Allies, Friends, and Family
Substance use disorder doesn’t just affect the person using drugs. It impacts us all, especially close friends and family. If a person you care about is using drugs and you are concerned that they might be in danger, there are some things you can do to help them stay safe and give them the best possible chance of recovery.
How to Help a Loved One
One of the main barriers to a person seeking help for their drug use is stigma, or the discrimination and shame they feel around drug use (from the people in their life and/or society as a whole). This often causes people to hide their use, which only elevates the risk of an unattended and fatal overdose. If you know that someone is using addictive substances, stay in their life. Let them know that they can talk to you about their use. Loving and supporting a person who uses drugs does not mean that you are supporting their drug use. Having a support system vastly increases a person’s tendency to seek recovery and to make healthier choices overall during times of active use.
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, glove compartment, or wherever you know you can grab it at a moment’s notice. Learn more about where you can find it on our Get Naloxone page, or find Naloxone distributors in your county below.
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- Learn the signs of an overdose and call 9-1-1 as soon as you suspect one is happening. Once an overdose occurs, there is about a 3-minute window to reverse it using naloxone (Narcan). You can start the process, but if the person needs multiple doses or additional medical care, you’ll want first responders there as early in the process as possible.
- Encourage use of harm reduction practices/resources – Share our Safer Drug Use page and encourage them to utilize local harm reduction resources such as syringe service providers (sometimes referred to as needle exchanges) and free Naloxone (Narcan).
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- Help them stay healthy in general – Even if they’re not ready to seek treatment for their substance use, encourage them to keep up their regular medical care, including preventative and as-needed visits to their doctor or clinic. If they are injecting drugs, help them get on a regular screening schedule for hepatitis C and HIV.
Get Familiar with Local Resources
When a person is ready to move toward recovery, you can assist by connecting them with resources that meet them where they are. If you want to encourage treatment and/or recovery but need help understanding all the options, or if you aren’t sure how to bring it up or navigate the conversation, your local OPTIONS liaison would be more than happy to give you advice.
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 helping a person overcome their 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 while reducing opioid use, criminal justice involvement, 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, and for many people it begins while they are still using substances and continues for years beyond, if not for a lifetime. It involves working through trauma, accepting support, building new friendships, developing new habits, discovering new passions, and in many cases helping others who are going through the same thing. It is not always synonymous with sobriety, though many people enjoy becoming completely substance-free.
Take Care of Yourself
Recovery is an endurance challenge, and it’s also a team sport for everyone involved. Connecting with others in your position can help you stay strong and give you the support and perspective you need.
Maine has a deep, inspiring, and thriving treatment and recovery community, as well as a strong network of family support groups. Find options for all three below.
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