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5 Effective Ways to Help Heroin Addicts Recover

Peter Manza, PhD profile image
Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD • Updated Nov 23, 2023 • 5 cited sources

It’s incredibly difficult to watch a loved one struggle with heroin abuse and addiction. It’s common to feel hopeless, upset and maybe even a little helpless. 

Know that there’s a lot you can do to help both your loved one and yourself. The following suggestions may help:

1. Look Beyond the Addiction 

Blaming the person for heroin use is easy. That approach can lead to anger and resentment, which increases the suffering of both people. 

Yes, the person you love chose to take heroin the first time. And yes, the person keeps using heroin when you don’t want them to do so. However, plenty of outside factors can lead to heroin addiction.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that a combination of the following factors influences addiction risks:[1]

  • Biology: A person’s genes account for about half of a person’s addiction risks. 
  • Environment: Peer pressure, abuse, drug exposure and stress can all raise the risk of addiction.
  • Development: The earlier drug abuse begins, the more likely it is that addiction will take hold. 

Do all you can to understand how addiction works. That knowledge can help you show compassion and explore treatment options that work. 

2. Offer Support (Without Enabling Drug Abuse)

Life with an addiction is incredibly dangerous and difficult. The person you love needs your kindness and support. You can show you care without making an addiction worse. 

You can consider the following steps:

  • Cook nutritious meals and encourage the person to eat. 
  • Offer clean clothes, sheets and towels for your loved one to use.
  • Drive your loved one to doctors’ appointments and addiction-related care. 
  • Listen to your loved one discuss the impact of addiction on their life. 
  • Spend time with your loved one. 
  • Display healthy habits, such as exercising and maintaining a sleep schedule. 

Avoid steps like using with the addicted person, buying “safer” drugs or making excuses for the addiction. You don’t have to blame or attack the person for drug use. That’s not your job. However, you’re not required to make sustaining a heroin habit easier.

3. Don’t Face the Problem Alone

Researchers say having a close relative with an addiction counts as a stressful life experience that can increase your risk of poor physical or mental health.[2] Spending time with peers who understand what you’re living through could reduce your stress and help you build better coping skills. 

Organizations like Nar-Anon and Al-Anon offer people touched by addiction the opportunity to come together to learn, grow and connect. Attend meetings to hear how other families deal with similar problems. Form mentorship connections for closer forms of assistance. You pay nothing for this help, and you can get a lot in return. 

4. Prepare for a Potential Heroin Overdose 

Street heroin comes in varying strengths. Even experienced users can take a dose that’s too big or too strong. When they do, they can experience a fatal heroin overdose. In 2021, 80,411 overdose deaths involved opioids.[3] 

Knowing what an opioid overdose looks like can help you step in and offer life-saving help. Call 911 if your loved one has the following symptoms:[4]

  • Pale or clammy face
  • Lump body 
  • Blue-tinged fingernails or lips
  • Vomiting
  • Gurgling sounds
  • Unconsciousness
  • Slow or stopped heartbeat

Naloxone, the main ingredient in Narcan spray, is an opioid agonist. A dose removes heroin from its receptors, pushing the person into immediate sobriety. 

When given during an overdose, Narcan can save a life. In March 2023, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved an over-the-counter version of the medication.[5]

Keep Narcan with you at all times. If the person you love overdoses, call 911 and apply a dose. Wait for the operator to tell you what to do next. 

5. Promote Drug Rehab

People with a heroin habit may try to quit, but often, they develop serious withdrawal symptoms (like overwhelming vomiting) that make them relapse. A treatment program is different, and you can explain how it works to your loved one. 

They may not know that Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT) programs use Suboxone to ease withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings. Enrolling in a program like this can mean getting sober safely and staying that way. 

Try explaining how MAT works. Send your loved one links to treatment providers and online resources. Open up a conversation, ensuring that the person understands that MAT is an option, and you’re willing to make it happen. 

Bicycle Health offers MAT via telemedicine. Your loved one can enroll in our program and meet with a treatment provider via video chat. If approved for Suboxone, your loved one can pick up the medication at a local pharmacy.

If shame and stigma are keeping your loved one out of care, Bicycle Health could be a good option. No one will know your loved one is in treatment until they notice the person isn’t using heroin and seems healthy once again.

Send your loved one a link to our website. Or better yet, schedule an intake call together. You could provide the gentle pressure your loved one needs to change life for the better.

Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD

Peter Manza, PhD received his BA in Psychology and Biology from the University of Rochester and his PhD in Integrative Neuroscience at Stony Brook University. He is currently working as a research scientist in Washington, DC. His research focuses on the role ... Read More

  1. Understanding drug use and addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published June 2018. Accessed November 3, 2023. 
  2. Orford J, Copello A, Velleman R, Templeton L. Family members affected by a close relative’s addiction: The stress-strain-coping-support model. Drugs: Education, Prevention, and Policy. 2010;17:36-43.
  3. Drug overdose deaths. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published August 22, 2023. Accessed November 3, 2023.
  4. Opioid overdose. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Published November 3, 2023. Accessed October 20, 2023.
  5. FDA approves first over-the-counter naloxone nasal spray. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Published March 29, 2023. Accessed November 3, 2023.

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