The sincere friends of this world are as ship lights in the stormiest of nights
Giotto di Bondone, 13th. Century Italian artist
It can be difficult to determine why your health suddenly starts to suffer.
Is it simply an age-related thing, as our bodies begin to inevitably fall apart as we become officially elderly? Is it a lack of exercise? A poor diet? Or is it the one-pack-a-day nicotine habit that we just can’t shake?
Sometimes, we never, ever get to find out. It’s just the beginning of the end. Even the family physician can be nonplussed on occasion. It just happens – it’s just life.
The U.S. Opioid Epidemic
However, if it’s not just us as individuals, but a lot of people in our various communities, with exactly the same symptoms and outcomes, people start to take notice, local governments get involved, medical journal papers get published, and, if it begins to demonstrate a high fatality rate in these communities, you can guarantee that those same governments and those same physicians will do their damnedest to find the source and the reason.
Perhaps it will be determined that it was simply a localized contamination of the water supply, something that is easily resolved. Nothing to be too concerned about. Sorry, won’t happen again.
Perhaps it will be found that a new pain-killing medication, synthesized from the same plant that produces heroin (yes, heroin – and obviously later found to be highly addictive), created and marketed in an irresponsible and illegal way by the U.S.’s ultra-powerful Big Pharma industry, and that was cleared by those same governments and prescribed way too freely by those same physicians, is 100% completely to blame. Welcome to the U.S.’s Opioid Epidemic.
Lastly, perhaps it will be found that a new, highly contagious and powerful virus – a coronavirus, just like the less powerful common cold – is to blame, one that can prove fatal to those of an age whose elderly bodies really are starting to fall apart, or fatal for those with serious and underlying health concerns. Perhaps even whole cities and states, even entire countries start being locked down because this seemingly unstoppable coronavirus is resulting in hundreds of thousands of diagnosed cases. However, because it is way more powerful than a simple cold, ultimately, it means thousands upon thousands of fatalities.
Remember, there are coronaviruses (4, in fact) that have already started attacking human beings. They cause the common cold, and, even after years and years, we still don’t have vaccines for any of them. Yes, welcome to the World’s Covid-19 Pandemic.
How To Help a Close Friend Find Recovery from Opioid Addiction
However, just because a pandemic (an “international epidemic,” if you like) comes along, it doesn’t mean the existing epidemic – the U.S. opioid epidemic – simply takes a back seat, and naturally calms down. Sadly not. No, not at all.
You may know someone currently in a 14-day self-isolation at home because of a dry and sore throat. However, chances are, you are far more likely to know someone who has an opioid prescription, who is currently struggling to control their dose, and who is now panicking because that prescription will end soon and not be refilled.
Soon, they’ll be buying these same (and that’s only a faint possibility…) medications online or from other black markets to feed their new addiction. Maybe that person is a close friend, maybe your best friend, someone who has enjoyed years of happy and untroubled friendship with you, as you have with them.
Obviously, the latest U.S. coronavirus fatalities and diagnosed case numbers are changing (that is to say – increasing) all the time. However, one thing that hasn’t changed: around 130 people are still dying from opioid-related overdoses every single day.
Previously referred to as another substance use disorder (SUD), opioid addiction now has its own medical term – opioid use disorder (OUD). As with all alcohol and substance addictions, the impact of this chronic disease touches upon every single aspect of the addict’s life – home, family, work, friends, finances, to name but a few.
If one of your close friends is going through opioid addiction, you may well have asked yourself “What can I do to help?” or “How do I get them into recovery?”
#1. Recognizing Opioid Addiction Signs
As a close friend, you are as likely to spot signs of opioid addiction as much as a family member – sometimes, especially with regard to adolescents and teenagers, probably more so. If you notice that your close friend is exhibiting any of the following signs, it would be well worth checking in with them more fully. Friends struggling with substance abuse issues:
- Become socially withdrawn, or change their friend groups
- Lose interest in hobbies and activities that they used to enjoy
- Have a lack of personal hygiene
- Becomes noticeably nervous, irritable or has sudden mood changes
- Has trouble sleeping
- Becomes very secretive about things they were previously very open about
- Wants to borrow money from you
- Is now often late for meetings/classes or doesn’t even turn up
As their close friend, you will normally recognize changes in their personality, general mood and outlook, and their physical appearance. To put it another way, your friend may stop being the person you knew.
#2. Raising the Issue of Opioid Addiction
If you believe your friend may be struggling with substance misuse or addiction, the first and best step is to raise the subject. Self-acknowledgement is the first meaningful attempt by an addict to recognize that they need help from those around them. It is quite likely, however, they’ll either deny everything or get annoyed at you. Take it on the chin (but not literally). Remember – the subject of substance addiction is now out there, and future conversations will be easier.
Denial is a normal factor in the development of any addiction, so you shouldn’t be surprised at their initial response, if it’s a negative one. When you speak to them, show concern over their mental well-being and physical health, and never, ever apportion blame.
#3. Helping Your Friend Seek & Find Recovery
If your friend has what they call “a moment of clarity,” and finally acknowledges that their substance use is now way beyond their control, and that they need help in looking for and finding a solution – an addiction recovery, then you, as their close friend, can help them achieve just that.
Research the available options together, educate yourselves about OUD together, speak to the addict’s family together, speak to their family physician together, and work through this process together. They will need your support and help in doing this, as for them, their only overriding factor in all of this is their desire and craving for their substance of choice. Moments of clarity are usually few and far between for the active addict.
#4. Understanding the Importance of Medically-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
Through your joint education and doctor’s appointments, you will learn that the most effective treatment for OUD is medically-assisted treatment (MAT) – where qualified medical staff can provide medications to alleviate the discomfort of the detox process and the accompanying cravings, and then continue to manage those cravings throughout the recovery process.
MAT for OUD can be experienced either as an inpatient in a residential rehab facility, or as an outpatient in an intensive outpatient program (IOP) at a professional medically-assisted treatment clinic, depending on the needs of the individual.
#5. Supporting Your Friend During Recovery
If your close friend has got this far, they are to be applauded, but they cannot be under any illusions that they are miraculously cured of their OUD. Recovery from alcohol or substance addiction is a long, slow and arduous journey – this is where your support and help may prove to be the critical factor.
Here are a few ideas of how you can put that desire to continue helping into real practice:
- Making Changes: Nobody recovers from substance addiction without making radical changes to the way they live. Let’s face it – the way they lived before didn’t work out so well… Recovery means changing habits, changing social groups, and changing how you live. Talk to your friend about how you can help with these changes.
- Keeping in Contact: Staying in contact with each other is absolutely vital – and the onus is on you to keep that communication going. Addiction in any form leads to isolation. The last thing either of you need is a recreation of that feeling. Be active, be reliable when needed, and continue being a close friend – one who is always ready to listen
- Choosing Healthy Options: Recovery means getting healthy – mentally, physically, and spiritually – and staying healthy. Healthy choices need to be made at all levels, such as exercise and other activities, nutrition, and learning how to relax, eg. yoga, meditation and mindfulness.
And, lastly, whatever you do, never stop being their friend. You may not totally recognize them from who they once were. You may even think that person from before will never come back. But give it time – with love, care and support – they will.