Friends, Family and Allies
If a person you care about is using drugs, or if you have lost a loved one, support is available in Maine. If someone you love is in active use, you can learn about safer practices, prepare to help in case of an emergency, and know who to call if and when your person wants to make a change.
Substance use disorder (SUD) is a chronic health condition that changes the body, brain and behavior. It can happen to anyone. As SUD progresses, it becomes very difficult to stop using drugs, even despite the negative consequences. When we better understand SUD, we can better respond with empathy and compassion. That way, we can reduce the stigma that makes it harder for people to seek and accept support.
When a person has social support and connection, they are more likely to take steps to stay safe and to seek and maintain recovery. As a friend, family member or ally, you can play an important role in supporting your loved one to stay safe and healthy.
Local support for family and loved ones
Maine has a deep, inspiring, and thriving treatment and recovery community, as well as a strong network of family support groups. Many recovery organizations offer support for affected others. Find one near you in our resource list (filter by Population: “Support for friends and family”).
How can I help my loved one?
Stay connected, learn about safer use practices, and learn about resources available.
One of the main barriers to a person seeking help for their drug use is the shame and blame they feel around drug use, often caused by stigma. For this reason, people may hide their use. This increases the risk of a fatal overdose. If you know that someone is using substances, try to stay present in their life. Let them know that they can come to you, and that you are willing to help them find resources to stay safe or get well, if they want support.
Loving and supporting a person who uses drugs does not mean that you are supporting their drug use. People who have a support system are often far more likely to seek recovery and to make safer choices during active use.
Always keep naloxone on hand. Keep it in your purse, backpack, medicine cabinet, glove compartment, or wherever you can grab it quickly. Learn where to find naloxone on our Get Naloxone page.
Help them stay safe.
Most fatal overdoses take place when a person is using alone. If someone is nearby and knows how to respond, their chances of survival are much higher. Here’s what you can do to be that person:
- Always keep naloxone on hand. Keep it in your purse, backpack, medicine cabinet, glove compartment, or wherever you can grab it quickly. Learn where to find naloxone on our Get Naloxone page.
- Learn the signs of an overdose. Call 9-1-1 and use naloxone as soon as you suspect an overdose. Learn the signs and learn how to respond on our Respond to an Overdose page.
- Know your loved one’s rights. If you are concerned about legal consequences, learn more about Maine’s Good Samaritan Law. This law protects both the person experiencing an overdose, and any person giving aid, from arrest and legal prosecution for most crimes, including drug crimes.
- Encourage safer use to reduce harms and risk of overdose. Share our Safer Drug Use page and encourage your loved one to utilize local harm reduction resources such as syringe service programs.
- Help your loved one stay healthy in general. Encourage your loved one to keep up their regular medical care. This includes preventative and as-needed visits to their doctor or clinic. If they inject drugs, help them get regular screening for hepatitis C and HIV.
When a person is ready to make a change related to substance use, you can help. If you want to support but want guidance understanding all the options, your local OPTIONS Liaison can help. They can also help you navigate the conversation with your loved one.
Keep in mind that the terms treatment and recovery are often used interchangeably or lumped together, but they’re actually different processes.
- Treatment for substance use is the process of overcoming the body’s physical dependence on a substance. Medications like buprenorphine and methadone are very effective for opioid use treatment. Numerous studies have shown that treatment with these medications increases a person’s functioning and reduces opioid use, involvement with law enforcement, and the risk of a fatal overdose.
- Recovery is the longer-term process of building a physically and mentally healthy life. Recovery is a journey. For many people, it begins while they are still using substances and continues for years beyond, if not for a lifetime. It may involve working through trauma, accepting support, building new relationships, developing new habits, discovering new passions, and helping others who are going through the same thing. It does not necessarily mean sobriety, though many people do become completely substance-free.