Life Well Lived: A loved one’s guide to opioid addiction

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By Mara Benner

No one is immune to opioid addiction. The American Psychiatry Association estimates that one in three people know someone addicted to opioids. Every state in America has had a rise in the addiction rate, as well as various cities, including Alexandria.

The drug problem continues to impact partners, friends, children, grandchildren and others, leaving families devastated. A looming question remains for the loved ones of an addict on how best to navigate the emotional, mental, spiritual and financial aspects of recovery and rehabilitation. It is far from an easy journey and requires the person suffering from the addiction to want to seek real change.

Know the signs of opioid addiction

For any loved one, it may be difficult to know whether a person is addicted to opioids. The person using the drugs often tries very hard to keep it a secret, and denial of its use can be very strong, leaving loved ones confused and doubting the signs and symptoms. Start by learning more and reaching out to the resources that can help.

To begin, learn the signs of opioid addiction. Johns Hopkins Medicine provides a wealth of information on opioid addiction on its website. Its medical team encourages looking for a combination of the following signs:
• Uncontrollable cravings
• Changes in sleep habits
• Weight loss
• Frequent flu-like symptoms
• Decreased libido
• Lack of hygiene
• Changes in exercise habits
• Isolation from family or friends
• Stealing from family, friends or businesses

In Cyndee Rai Lutz’s book “When Your Heart Belongs to an Addict: A Healing Perspective,” Lutz adds that signs may also include: lying, manipulation, inability to hold a job, personality changes and irritability.

While it is awful to even consider, if you suspect that someone you know is suffering from opioid addiction, it is helpful to know the signs of a potential opioid overdose. The symptoms include:
• Slow, shallow breathing
• Extreme sleepiness
• Inability to talk
• Blue skin color and dark-colored lips
• Snoring or gurgling sounds

Most first responders are now outfitted with a medication known as Naloxone, also known as Narcan, that rapidly reverses an opioid-induced overdose if caught in time.

If you are still not sure, consult a physician or healthcare professional. Check with the person’s primary care physician. You can also find an addiction specialist through the American Society of Addiction Medicine or through the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry.

Loved ones seeking resources and support for addiction

It’s important to remember that you are not alone. Our country is in the midst of this significant national epidemic, yet there remains a stigma around letting friends, family or the community know of a loved one’s addiction. A family member or loved one often feels alone and isolated at this critical time.

In her book, Lutz encourages viewing addiction holistically through the mind, body and spirit, and she acknowledges that a loved one’s journey is as arduous as the person suffering with the addiction.

Lutz was a parent of two children with substance abuse issues. In her book, she helps provide some framework for the addict’s closest allies. She cautions that the journey may include isolating yourself from the outside world, becoming a doormat for the addict, suffering mentally and physically or losing control of your own life.

In Melody Beattie’s book, “Beyond Codependency and Getting Better All of the Time,” Beattie focuses on those around the addict who must work through the multiple layers of issues and situations happening. Beattie strongly encourages a focus on one’s own self-care including practicing the following:
• Acceptance
• Realistic evaluation of what one can control
• Detachment
• Dealing with feelings
• Setting boundaries
• Making choices and taking responsibility for them
• Letting go
• Giving oneself love and nurturing

The whole journey for both the addict and their loved ones is a process. It’s one step forward with the possibility of two steps back and repeating that scenario again. The loved ones are encouraged to make their own balance and centeredness their first priority.

Resources

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers a tollfree help line to find drug treatment near you at 800-662-4357. Its website also has a wealth of information for family, friends and others impacted by those suffering with addiction. Another resource helpful for family and friends is AlAnon with local chapters in the Alexandria area. In addition, the City of Alexandria has been spearheading engagement on the opioid epidemic and has more information located on its website, www.alexandriava.gov/Opioids.

Mara Benner is the founder of Four Directions Wellness, intuitively connecting body, mind, emotions and spirit. The organization is affiliated with the GW Center for Integrative Medicine and offers individual sessions, classes and consulting. Learn more at www.fourdirectionswellness.com.

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