Know How to Help

How do I help?

When someone you care about is struggling with a substance use disorder, it can be difficult to know how to help. Here are some tips and information to help you with that person struggling in your life.

Be Supportive, With Boundaries

There is a difference between supporting (helping) and enabling. Supporting someone in recovery requires clear boundaries to be set with both the user and non-user. Clear communication on what the boundaries are and sticking to them will help eliminate enabling.

You can also help by:

  • Encouraging recovery and treatment
  • Being honest without blaming
  • Respecting privacy
  • Communicating clearly
  • Having realistic expectations and realizing there may be difficulties
  • Learning about resources that can help the person who is struggling
  • Always loving and never giving up

Help Yourself

Self-care is an important aspect of helping someone with a substance use disorder. What are things you like to do? Read, take a walk, have coffee with a friend, or have a massage. Perhaps attending Al-Anon, Alateen, or Nar-Anon, or attending some counseling for yourself would be beneficial. If we don’t take care or ourselves and allow our needs to go unmet, it is difficult to help someone else.

Help Others

While we are working to reduce the stigma around addiction, it still exists. Families and friends who are helping a loved one struggling with opioid use disorder can often feel guilty, isolated and ashamed. You don’t need to be trained to help, you just need to be there.

In a recent article, The Partnership for Drug Free Kids’ president and CEO Fred Muench shared what he hoped others had done for his family while he was actively using.

“When I was in the grips of active heroin addiction, I wish people who knew would have reached out to my family. It would have meant the world to them. They wouldn’t have felt so alone.” Dr. Muench goes on to suggest that “if you know a family touched by active addiction, reach out and offer them the support you would for any family with a chronic medical condition.”

Connect With Treatment Options

Another way to help is to learn about harm reduction. For those still using or waiting on treatment openings, learn more about the AIDS Outreach Project/Snohomish County Syringe Exchange. They offer health care services for drug users, as well as treatment referrals.

There is evidence that people with an opioid use disorder are more successful in recovery if they have treatment combined with medication assisted treatment (MAT), like suboxone, Vitrol or methadone. Being supportive of the person’s treatment needs is important and can improve the chance of their success.

Understanding resources is valuable to be able to support a person seeking treatment. In Snohomish County, the ACCESS line is available for a person to call to set up both a mental health and a substance use disorder assessment. That number is a 1-888-693-7200. Encouraging the person seeking help to call can be instrumental in them taking that first step to finding the help they need.

How to Stop an Overdose

Learning the signs and symptoms of an overdose is also helpful, as well as having naloxone in your home. Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is an opioid overdose reversal drug that can be purchased at many pharmacies in the county. It can be administered through a nose spray or injection, and improves the chance for the person overdosing to breathe until emergency services arrive and transport them to the medical care they need.

Having Narcan in the house is similar to having a fire extinguisher; you hope to never need it, but will be glad to have it if you do.