There are so many ways to get help with opioid addiction, and different people will find different things that work for them. If we are missing a resource that you think is important, please let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org
The person who prescribes your opioids should have discussed the risk of dependence and addiction with you before starting the medication. Whether or not that happened, the prescribing doctor has a responsibility to help you with the consequences of the medication they prescribed. Primary care doctors, such as family medicine doctors and internists, have basic training in chemical dependency and have many, many patients who struggle with addiction. They are a good place to start. If you find that your doctor isn’t helpful, or you are afraid to ask, you can see a different primary care doctor or you can go directly to an addiction specialist.
What can doctors do to help? Several things. If you aren’t sure whether you are addicted or not, they can help you figure it out. If you know you have a problem, they may be able to prescribe medications to help you stop using opioids, or can send you to a doctor who does prescribe those medications. They should connect you with good mental health care from a specialist in chemical dependency. If you have chronic pain they should also help you find other ways to reduce it, which might include a referral to a chronic pain specialist.
Opioid replacement medications: There is scientific evidence that many people who are addicted to opioids can be safer and healthier on alternative opioid medications. If your opioid addiction includes heroin use, methadone may be an option for you. Methadone is still highly addictive and has all of the risks of any other opioid medication. The benefit of methadone over heroin is that it is legal, the dosing is consistent, and it is longer-acting so there is no rollercoaster-ride of getting high and then coming down. Most people are more functional on methadone than on heroin, and are less likely to have legal problems resulting from addiction.
For most people who are addicted to opioids, buprenorphine (usually prescribed as Suboxone) is a better option. This medicine partially activates the opioid receptors in your body, reducing withdrawal symptoms. This partial activation makes it safer and less addictive than other opioids, though it can still be abused. In order to reduce the risk of abuse, buprenorphine is manufactured in combination with naloxone as an oral medication called Suboxone. Naloxone has no effect when taken orally, but if snorted or injected it reverses the effects of opioids (which is why it can be used to reverse overdoses). Doctors have to get a special license to prescribe Suboxone, so your doctor may not be able to prescribe it, but they can help you find somebody who does.
Non-opioid medications: There are other medications that are not opioids, but which may make withdrawal less severe and help avoid relapse. These include gabapentin, valproate, and naltrexone/Vivitrol (not to be confused with naloxone). None of these medications have great scientific evidence for their effectiveness. However, some people have found them to be very helpful and they are safe for most people to take. Your primary care doctor will most likely be comfortable prescribing gabapentin. If you want to try one of the other medications mentioned, you will probably need a referral to an addiction specialist.
Naloxone: The doctor who prescribes your opioids should also prescribe a naloxone kit, which can be used to reverse an overdose if you or somebody who gets ahold of your opioid medication takes too much.
Know that no medication therapy will get rid of your addiction, and medications must be combined with a good chemical dependency treatment plan focused on behavior and mental health in order for your or your loved one to get better.
You can talk to your doctor or mental health professional about local treatment options, or call this national helpline: (800) 662-HELP
There are many approaches to recovery. One which has been helpful to many people is Narcotics Anonymous.
support for family and friends
It is an understatement to say that loving and caring about someone that has an addiction is difficult. Like any other form of hurt, it is painful to watch and can leave you feeling helpless and at times confused. Your friend or loved one is in need of support and so are you! Having a basic level of understanding of the stages of addiction as well as information about what you can do to provide support may help to ease your feelings of helplessness and assist you in providing the support that is manageable for you.
Prescription opioid addiction can be more difficult to recognize than other forms of addiction, because the drugs are legal and were prescribed by a doctor, usually for a legitimate medical condition. Elderly people are especially at risk of having addiction that goes unnoticed or untreated.
No one consciously chooses to become an addict. There are physical, emotional and other factors that lead to addiction. You cannot fix this for your friend or loved one, but the more you know, the more you can partner with him/her on the journey to recovery.
Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to seek professional help in understanding and finding support from appropriate resources and others that have supported someone with an addiction. There are several national programs designed for loved ones of drug-addicted people. Some groups that are intended to help people with addiction also have family support groups.
Visit often for more education and tips on how to love and support a person who is battling addiction, as well as stories from others that are traveling your journey who can provide the hope and support you need as well!