that allows the addict to progress in addiction.

The two most common forms of negative enabling I see are giving an opiate addict money or a place to live. It also includes any form of resource, like transportation, that allows an opiate addict to maintain the lifestyle.

Family and friends should learn to say no and stick to it. Saying no is perhaps the most powerful ally in attempts to bring about change in an opiate addict. Do not expect an opiate addict to respond positively when this tactic is put in play. People with addiction grow accustomed to getting what they want. If they have difficulty getting what they want, addicts tend to resort to manipulative behavior. In response to family and friends saying no, an opiate addict might say things like, “you must want me to be homeless… you know what will happen to me if I don’t have a place to stay… I thought you loved me… if you loved me you would…” Statements like these represent emotional booby traps designed to return family and friends to negative enabling.

Say no, and stick to it.

  1. Seek outside support.

Family and friends of those with opiate addiction should seek outside support from qualified professionals, such as therapists, or support groups like Al-Anon. These individuals and organizations can offer guidance for people in emotionally volatile circumstances.

When these support pillars are in place, family and friends are less likely to return to negative enabling. I am often shocked at the rate of behavioral relapse in family and friends of opiate addicts. There are times when family assures me they will no longer provide money or shelter to an opiate addict, and a few months later, they return to “old behavior.” This form of relapse bears remarkable similarities to opiate addict’s relapse.

Family and friends who work with qualified professionals and support groups have a better chance of staying the course when it comes to refusing to participate in negative enabling.

You can find meetings of Al-Anon family groups here, and search for licensed addiction therapists in your local area here.

I have also added a list of helpful educational resources at the end of this article.