How can you support your loved one on their mission to recover from opioid addiction with Suboxone treatment?
When a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction, it can feel like you’re experiencing their pain right along with them. Buprenorphine/naloxone (known by it’s common brand name, Suboxone) is the gold-standard treatment for opioid addiction. So if your friend, family member, or significant other is now receiving the gold standard of care, you should feel some relief.
But medication for addiction recovery comes with a stigma that often results in concern from loved ones. This is not only an inconvenience, it can be life-threatening, as buprenorphine is proven to reduce risk of relapse and overdose in those struggling from opioid use disorder.
So how can you support your loved one on their mission to recover from opioid addiction with Suboxone or another type of medication, like methadone? We have 7 tips to remember:
1. Give them time to feel better.
Understand that medication helps with physical and mental effects of addiction, but recovery is a slow and steady process. Transitioning to Suboxone, and stabilizing in recovery, can be like learning how to live again. Don’t expect your loved one to feel 100% all the time, physically or mentally.
2. Encourage self-care.
In opioid addiction, we numb our needs with substances, and don’t identify and honor them. Part of the recovery process is exploring how to healthily take care of ourselves again. This doesn’t mean that you need to take over your loved one’s self-care. But if they let you know they’re going to exercise, or stay home for a night of rest and relaxation, instead of date night? Don’t take it personally. Take it as a sign of growth.
3. Smash the stigma.
We’re battling a stigma out there against medication in general for mental health, and especially medication in addiction recovery. You can help fight this stigma by vocally supporting your loved ones’ decision to choose recovery. It isn’t easy to get buprenorphine treatment in our current system of care: a limited number of clinicians prescribe it, pharmacies may not choose to keep it in stock, and some clinics have strict requirements like showing up in person every day to receive medication. Despite all this, your loved one is choosing to overcome barriers and receive medication to help them be their best self.
4. Trust the professionals.
This means leaving your loved one’s medical decisions to their care team. Especially if you were involved in your loved one’s active addiction, it can be difficult to not be intricately involved in their medical care. After all, you were the one who helped them when they were using, right? Shouldn’t you still help them now? Allowing an individual to have ownership over their own healthcare plans is vital: in recovery, this helps us take responsibility for our health, and reminds us that we are competent people who can take care of ourselves. Only your loved one and their care team understands the right dosages and medications for their recovery. Everyone’s needs are different and medical and behavioral health professionals are trained specifically to help.
5. Ask questions.
If you have concerns, voice them to your loved one. Speaking your fears out loud can encourage learning and deeper understanding of addiction itself. For example, if you’re concerned a loved one is just getting high off of Suboxone, ask them how they feel differently on the medication, compared with on unprescribed opioids taken from the street, compared to when they’re on absolutely nothing or in withdrawal. Many times, our fears and concerns come from a lack of knowledge and understanding about recovery meds (and medication in general).
6. Choose communities that are supportive of medication.
If you are in recovery yourself, be aware there is a larger stigma against medication in Narcotics Anonymous than there is in Alcoholics Anonymous, Smart Recovery, or Refuge Recovery. If your current recovery groups are vocally anti-medication, it might be time to evaluate whether they are the best groups for you as you’re actively trying to support a partner on medication. If you are a part of a group that is vocally anti-medication, you have options: you can choose to speak up about the evidence behind medication and fight the stigma within your community, or you might find it safer for your own self-care to leave a community not supportive of medication behind entirely and find new groups for support your loved one’s choices.
7. Take care of yourself.
A healthy relationship with any type of loved one means that your happiness and health isn’t dependent on theirs. Often times when a loved one is struggling with addiction, it’s difficult to remember this and find the time or interest to take care of your own needs. Be an example to your loved one by ensuring you are tending to your own mental and physical needs. Workit Tribe is an online support program that teaches you how to support yourself while loving someone struggling with addiction, or in recovery.
Workit Counselor Sherrie Rager, PhD, explains, “Many people in our lives tell us there is only one way to treat addiction, and this is not true. There are as many ways to deal with addiction as there are people who have an addiction.” It’s vital to remember that your own loved one’s path to recovery may not look like what you’d like them to do, or expect them to do. The important thing is that it works for them, and that should have all your approval and support.