Information for family and friends

Everyone’s experience of opioid dependence is different but there’s one thing that most people agree on: it’s easier to overcome with the help of family and friends. This section is for the family members, and close friends, who are looking for information on what they can do to help support a loved one on their journey.

For many people who are dependent on opioids, coming off is the hardest thing they’ll ever do. Not only that, they’re often trying to do it while feeling really low, both physically and mentally. Being with someone who’s going through this experience can be really challenging. The support you give them is vital for their recovery, along with their medical treatment and professional counseling sessions.

Remember, no one who develops an addiction sets out to become addicted, but the condition can be treated and managed, so that the person can begin to live a fuller and more productive life.


There are a number of ways you may be able to help your loved one with their recovery:

  • There is a saying ‘Never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes’, which is particularly relevant to understanding opioid addiction. Try to gain an understanding of what they are facing.
  • Offer encouragement whenever possible. Talk to them about how far they’ve come. Let them know you know how hard it is, and how proud you are of what they’ve achieved.
  • If you are frustrated or disappointed, let them know. They need you to be honest. Just don’t give up on them.
  • Help them organize their schedule: remind them about upcoming medical appointments and group sessions, and offer to go with them if that helps.
  • Understand their “triggers”: triggers are the things that make someone want to misuse opioids. They can include spending time with certain people, being in a specific place, or encountering stressful or emotional situations. If you know the person well, you may be able to anticipate their triggers and help to work out ways to avoid them.
  • Support changes in lifestyle: a treatment plan is often broader than just medical treatment and counselor support; it can involve a new focus on diet and exercise, making new friends, finding new hobbies, getting a different job or finding a new place to live. Your support can make it much easier for someone to make these changes and start a healthier way of life.
  • Set a good example: try to avoid drinking alcohol or using recreational drugs of any sort in front of someone with opioid dependence. This can increase their chances of relapsing.
  • Be patient. It’s quite likely that setbacks and relapses will happen. If they do, listen and talk sympathetically about what happened, agree about what might be learned from this experience, and recommend seeking advice from their care team.
  • Understand that as much as you want them to succeed, they have to want it and believe in themselves. Help them as much as possible but let them take the lead.
  • Remember to focus on other aspects of life besides the opioid dependence.

“I wish my family understood how hard recovery is. They didn’t understand what a difficult time period it was for me. I felt they were questioning me, ‘Why don’t you just stop? Can’t you just put the drugs down?’ People don’t understand, it doesn’t just work like that. It’s not something you have control over.”

Personal experience


“Be kind. Even if that person did something horrible to you or said something horrible to you. It’s not them, it’s the addiction. They don’t mean what they say and they don’t mean what they do. It’s just part of the addiction. It takes over you. I hurt some people in my life. I didn’t mean to hurt them. I was caught up in a time in my life that I didn’t understand. When my family turned away from me, I was devastated. How can I have all these people in my family but I don’t have anyone to call?

Be there for them. Never turn them away. It’s hard to trust people after they have done terrible things to you. But it does come back. The trust slowly comes back.”

Personal experience


Support for you

While you are supporting someone you care about, it is likely that you have also suffered. In addition to worrying, you may have feelings of helplessnes, failure, guilt, shame, or lost trust.

Many treatment programs also offer counseling for the family and friends of people with opioid dependence. They can provide you with a place to show your own feelings. Support groups and online forums may allow you to share experiences with people in a similar situation. This website provides a resources page, and many of the organizations listed have specific programs for family and friends.


The resources made available on this website are for US residents and are provided for informational purposes only. They should not be used to replace the specialized training and professional judgment of a health care or mental health care professional. Seek advice from a health care professional if you have any questions or concerns about medical conditions, mental health, or medications. Please do not submit medical information or identifying information via this website.