Updated April 2, 2019
Loving a Heroin Addict Isn’t for the Fainthearted
Loving a person who is in active addiction or in recovery from heroin isn’t easy. Heroin is a drug that takes over the user’s mind, body, and spirit, leaving the rest of the people who love them to grieve them even while they’re still here. And heroin kills. It kills fast, unexpectedly, brutally and sadly. A heroin addict in recovery is the best kind of heroin addict (if there is one). But even after they have been treated, there remain nagging worries and concerns about their inherent trustworthiness, whether they will relapse, and whether your relationship will ever recover.
A Story of Heroin Addiction and Love
When Brittany and her boyfriend met, they were both in recovery: she for alcohol, he for heroin. Having never taken heroin or been exposed to people who used it, Brittany had complete trust in him and was completely naive as to how bad things could get.
Her boyfriend had a strange week: out-of-the-ordinary behavior and periods of time unaccounted for. She didn’t want to believe there was a problem. (After all, a relationship does demand a certain level of trust.) At the end of the week, Brittany’s boyfriend overdosed. She was lost, confused and terrified. Her boyfriend survived, but a million questions remained.
How could he do this to her?
Was he trying to kill himself?
Would he do it again?
No one can answer those questions— the addict included. Heroin simply takes over and makes the user’s choices so much more difficult. It hijacks a person’s best intentions, clouding their soul. Brittany and her boyfriend stayed together after the overdose, but things would be different. Even a year after the overdose, Brittany’s heart would drop when he didn’t answer her texts or calls, and traumatic memories of the overdose would come flooding back. She questioned his every move, which was unpleasant for both of them, only intensifying the strain on their relationship.
But, in a rare show of resilience, they continue to work on things. The relapse was a major relationship stressor, one that a majority of relationships could not survive, but Brittany and her boyfriend are trying to beat the odds.
When Living With an Active Heroin Addict, Tough Love is Crucial
Unlike Brittany, many parents face the challenge of having a son or daughter living in their house who is addicted to heroin. These cases are tough because a parent will first be very resistant to admitting there is a problem; then when it can no longer be denied, they will naturally want to shield and protect their child from harm. However, when they do so, they might actually be supporting their child’s addiction without knowing it.
Don’t Allow a Codependent Relationship to Form
These kinds of relationships are called codependent relationships, where one person is enabling the other. A codependent relationship can be one in which both people are addicted. In most codependent relationships, however, one person is the addict and the other person is the enabler. A parent may refuse to cut their child off from money or a place to live, but by continuing to provide their child with a haven when they are scraping rock bottom, that parent is enforcing the idea that using heroin is acceptable and that their child’s addiction can go on.
Families of heroin addicts— parents, siblings, children, friends, and partners— all have to face the potential reality that an active heroin addict may steal from them in order to get the money for their next fix. Lying is also a central part of heroin addiction, and loved ones can never fully trust an addict’s words are truthful. The damage that was done in active addiction often echoes on through recovery, leaving family members unsure how much to trust their loved one.
Stage an Intervention if Necessary
An addict’s denial about their addiction is probably the biggest and most common obstacle to getting much-needed treatment. When someone you love is using heroin and is in denial about their problem, consider staging an intervention. Interventions can often be effective at breaking through an addict’s denial and persuading them that they need treatment and can find recovery.
Research has revealed that when addicts have strong family support, they are more motivated to fully participate in their treatment and recovery. Even the involvement of one concerned family member can be enough to keep a recovering heroin addict engaged in their recovery, according to findings cited by the University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute. An intervention can be an effective platform for convincing the addict in your life that they will have your full support as they take next steps in the direction of recovery.
Interventions can take different formats: they can be formal group initiatives led and facilitated by a certified interventionist; or they can be more informal and involve a more intimate conversation with the addict in your life. If your loved one is using heroin and doesn’t believe they have a problem, consider calling a rehab provider that helps with interventions. At FHE Health, our admissions counselors assist callers with phone interventions for friends or family members in need of treatment. Our admissions team is available 24/7 to take these sorts of calls, and provide much-needed help, support and guidance throughout the intervention process.
Get Treatment When It’s Needed
Heroin is an extremely difficult drug to get off of, but it can be done with professional detox and treatment. Getting a loved one to see they have a problem is hard, and it requires a level of toughness to convince them to see things your way. Things like ultimatums and taking away a place to live and money might be just what they need to convince them that they do have a problem and need treatment.
Loving a Heroin Addict in Recovery Requires Patience
When a heroin addict completes residential treatment or an outpatient program and is back in the real world, they are still intensely vulnerable to falling under the drug’s spell. And it is an incredibly powerful, alluring spell. Heroin addicts in this stage require a lot of support and a positive environment. When things go awry, it is easy for them to think the best place to turn is back to heroin. It doesn’t help that heroin is so often cheap and readily available. It is partially their loved one’s responsibility to help them believe they don’t need to go back to heroin.
Patience is key as recovering heroin addicts relearn how to live without drugs. Whereas before, during active addiction, life revolved around getting and using heroin, during early recovery, everything is new. For family members, a certain level of trust is necessary, because fretting over a relapse 24 hours a day will make both you and your loved one insane.
As illustration of how hard early recovery from heroin can be for someone you love, imagine getting out of a relationship with a longtime, live-in partner. There are suddenly large gaps in your life where you are unoccupied. These vacancies used to be filled with strong emotional and physical feelings. Now, they can be difficult to sort out and fill with healthy new endeavors. If you are in a position to support someone recovering from heroin addiction, you can encourage them to stay occupied with healthy activities and positive pursuits. They will likely need a lot of guidance through this period of acclimating to sobriety.
Loving a Heroin Addict In Recovery Requires Vigilance
Vigilance is important, too, with someone in early recovery. If they start acting out of character or falling into old behavior patterns, talk to them about it. Watch for signs that heroin is back in their lives, and take action. This can help to prevent a relapse or overdose, and perhaps even save their life. Calling out suspicious behavior is difficult, and you may reason those unfounded accusations may cause them undue stress. This is why it is important to lay out ground rules for interactions beforehand. The insidious part of the disease of addiction will deny, deny, deny, although someone who has relapsed likely cannot appreciate how transparent their denials are when they are in active use.
Finally, when you have a heroin addict, active or in recovery, in your life— take care of yourself. If you allow yourself to get completely consumed with their activities, both of you will fall back into the hole you’ve been trying so hard to get out of. Treat yourself well and do the things you love to do, with or without the addict. By doing this you will end up so much stronger and able to face any situation that comes your way.