Despite pop culture depictions of what heroin addicts look like, the truth is that many who are addicted live what seem to be normal lives. For about 80 percent of those living with heroin addictions, the addictions start with prescription opioids that are often prescribed to manage pain after surgery.
While prescription opioids are generally considered safe when they’re taken for a short time and as ordered by a doctor, it’s projected that as many as three in 10 people who are prescribed opioids for pain misuse them. Of these people, roughly 5 percent eventually transition to heroin. Heroin addictions are present in every demographic, regardless of education level, income, ethnicity, age or gender.
All households rely on healthy boundaries and clear expectations of what is required of each member to create a balanced and harmonious environment. For those who have a roommate or loved one that is living with a heroin addiction, these goals are often more challenging to meet. Living with an addict requires a clear understanding of the situation, open communication, boundaries, and taking the steps to create an environment that supports healthy living. In some cases, these steps may not be enough, and it’s necessary to change the living situation.
Understanding a Loved One’s Heroin Addiction
It’s essential that those who are living with an addict understand the nature of addiction—what it is, and just as importantly, what it isn’t.
An addiction is a disease that alters the way that the brain functions. For those who have addictions, their brain’s reward center lights up when they take a drug or engage in a behavior. Over time, the brain relies on a certain drug or behavior to produce feelings of happiness.
Heroin is particularly addictive because it enters the brain very rapidly and binds to multiple receptors. These receptors are located in many areas of the brain, the spinal cord, and other organs of the body and are responsible for feelings of pain and pleasure. When opioids like heroin latch on to these receptors, they block pain signals and release large amounts of dopamine, the “feel-good” hormone, into the body. This release is the body’s way of rewarding the user for taking the drug, which makes the individual want to repeat the experience.
As time goes on, the body develops a tolerance to heroin, and higher and more frequent doses are needed to achieve the desired effects. When this happens, the body only releases dopamine when the drug is present, meaning that the individual doesn’t feel relaxed, happy and normal unless they’ve taken the drug.
Unfortunately, ending an addiction to heroin isn’t nearly as easy as starting one. Those who are addicted and attempt to stop often experience severe withdrawal symptoms such as sleep problems, digestive issues, muscle and bone pain and intense heroin cravings. Treating a heroin addiction requires far more than willpower and determination; it requires professional help.
Living with an Addict
Fostering Open Communication when Living with a Heroin Addict
Most people find it difficult to communicate with those who have heroin addictions, especially if they have a history of intentionally or unintentionally supporting the addictive behavior. Addicts often lie or use manipulative behavior to justify and continue in their addiction, making it particularly hard to establish open communication.
The first step to fostering communication is for individuals to let their roommate or loved one know their concerns—patterns that they see, the consequences of poor decisions, and the changes that need to take place for the living arrangement to continue.
Enabling is among the most common mistakes that people living with addicts make. It’s difficult to see someone suffer the consequences of their behavior, so many people attempt to minimize the consequences rather than letting the individual experience them.
The primary way to stop enabling a heroin addict is to set healthy boundaries. This may include:
- Not excusing behavior
- Not letting the addiction interfere with the social activities, self-care, employment, and other responsibilities of the other household members
- Not allowing the individual to participate in family gatherings or come into the house when they’re using heroin
- Stop bailing the individual out if they get into legal or financial trouble
Creating a Healthy Environment for Someone Living with a Heroin Addiction
In addition to making changes to the way that an individual interacts with the addicted person and putting an end to enabling, it’s necessary to create a healthy environment that reinforces their good choices. Even after someone has successfully completed an addiction rehab program, the transition from rehab back to life at home can be extremely difficult.
Environmental conditions play a big role in supporting sober living. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, outlines four elements that are essential for life after an addiction.
- Health: abstaining from heroin and making choices that support a healthy lifestyle
- Home: A safe, stable place to live is the key to living without heroin after overcoming the addiction. Unstable environments are highly stressful, and many resort to coping mechanisms like drug use to manage their stress.
- Purpose: Meaningful daily activities and habits such as volunteering, attending a job, going to school or helping around the house can help the addict feel a sense of purpose, making it easier to think of life outside of the next high.
- Community: Healthy relationships provide support and motivation to maintain sobriety. It may be necessary for the individual to reiterate the boundaries that are in place and the enabling behaviors they’ve put a stop to.
When to Change the Living Arrangement
Unfortunately, no one can make an addict change their behavior, and for those living with an addict, it’s important to realize that change may or may not come. An individual can strive for open communication, end the cycle of enablement and create a drug-free environment that promotes recovery, but in the end, the one living with the heroin addiction may never take that step of deciding that they want a life without heroin.
There may come a time when the healthy individual has no choice but to leave or have the addict find a new place to live. This is especially true if there are children involved, but even if this isn’t the case, everyone deserves a life that isn’t controlled by an addiction. Sadly, some heroin addicts need to hit rock bottom before they’re ready to change, but that doesn’t mean that the people in their life need to hit rock bottom with them. Leaving a heroin addict is justified, and while it isn’t easy, it’s often for the best.
Getting Help with FHE Health
At FHE Health, we recognize that heroin addiction is a disease that anyone may be vulnerable to, and we provide quality, judgment-free care to those who are ready to break the cycle. Heroin addiction is powerful and can rarely be ended successfully without professional intervention. We offer a variety of treatment programs to promote lifelong wellness, from the moment our clients reach out and all through their recovery journey. Our multifaceted approach includes inpatient and outpatient care with our unique neuro-rehabilitation method. This specialized treatment identifies how the substance influences the brain and uses state-of-the-art technology to help the brain repair.
If you’re ready to begin your recovery, reach out to us by calling 877-766-0424.