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3 Ways to Approach and Support Someone Abusing Heroin

3 Ways to Approach and Support Someone Abusing Heroin

Addiction can happen to anyone. There is no demographic or group of people that are safe from developing an addiction. There are many kinds of addictions that can conspire from different situations and events. Opiate/opioid addiction usually begins with the use of painkillers that are prescribed after an injury or surgery. These pain-relieving (legally prescribed) drugs have very similar effects as heroin. Once the prescription runs out, people will seek out and use heroin as a substitute for their new need for opiates. 

Heroin is a highly addictive substance. It’s an opioid that binds to brain receptors and causes the release of the chemical dopamine. While the feeling of relief and bliss is temporary, it leaves many people seeking more because they find themselves unable to feel okay without the drug. Many people will describe being “dope sick” as they withdraw from the drug. 

If a loved one or someone you know is struggling with heroin addiction, don’t wait. Here are 3 ways you can approach and support someone abusing heroin. 

Educate yourself on Heroin

Taking the time to understand heroin abuse and how it affects people who use it is incredibly beneficial. Being aware of these things helps you identify if someone is recreationally using heroin or opiates. You never want to come across as ignorant or judgemental when approaching a loved one who is struggling.

While it’s true that heroin can give users feelings of comfort and relaxation, it can also make them feel like the world has slowed down. Therefore, many people abusing heroin or other opioids seem to move and process things very slowly.

During the early stages of use, there may be no obvious symptoms of opioid use displayed, especially if the user is going to great lengths to keep it hidden. But as use becomes more frequent, it can be very difficult for someone to hide these symptoms. 

Here are some signs of heroin use: 

  • Track marks
  • Slurred speech 
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Constricted pupils
  • Lethargic demeanor 
  • Disinterest in their physical appearance

One of the defining features of active addiction is the inability to stop using a drug despite the harmful consequences that occur.


Don’t wait for them to hit rock bottom before speaking up. People struggling with addiction sometimes don’t realize how much their family and friends care about them. This is usually because addiction can completely devour someone and their sense of reality. Talk to them about the impact of their addiction on their friends, family, and themselves.

They may not initially believe that they have a problem. Denial is very common for individuals struggling with addiction, and they may be using these substances to avoid reality or the truth. Overcoming addiction requires determination and a want to change from those who suffer from it. If they are not willing to change their behavior, then trying to persuade them to help themselves at this time isn’t likely to work. 

Here are some things to avoid when opening up a conversation about treatment: 

  • Preaching, lecturing, and threatening
  • Yelling and exaggerating
  • Trying to protect them from the consequences of their behavior
  • Arguing with them
  • Using judgemental terms

Resist the urge to nag at them if they keep showing signs of heroin abuse. Being a patient and level-headed as possible is very important so that you don’t give them the impression you’re judging them. You need to be honest and blunt while also respecting their privacy and feelings. This will help ensure that they can feel comfortable and therefore be receptive to the points you have to make. Remember, don’t try to talk to them while they’re under the influence.

Identify Treatment Options for Heroin Addiction

You must keep trying until your loved one chooses to acknowledge their addiction and decides to seek help. Continue to encourage them to attend treatment, seminars, and rehabilitation support groups. Be the pillar of support they need, and demonstrate that you will be there for them every step of the way. 

The specific method for treating addiction depends on the type of care a person requires. There are a variety of treatments available for heroin addiction including both behavioral and pharmacological. 

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral treatment is available in both outpatient and inpatient settings. It can consist of the following:

  • Contingency management – uses a voucher-based system in which patients are given “points” every time their drug tests come out negative. Those points can be exchanged for products that promote healthy living. 
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy – is therapy built to help patients change their drug-related expectations and habits, as well as improve their ability to cope with life stress. This can help people identify why they feel the need to use.

These approaches are effective in the treatment of heroin addiction especially if applied with appropriately prescribed medications. 

Pharmacological Treatment (Medications) 

Detoxing from heroin can be painful and unpleasant, particularly if copious amounts are used for long periods of time. 

When people are addicted to heroin, they usually experience the following physical withdrawal symptoms when first stopping.

  • Pain 
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Medications can help with opiate cravings and other physical symptoms that can lead to relapse during this detoxification period. 

Medications designed to treat opioid addiction function by binding to the same opioid receptors as the addictive drug, but are safer and less likely to trigger the risky habits that define substance abuse. Effective medications include: 

  • Methadone  
    • Methadone is administered orally to ensure that it enters the brain slowly, reducing the “high” feeling and avoiding withdrawal symptoms. 
  • Buprenorphine
    • Reduces drug cravings without the “high” or harmful side effects associated with other opioids. Buprenorphine was approved by the FDA in 2002, making it the first medicine under the Drug Addiction Treatment Act that could be administered by licensed physicians.
  • Naltrexone
    • Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist that is non-addictive, non-sedating, and does not cause physical dependence.

Treatment Center 

Finding the right treatment center for addiction is one of the best steps toward a successful recovery. Every treatment center has different services and qualities to fit the needs of an individual. Whether their needs are based on the location, cost, experience, or the services provided by the facility, there is a treatment center out there for heroin addiction. 


Opioid addiction is a severe disorder, but it can be treated. Addiction does not have to be long-term or even permanent. There is help available, and it is possible to recover. If you or someone you know is struggling with a heroin addiction, Harm Reduction Center is here to empower and support the recovery journey. Our highly individualized service to our clients, offering Integrated Medication-Assisted Treatment and all outpatient levels of care. Contact us today for more information.