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Opioid addiction is a chronic disease, like heart disease or diabetes. It cannot be cured, but it can be managed. A person with addiction can regain a healthy, productive life. In order to make this shift into long-term recovery most people seek professional help.


The friends and family members of an addicted person also face a rocky road during the recovery journey. Many seek help and support during this time. Continue reading for more information about opioids and resources for friends and family.

How can we get help and support?
As with any disease, it is not a sign of weakness to admit that a person or a family is struggling with the affects of addiction. It takes real courage to reach out to others for support and to connect with members of the community to get help.

If you are worried about a friend or family member encourage them to seek help. Recovery is possible and there are resources in the community. For those struggling with addiction there are addiction therapists, treatment centers, Narcotics Anonymous groups, and a supportive community of people in recovery. 

There is also support for the friends and family of those struggling with addiction. Al-Anon, NarAnon, or Families Anonymous are support groups specifically designed for the friends and family members of an addicted person. Many people also find it helpful to see a counselor or therapist.

Click here for more information about local treatment and recovery resources.

Families Against Narcotics is a grassroots organizations with the mission of removing stigma associated with addiction through education. 


Find out more about the local Washtenaw County FAN chapter:


Every FAN chapter offers monthly meetings in which families, friends, those in recovery can come together to learn about addiction and share experiences. Visit their website to learn more about meeting locations and educational resources. 


If someone close to you is struggling with substance abuse it is very important to lock up your medications and dispose of them properly. For more information see our Medication Disposal page

Opioid addiction can begin in your very own home medicine cabinet! 
Warning Signs of Opioid Abuse
  • Missing money or valuables
  • Missing spoons (used to heat heroin)
  • Arrest for theft
  • Finding needles or orange needle caps, burnt bottle caps, small plastic bags or foil
Behavioral Symptoms of Opioid Abuse
  • Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • No longer cares about physical appearance
  • Constricted pupils
  • Dark, hollow or sunken eyes
  • Drowsy or noddingout even in mid-sentence
  • Disorientation
  • Lying, manipulating, and stealing
  • Increased sleeping
  • Slurred speech
  • Needle trac marks on arms and  legs
  • Weight loss and/or loss of apetite
  • Constant runny nose
What are Opioids?
Opioids include illegal drugs like heroin and prescription medications used to treat pain. Prescription opioids have many names like morphine, codeine, methadone, oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, hydromorphone, and buprenorphine.

An opioid overdose can be deadly. Overdoses can happen when someone misunderstands a doctor's instructions, accidentally take an extra dose, or misuse prescription pills or drugs like heroin on purpose.

For more information about opioid misuse click here.

What is opioid dependence? 
A person who takes opioids can become tolerant to them. This means that more of the drug is needed to obtain its effects.

It is also possible to become dependent on opioids— to feel sick if there are no opioids in the body. This sickness is called withdrawal.

Tolerance and dependence are common side effects of prescribed opioid medication. If tolerance is a problem, doctors may adjust the person’s dose or change the medication. Over time, people who are opioid dependant often begin to feel uncomfortable without the opioid. They need to take it just to feel normal.

Is addiction different than dependance?
Addiction is a disease that results when the opioid has made changes to the brain. A person using medication properly is not likely to get addicted, but this sometimes happens. Addiction usually occurs through misuse. Some people are at higher risk of addiction because of their genes, temperament, or personal situation.

The signs of addiction are:

  • Craving—The mind develops an overwhelming desire for the drug.

  • Loss of control—It becomes harder to say no to using the drug.

  • Use is compulsive and continues even when it causes harm. It is not usually possible to taper off an addiction. More help is needed because the cravings are so strong and the fear of withdrawal is so great.

What is an opioid overdose?
An opioid overdose can be deadly. Overdoses can happen when you misunderstand your doctor's instructions, accidentally takes an extra dose, or misuse prescription pills or drugs like heroin on purpose.

When someone is overdosing on opioids they will have trouble breathing and be unable to wake up. A person overdosing needs medical care right away so if you suspect an overdose call 911 immediately.

Click here to learn more about how to recognize an overdose and what to do.

Naloxone is a drug that reverses opioid overdose. If you are worried about a friend or family member who is misusing prescription opioids or heroin, ask your doctor to prescribe Naloxone. In the case of an overdose a quick administration of naloxone by a friend or family member could save a life.

Click here to get more information about Naloxone.

After an overdose.
Survivors of opioid overdose have experienced a life- changing and traumatic event. They have to deal with difficult emotions after overdosing. They may feel embarrassment, guilt, anger, gratitude, depression, and more -- all of this along with the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms. Most need the support of family and friends to take the next steps toward recovery.

Opioid overdose is almost always an accident. For many people there is an underlying problem that led to opioid use—most often pain or substance use disorder. After an overdose these underlying problems still exist and need to be addressed.

Remember that the person who overdosed is not the only one who has endured a traumatic event. Family members and friends often feel judged or guilty because they could not prevent the overdose. It is important that friends and family support the overdose survivor and also make time for their own needs.

Need more details? Contact the Opioid Project

We are here to help people get involved in ending the opioid epidemic.

Want to find out more about treatment?

Washtenaw County's treatment facilities are can help you recover.

Page material adapted from the following sources:​

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