Young woman and her father

Thank you for visiting this section. You are likely here because someone you care about and/or love may be struggling with substance use disorder (SUD).

This page provides information and tools to help you better understand substance use disorder, especially stimulant use disorder and opioids use disorder, and effective, evidence-based treatment options that are available. 

Substance use disorder affects family and friends as well as the person with the condition. Feeling frustrated or sad about how SUD affects your loved one, in addition to wanting to help and support them on their recovery path, is normal. 

A few key things that all friends and family members should know: 

  • Substance use disorder is a real health condition. 
  • Everyone’s recovery path and timeline is different. 
  • Evidence shows that for opioid use disorder medications like buprenorphine and methadone are the only treatment that can lessen someone’s risk of dying by overdose.
  • If someone is doing well, support what’s working!  

Frequently Asked Questions

What is substance use disorder/opioid use disorder/stimulant use disorder?

Substance use disorder is a medical condition that affects everyone a little differently. Substance use disorder can be mild, moderate, or severe and affects the brain. People with substance use disorder struggle to control their use of legal and illegal substances such as alcohol, marijuana, methamphetamine, and opioids.

Learn more about opioid use disorder and how to treat it here.

Coming soon: content about stimulant use disorder.


What treatments are available for opioid use disorder and stimulant use disorder? How do they work? Are they safe?

Luckily, there are evidence-based treatment options for people with opioid use disorder that can improve your friend or loved one’s quality of life and overall health. They can also reduce the risk of a fatal overdose. Although everyone’s treatment plan and recovery differs, medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD) are the most effective, evidence-based treatment.

Learn more about the medications for opioid use disorder here.

Naloxone is the medication that can reverse an opioid overdose. Friends and family of people with opioid use disorder should learn the signs of overdose, and how to use naloxone. You can learn more about naloxone at

People can be in recovery from opioid use disorder and be on medications at the same time!

There are many options when it comes to where to get medications, the types of medications, and how providers approach caring for people with opioid use disorder. For more information on these topics, visit our Treatment Options page.

What treatments are there for stimulant use disorder?

There are effective treatments for stimulant use disorder. These can include counseling, and evidence based programs like contingency management. Some people may also benefit from medications to treat co-occurring mental health issues.

Coming soon: content about treatment for stimulant use disorder.

Counseling & recovery supports

Many people also choose to work with an outpatient substance use disorder and/or mental health provider to support their recovery. Others also might work with peer recovery supports, too. You can learn more about these options on our Counseling & Recovery Supports page.


  • The goal of treatment is to improve your friend or loved one’s quality of life and overall health.
  • The length of treatment can vary. A healthcare provider will work with your friend or family member to determine the dose and duration of treatment. People should be supported in staying on medications for as long as needed.


If you’re interested in more detailed information about opioid use disorder and treatment, check out these videos (note: they were originally made for healthcare providers and care navigators):

For more information about medications for substance use disorder, treatment services, and naloxone please visit:

What are the best treatment options for young people with opioid use disorder?

The frontline treatment for youth with opioid use disorder is the use of medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD). Learn more about MOUD and youth in this fact sheet from the WA Health Care Authority, “Fact sheet for caregivers: Youth medications for opioid use disorder.”

Why can't they just quit? Did I do something wrong? What can I do to help?

When someone you care about is struggling with substance use disorder it affects you and others. It is normal to feel afraid, tired, frustrated, angry, ashamed, anxious, helpless, hopeless, tired, or many other things. When you see someone you care about struggling with recovery, the same feelings may occur along with hope, joy, and relief from any chaos.


When people feel ashamed, afraid, frustrated, it can sometimes lead to something called “stigma.” Stigma is when people don’t approve of someone because of their culture, gender, race, behaviors, and/or health conditions. Sometimes people are aware of “stigmatizing” a friend or loved one; many times people are not aware of this at all.

Many people with substance use disorders also have mental health issues that can affect their behavior and health. Stigmatizing friends and loved ones for their substance use disorder or mental health issues can create distance in relationships and can further isolate the person with a substance use disorder.

Substance use disorder is a chronic health condition

Substance use disorder is a chronic health condition: this means that people with substance use disorder may need continued care for months or years. Because of this, returning to using substances often happens (sometimes called “relapse”). This does not mean someone “failed.” It may mean they need more care, or a different kind of care to improve their health and stability.

The path of recovery is different for everyone and, luckily, treatment providers are trained to adjust treatment to meet the needs of individuals, including your friend and/or loved one.

To better understand treatment challenges and opportunities, please take a look at the helpful video Addressing Treatment Lapses, discussing treatment lapses using a hopeful, patient-centered approach.

Taking care of yourself is important

Remember to take care of yourself:

  • Educate yourself about substance use disorder and treatment options.
  • Be patient with yourself and others.
  • Practice self-care:
    • Decide on your own limits,
    • Communicate your limits,
    • Talk to others, both professionals and friends,
    • Pay attention to your own mental health and seek support as needed and possible,
    • Stay safe.

To better understand treatment challenges and opportunities, please take a look at the helpful video Addressing Treatment Lapses, discussing treatment lapses using a hopeful, patient-centered approach.

Resources for support, advocacy, and education

Resources for emotional support   

Advocacy and education

  • Medication-Assisted Treatment e-book: Resource to help parents and caregivers learn more about medications for opioid use disorder: what it is, how it’s used, where to find it, and how to support a child through treatment.
How to ask if they’re getting addicted

This is adapted from a Psyche article of the same name by Dr. K Michelle Peavy. Read the full article here.

  • Common responses to someone’s drinking or drug use are often unproductive. Silence and avoidance are not likely to help a relative or friend change their behavior, nor are shaming, punishment or dramatic confrontations.
  • With kindness and patience, you can encourage change. Helping someone address their drug or alcohol use can involve many conversations. But you can start by seeking to understand the person’s behavior and planting the seed of change.
  • Express your concern and be curious. A statement such as ‘I’m worried about your drinking/drug use’ can open up your conversation, which might also include asking about why the other person uses the substance.
  • Ask what kind of support will promote change, and offer it. It might be help with finding professional care, providing a listening ear, or other forms of support – see what the person thinks would help them make changes.
  • Stay connected and set limits: you can do both. Keeping in contact with someone who has a drug or alcohol problem can be invaluable, but it’s still important to decide what you will not do, and stand by it.
  • Affirm the positive. Offer reinforcement by noticing and acknowledging behaviors that you hope to see more of, rather than just the behaviors that cause you worry or disappointment.
  • Adopt a hopeful stance. Communicate hope about the possibility of change, treat awkward or challenging conversations as practice for the next one, and keep talking.