Thank you for visiting this section. You are likely here because someone you care about and/or love may be struggling with opioid use disorder (OUD): a family member, a friend, a neighbor, or a colleague.
This page provides information and tools to help you better understand OUD and effective, evidence-based treatment options that are available. Be informed, be open minded, be flexible, and be kind to yourself as you find out what works best for you.
Opioid use disorder affects family and friends as well as the person with OUD. Feeling frustrated or sad about how OUD 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:
- Opioid use disorder is a real health condition.
- Evidence shows that medications like buprenorphine and methadone are the only treatment that can lessen someone’s risk of dying by overdose.
- Everyone’s recovery path and timeline is different.
- If someone is doing well, support what is working!
Substance use disorder (SUD) is a medical condition that affects everyone a little differently. SUD can be mild, moderate, or severe and affects the brain. People with SUD struggle to control their use of legal and illegal substances such as alcohol, marijuana, methamphetamine, and opioids.
Opioid use disorder (OUD) is a chronic (long term) medical condition that is treatable. People with OUD are physically dependent on opioids and have brain changes that affect their thinking, behaviors, and relationships. Opioids include pain medications as well as heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl.
OUD is one type of SUD, to diagnose the disorder an assessment is conducted. Here’s an example of elements of the diagnosis for OUD.
- The Science of Addiction (National Institute on Drug Abuse).
- Video providing an overview of what happens to the brain when opioids are used (National Geographic).
- Opioid Facts for Teens (National Institute on Drug Abuse).
- The Voice of the Patient (U.S. Food and Drug Administration).
Luckily there are evidence-based treatment options for people with OUD 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.
Medications taken under the direction of a healthcare provider can provide stability, allowing people to be more successful in focusing on other things in their lives. Medications can also help people manage craving and withdrawal, reduce illicit opioid use, and cut the risk of dying by overdose in half. The ways that each of the three FDA medications work and the impact on overdose death rates vary.
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 stopoverdose.org.
People can be in recovery 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 OUD. For more information on these topics, visit our Treatment Options page.
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 OUD and treatment, check out these videos (note: they were originally made for healthcare providers and care navigators):
- Medications for Opioid Use Disorder: Shared Decision Making: This video addresses the importance of shared treatment decision making by clients and providers for the treatment of OUD.
- Treatment Transitions: This video focuses on if/when to transition patients to higher or lower levels of care.
For more information about medications for opioid use disorder, treatment services, and naloxone please visit:
- Washington Recovery Help Line: 24 hour support and treatment referral services.
- Medications for Opioid Use Disorder brochure (English | Spanish) (UW Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute/Stopoverdose.org)
- Information on Opioid Use Disorder and Treatment (UW ADAI/Stopoverdose.org)
- Stopoverdose.org and WA Department of Health Overdose Education and Naloxone Distribution: Naloxone and overdose response.
When someone you care about is struggling with opioid use disorder it impacts 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 “social stigma.” Social 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. It is really important to avoid stigmatizing friends and loved ones as it creates distance in relationships and can further isolate the person with a substance use disorder.
OUD is a chronic health condition
Opioid use disorder is a chronic health condition: this means that people with opioid use disorder may struggle to stay in recovery for months, years, or possibly their entire life. Because of this, returning to using opioids often happens (sometimes called “relapse”).
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.
Taking care of yourself is important
One thing that is really important is to remember to take care of yourself:
- Educate yourself about SUD/OUD 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.
For more information about opioid use disorder (OUD) and understanding 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 emotional support
- Change Addiction Now: Family support services, statewide network of peer recovery coaches. List of education resources for families.
- Not One More: Seattle chapter. Family education, grief support fellowship, community awareness.
- Nar-Anon: Nar-Anon meeting list.
- CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Training): Strategies to promote communication, family connection, and behavior change.
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.