How to Support Someone You Know Who Is Misusing Opioids

November 20, 2019

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(This article first appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine) 

Editor’s Note: This article is a reprint of an article produced by Beacon Health Options, Inc. written by Beth Landau. It has been cut for space. The complete article can be found here. For questions about APWUHP services and coverage offered please go to

People do not think it could happen to their family or friends. They think only other people misuse opioids: people on the news or people who are weak or bad. But people from all backgrounds can misuse opioids. They are not bad or weak. They are the people we know. They are our family members or friends. Opioid misuse has become a national crisis.

Recognizing opioid misuse

Not all opioid use is misuse. Some people safely use opioids their doctors give them. In some cases, legal opioids can help treat acute, or short-term, pain. People may use opioids after surgery or an accident.

How can you tell if someone is misusing opioids? There are many signs, including:

  • Changes in how he looks, acts, and relates to other people
  • Changes in physical or behavioral health…
  • Missing work or school
  • Poor work or school performance…
  • Switching groups of friends
  • Slurred speech or stumbling…
  • Taking opioid medicine after her injury or illness is healed…

How to help

You cannot fix opioid misuse for someone else. It is not easy to stop misusing opioids. A person’s body becomes used to opioids. They change the way the brain handles pain and pleasure. After a while, the body needs the opioid to function. The person may need more and more opioids to feel good. This creates a cycle that is hard to break…What kind of help can you give? Your role is to give kind support.

  • Let the person know you care, and offer your support.
  • Talk to him about your concerns.
  • Let her share her thoughts and feelings. Do not assume you know how she feels.
  • Let him know that he is not alone. Urge him to seek help. Encourage him to talk to a doctor about it, even if he does not think it is a problem. Offer to take him to a support group. Many religious and nonreligious groups offer substance misuse support.
  • Help her find treatment choices. Different insurance plans cover different services. The insurance provider can give her information. There are many types of treatment programs. Offer to help her pick a place to start.
  • Try to ease his mind about what opioid misuse treatment looks like. The most common image is of a cold-turkey detox – suddenly stopping the opioid and going through a withdrawal. Though detox followed by a 12-step program is still common, it is generally not the best method. This is also called “abstinenceonly”. “Abstinence-only” approaches may work for some but not all. Everyone who misuses opioids deserves to understand all treatment options including medication-assisted treatment (MAT)…
  • Help reduce stigma. There is a lot of negative judgment about substance misuse… Common stereotypes show people who misuse opioids as bad, lazy, or dangerous. This makes it hard to see the person instead of just the misuse. People may be prejudiced against these stereotypes. That leads to unfair treatment and unkind words or actions. It makes people who misuse opioids feel ashamed and depressed. This makes them avoid seeking help and makes it harder to stick with treatment.
  • Be aware of your own beliefs and stereotypes. Avoid judging the person. Be kind and open-minded. Make it clear that you see the person, not just the misuse…

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