9 Tips for Dealing with and Supporting the Heroin Addict in Your Household without Enabling

When it comes to dealing with your loved one’s addiction, the first year is often the worst year. It feels like an unwanted adventure into the unknown, a journey on a dark and dangerous road that intersects with emotions such as fear, anger, worry and guilt. Even when you force yourself to change direction, your life has been de-railed and it will take time to recover from the detour.

In sharing a few things I’ve learned from looking back at my first year, I hope to help others avoid some and recognize the paths that can be avoided. My natural tendency is to be very sensitive and comforting, but this is not the time for sugarcoating. The fact is, if your loved one is an opiate addict, their life is in danger. Opiates include heroin and prescription medications such as Vicodin or Oxycontin.

My son was 17 when he first admitted to me that he’d been shooting heroin. He told me he’d never do it again and I believed him. I kept an eye on him but if I am honest, I know I ignored some signs that he was still using. Denial is such a nice place to visit – but a dangerous place to stay.

Three months later I was called by the principal of the school. He’d been arrested in class for being under the influence and was being detained by a police officer in the school office. He was expelled from his senior year of high school. It was all downhill from there. In and out of rehabs, mental health hospitals, emergency rooms and jail. Denial was out of the question, now it was time to take action, but I had no idea where to go or what to do.

Here are my suggestions of things I did to help deal with that first confusing and heartbreaking year of heroin addiction. 


1. Learn all you can
Research heroin addiction so that you can understand how and why it affects your loved one. Know the signs. Look for the telltale items if your addict is living in your home. Certain household items take on a new meaning, like aluminum foil, spoons, shoestrings, black smudges around the house.

2. Pay attention to their “cycle”
The most important thing to know is that heroin is highly addictive and creates a physical dependence. In other words, when using becomes habitual, the body needs more and more of the drug to get high and at some point its needed just to feel “normal”. An addict who does not get his daily dose of opiates will begin to suffer “dope sickness” which causes pain in the muscles, “crawling skin”, vomiting, diarrhea, insomnia, sweats, and more. I’ve seen my son suffer through this several times and it’s torturous. Addicts avoid dope sickness at all costs and become desperate to get their hands on more heroin to keep themselves from getting sick. This is often when illegal or immoral activities come into play.

3. Get support for yourself from others who understand
Your family and friends may be well-meaning in their efforts to support you through this ordeal. Their intent is to comfort or help but unless they’ve been directly affected by loving a heroin addict – they can’t possibly understand what you are going through. I highly recommend talking to people who walked the path ahead of you.
Traditional support
Thousands have found support through Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. Although Al-Anon focuses on families of alcoholics, the principals are the same. Many of my friends have learned to cope with addiction in their families as a result of Al-Anon.
The new wave of support - blogging communities
What has helped me the most is a blogging community of other parents. It developed spontaneously and is nothing “official”, we are a group of parents who randomly found each other via blogs. I’ve learned more from them, and gained more support from them, than any other source. We may not always agree with each other, but hearing their stories and words of wisdom has been invaluable. Please feel free to visit my blog, Recovery Happens, and join in the conversation there. (I have a list of blogs that will connect you with this great group of people from all over the country.) You need to take care of yourself during this time; your own heath and well being are at stake.

4. Understand that addiction is a disease
This concept was very hard for me to come to terms with. I thought, “Of course addiction is not a disease! My son got himself into this mess!”. Calling it a disease seemed like excusing it as something that chooses a person, like cancer or diabetes. Addiction is a choice you make for yourself right? Not so. It’s a choice to try the drugs, but it’s not a choice to become addicted. Many people use drugs recreationally, and although illegal, they maintain their “normal” lives. Unfortunately heroin is so highly addictive that you can become addicted after as little as ONE use. Once you have the disease it becomes all consuming and your life revolves around getting the money for the drugs, getting the drugs, using the drugs all while not getting caught. Then when the drugs are used up, the process starts itself over day after day, after day. So there are similarities to cancer or diabetes in that it’s not a deliberate choice one makes. Unlike cancer or diabetes there is no treatment to undergo that will eradicate or control it. These diseases are capable of causing death, and so is addiction. There is no cure and no guarantee of complete recovery. A cancer patient may find years of remission, a diabetic may live a relatively normal life. There is no medical treatment that can control the disease of addiction. Medications and treatment can help, but it’s like a war with many battles, there may be a “cease fire” but you have to always be on guard and ready to fight for victory.

5. Accept others lack of Empathy for Addiction in general
This seems harsh, but when the disease is addiction, there is very little sympathy or support. There are races for the cure for cancer, fundraisers, tons of research being done. But addict’s lives are affected at the core level of their being and they are often treated like common criminals and shunned by society. It’s easy to say “Well, they asked for it” until it happens to your sweet young daughter or loveable son, who up to this point, was the joy of your life. The disease of addictions has serious side effects such as felony records, loss of jobs, destruction of relationships and of course, all the self loathing, guilt and regret that come with it.

6. Understand that addiction is a “family disease”
Another characteristic of addiction that makes it so devastating is that it affects everyone in its path. It’s like a tornado – if you are close to it, it can hurt you in some way, if you are in the middle of it, it has the potential to rip you apart. My son and I have always been close. He was a good kid, never got in trouble, was open and honest and trustworthy. When heroin became his main reason for living (as it does for all heroin addicts) he was unrecognizable to me. Unlike meth addicts – he looked the same on the outside – but on the inside I didn’t know this person. He stole from me, he lied constantly, he was violent and mean. Worry was my constant companion. Every time the phone rang my heart leapt wondering if it was the police – or the morgue. Life has never been the same. I felt that I was suffering more that he was! This is why getting support is critical; you should not try to brave it out alone. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and by reaching out you’ll see that you are not alone and most importantly – it’s not your fault.

7. Do not blame yourself
As parents, we wonder “where did I go wrong?”. Please, please skip walking down this path. Addicts come from all walks of life, from all types of families. I like to use the example that if you have three children and treated them all equally and only one became an addict – how can you blame yourself? All three would be addicts if that were the case, or none of them would be. I only have one son so this theory didn’t work for me and it was hard to not take blame. But it’s essential to your own health and well-being and for your addict.

99% of the addicts (or their parents who have related their stories to me) have said, “It is NOT my parents fault, there is nothing they did or didn’t do that caused me to start using drugs”. Believe this and save yourself a lot of grief and guilt.

8. The “E” word
One thing you will hear over and over again is “don’t enable the addict”. This can be confusing, what exactly does it mean? I’d say enabling is the concept that carries the most controversy among families of addicts. Some parents choose to do nothing believing that if the addict is out on the street they will hit rock bottom and choose to finally get better. This does work for some, I talked to a homeless guy recently that said the best thing his parents ever did for him was to kick him out of the house because it forced him to stop using drugs. For me personally, enabling means not doing anything for my son that he is capable of doing for himself. There can be a lot of gray area here; it changes from day to day. Explore the concept of enabling by listening to others in meetings or reading about it on blogs. What does enabling mean in your situation? How can you support him/her without making it “easy” for them to continue using. Addicts need to remember that they are capable human beings when given the opportunity. If we do everything for them, we rob them of feeling good about themselves. Most likely their sense of self worth has taken a big hit with all they’ve been through so allowing them to pick up the pieces on their own as much as possible will show them they can succeed.

9. Never lose hope
There is a saying among parents of heroin addicts, “as long as he/she is breathing, there is hope”. During the first year of this journey I was angry every time I went to a meeting or family group because I consistently heard the same thing: relapse is part of recovery. In my mind, he should have been treated and gotten better. It’s amazing to me now that I thought it was so simple. So when you hear about someone in their third rehab, or that they are in jail AGAIN or that they had 8 months clean and relapsed, considered it a part of the process. Opiate addiction does not go away quickly or easily. Its rare for an addict to go through one rehab and stay clean. Don’t let this discourage you because each day in treatment, or jail or just not using, is one more day in the right direction. It may be two steps forward, one step back but progress is being made. I consider the time my son has spent in treatment as invaluable. I’ve seen changes in him, he’s gained tools to use to fight the battle and his attitude is now one of humility and desire to be clean. As I type this he’s in jail, but he’s alive so there is hope.

In a nutshell, the first year will be difficult, but if you arm yourself with knowledge, get support, embrace the disease concept, guard against enabling, and never give up hope; you will be able to walk this path better prepared and hopefully avoid some of the pitfalls.

Barbara Legere writes about Heroin Addiction on her award winning Recovery Happens blog. Her son Keven has been struggling with his heroin addiction for over 3 years. Join Barbara on her blog or Twitter.

Hello, Here is my story. I


Here is my story. I met my ex almost 2 years ago. I fell in love with him very quickly because of his sweet and shy personality. Even at the beginning of the relationship the red flags were always there but it took me a long time to notice them. The most obvious thing was the big scar on his arm (from track marks). He told me he used to use heroin and left it there. I have personally done heroin myself, but was never addicted. I also have several friends who did heroin and cleaned up and live great fulfilling lives. So, I kept dating him and decided, Hey, if he's clean now and he's doing well, I am willing to support him and not be judgmental. As I mentioned, I had done heroin several times myself. I was an overall horrible teenager. But I cleaned up in high school and am getting my Bachelor's degree in neuroscience this spring at 22 years old. I have a good job, good credit and am involved in the community. SO YES!! PEOPLE CAN CHANGE. It all started around my birthday in November... First I found the suboxone, which he had originally come off of last year. I confronted him, he told me he was having cravings and started to take it again.. So I let that slide. Things quickly became much worst. Money and valuables started going missing so i confronted him again, he of course lied and lied and lied until I found a damn ticket from the pawn shop and he couldn't lie anymore. He sort of admitted to being wrong, said he really needed the money at the time since he was laid off a few months ago. But still denied the drugs. I left him and kicked him out of my house (by the way we were living together, which makes the situation so much worse). About a week later, he admitted to taking Roxy's. This softened my heart a little because at least he was being honest. I met up with him and he looked much better than he had, looked clean and sober. I saw him this way and I thought, OK, maybe he's going through a hard time and relapses DO happen. I'll try to get him through this and see what happens. I told him we could work on our relationship so long as he stayed clean but did it all on his own, I was not going to enable him anymore. I told him to get an apartment and get a steady job. (he is an electrician and was just working side jobs since he had been laid off--- why he was laid off I'm now questioning). He lied and told me he got an apt but it wouldn't be ready until January 1st. Since this was all happening during Christmas I felt horrible for making him sleep at Motel 6 so I let him sleep over. Sleeping over eventually turned into him staying every night and not going anywhere, he kept making excuses about this imaginary apartment and I kept believing him. Finally, yesterday shit hit the fan. I was eating dinner when he came home. He says he's going to go shower I kiss him and let him be. He comes out of the shower and there it was-- I hear his tone of voice and it sounded completely different. And I've heard that stupid tone of voice before, but this time I knew. I go upstairs, check the counters and I find little pieces of this white wrapper that is often used to contain the drugs. I check the garbage and I find at least ten more wrappers. I check his pockets and I find three balloons with half crack, half heroin. I was crushed, but the worst part about it all was that he looked me in the eyes and told me that the wrappers were old and the drugs were for a friend as a one time favor.

He's great at lying, he's very believable. And he knows me so well he knows exactly what to say. And he has a back up lie for every other lie. I am completely crushed. He is truly an amazing person. He comes from a great family, he's handsome, smart, very sensitive, open-minded, loves animals. But he's this horrible deceitful monster when he's using. Now I am completely confused and caught up in a web of lies. I would write another 3 pages if I listed all the lies I've caught him in. Now I wonder if he lied about everything, if he was just using me as a place to stay... I do believe he loved me, as he showed me in many ways. What do I do now? I broke it off with him but I can't help but love him and want to help him. He told me once that he wouldn't make it past another relapse. I'm scared that he'll die.

brother in trouble

I just recently stumbled across this page & although some of the remarks are several years old it has helped reading & answered/cleared up some puzzling questions we have had about the recent events going on in our family. We recently found out that my brother was addicted to Percocets, although we knew it had to be something because of his behavior changes, job loss, weight loss, & pawning of his stuff but now we had a name to put to it. However he has now confessed to having used heroin a few times. After reading your story I realized we've had unclaimed shoe laces laying all around the house as well as small to medium sized black/brownish smudge marks on the rug trailing from the living room to the kitchen. My brother blamed these marks on my children saying it was tar they picked up from the back of the truck but if that was true there would be some on the steps. Does this sound like evidence of possible heroin usage? He is currently in a 14 day rehab program & we are hoping its successful but the success rates seems so slim...

brother in trouble

So sorry to hear about your brother, I hope his treatment is successful & he is doing better. Yes, the shoe laces & black smudge marks are signs of heroin use. Don't have any valuables accessable. Don't believe most of what he says. It's a difficult illness to overcome. Keep him accountable yet at the same time be a positive influence towards pushing him to meetings, counseling & professional medical help. Best wishes. Hang in there.

Response to "Brother in Trouble"

Thank you for reaching out to Pat Moore Foundation.

We certainly understand your concerns. First off, great news your brother is in a 14 day rehab program. Secondly, yes, that could be evidence of possible heroin usage. However, the important thing right now is to be happy he is in treatment and try not to focus on some of the specifics like shoelaces, etc...

Most addicts, while in the throws of their addiction will lie. It's all they really know and have become quite adept with lie to survive.

What I would suggest is that you go to family counseling concerning addiction. You'd be surprised at what you've done to help him continue his usage over the years.


need help on a situation with an addict

My friend had a long and painful journey with recovery, and has had a few relapses. It's been a total of 4 yrs journey. He is 32 lives with his parents, he has had a job and kept it for 2 yrs now. Aside from the relapses, he seems true to rid of his addition but of course at times the heroin takes over for a few days every few weeks. He had, I think stayed clean for 1 year with no relapse. I fear the reoccurring relapses would suck him into going full time again.

With the background being told, a few days ago his parents kicked him out as they found a stash in his room. He works in a remote area as a technician for cellular towers, so work provides accommodation for most of the week except for weekends. He had broken his employers rules and was found out, they asked him to leave and return when work resumes. Where I am currently, there is a holiday that will last a few more days. He just called and asked me if he can stay over for a few days until he sorts himself out, I said yes. I don't want to regret that decision, but it seems I will. What I'm going to do and that is what I need your advice on is as follows, 1) lock up all valuables, 2) host him for 1 day and 1 night tops, 3) get in touch with his parents try to convince em to take him back, 4) have a really tough talk with him during his stay, I can be quite relentless and I'm sure I won't hold it back. I'd focus in my talk with him on what he had gained and what is he putting at stake. He really only has his family, job, and 2 friends left. He is a chronic lier, full with his ego and I belive he tends to create an alternative reality where he is the non understood hero of the tale. While that being a self defense mechanism, it's doing him more harm than good. In your opinion, what would be the best course of action to take to keep him from really sinking back into this vicious cycle? , knowing that he had traversed for long through his journey of recovery during which he went to rehab, NA and a horrid car accident.

Response to "Situation with an Addict"

It seems our response might be just a bit too late, but we hope all went okay.

I think your question "What would be the best course of action to take to keep him from really sinking back into his vicious cycle" is a bit difficult to answer. But, asking him to attend NA and AA meetings and offering support ONLY if he goes to these types of programs. What's also important is that you hold him accountable for what's happening. Oftentimes loved ones allow addicts to continue their behavior without any consequences.

One really important aspect is to get help for yourself and suggest the family does as well. The addict can stop, but if he goes back to the same situation, home life, etc...then he will be more apt to use again.


my boyfriend of 11 years

my boyfriend of 11 years started snorting heroin about 4 months ago. we have a 7 year old daughter and a 1 year old son. he told me about his addiction about a month ago after he came home from the hospital after going there for having withdraws from supposedly trying to quit heroin. I tried to help him and he quit for only 2 days. so I Iwaited around for him to tell me that he was ready to quit again, well he never did. he has still been using and he abandoned me and the kids on Sept. 2nd. I have told him I would always be here to help him and that I loved him and that his kids loved him. Itried to cconvince him he has a problem but he doesnt believe.it. he blames everything that ever went wrong in his life on me. he pretty much hates me now. he doesnt want to spend time with his kids anymore, none of his sober friends talk to him anymore, his dad has stopped talking to him, he has lost his job and still all he can think about is heroin. and tonight I pretty much told him I was over it and that Iwas done, and I tried to help him, but he doesnt want my help!

I read your story and felt

I read your story and felt like I was reading my own with the exception of kids. My boyfriend of 7 year did not come home last night. He was arrested for possession of heroin. I feel so stupid for not knowing but as I read earlier, denial is a fun place to visit but a dangerous place to stay. I feel alone in this battle because no one wants to help him. I feel like im all he has left but he is ruining my life. I work 3 jobs to save us financially. He, too, blames me for everything wrong in his life. His addiction has put me into severe depression. I cant talk to my family or my friends because they all hate him. They think I should just cut him out of my life. I don't think I could live with myself if he over doses and dies because I left. I don't know what to do.

Response to "I read your story"

Thank you for reaching out to Pat Moore Foundation

I definitely feel your pain and your level of frustration in your post. The first thing you need to consider is to take care of yourself. You can not be responsible for your BF. You can be supportive but just not in the ways you currently are being.

Think about it...if you are doing so much for him already and that isn't helping the situation then you need to consider stopping and mixing it up. You said it yourself, "he is ruining my life," and "he too, blames me for everything wrong in his life."

It's not easy to cut someone out of your life, especially when they've sort of ruled it for a number of years. But, that might be the best advice. He will sink or swim without your help. Sometimes tough love is the best love you can offer.


how do you know when you need to step in?

I believe my daughter is on heroin. She has no job, no money...nothing. She, her boyfriend, his sister and his sister's husband, along with my two adorable grandchildren (7 & 5) are living crammed into a 1 bedroom apt. I'm worried about the kids, and of course, my daughter. I want to see her want to get help and off drugs, but I know I cannot do it for her. My concern is for the children. they don't have stability. she registered them a day late for school this year. I believe they hear yelling a lot and I think they aren't sleeping well. I haven't seen them in 6 months...she's let them call me twice. I have spoken to the boyfriend's sister they live with and she's at her wits end. When I asked if she thinks they are both doing drugs, she isn't sure. I know nothing will change if nothing changes. I have been praying for strength to do what is right for the kids....I just don't know the way to do it. My daughter isn't talking to me. I reached out thru facebook text and let her know I love her and am concerned about her. That I will help with the kids and that I would help her find help. no reply. thx for reading....grama in pain

18 year old son

is there any way to convince my 18 year old son who is a heroin addict to go to treatment?

Response to '18 year old son'

Thanks for the outreach.

We don't know of a way to 'Convince' your son outright to get help, but there are ways to suggest it and you'd need to be strong and hold to your position. At last resort, and intervention could help.

Please feel free to call us at 888-426-6086.


My girlfriend took heroin and is regretting it

So last night i had a call from my girlfriend that she got high on heroin ( by smoking) last night and it was for the third time . I was mad at her at first but now i want to help her . She says that she regrets taking it . She took it for the first time 15 days back and then another one a week later and the third one last night . But she says she is not addicted . She also doesn't want to tell her parents about it . She doesn't have any drugs byherself and the ones she took , were from a friend !

She says she doesn't have any urge to take it again and will never take it again . Is she really not a addict ? Can she quit taking it without any external medicine ? Please, your help would be greatly appreciated !

Dear Friend

Thank you for reaching out to Pat Moore Foundation. You are amazingly brave and kind to reach out like this.

You've some great questions, and unfortunately some answers may not be a straight forward as you would like, but we don't know that much about your girlfriend. So, let me do the best I can for you. I am in recovery from Alcohol and Drug addiction and have been for over 20 years now.

1) She may never take heroin again. That's possible.
2) Whether she is an addict of not is something only she can truly admit to and seek help to stop, but if she is smoking heroin there is a good chance she is on her way to become a full blown addict. BUT again, she is the only person who can come to terms with that.
3) If she has ONLY used heroin the three times, and in the manner you suggest, she might not need any 'medicine' to help. BUT the best way to assess this is to have her call us her at Pat Moore Foundation.

We are open to just speaking with her. Our number is 888-426-6086.

You can even call the number and speak to one of our counselors.

Thank you,

Recovery Rob.

I can also be reached at www.askrecoveryrob.com

An addict in the household

Very good set of points and realistic! The PDFA just asked me to write a similar piece on "How to Live with Your Teen Who's Home from Treatment" This is not easy because many of us did this quite a few times already;(Welcomed a teen home...) It underlies, the painful difficulty conveying a realistic prospect for success when a 17 year old heroin addict comes home after a first attempt at treatment. This is often at staggering cost to an unfortunate family. The painful reality sets in after the 2nd, 3rd time or more attempts at treatment. Years later when that teen is an adult and the addiction is tougher that ever you know things no parent should ever know. Now, looking back, what a challenge to write about welcoming a teen back from treatment. Your article gives me good insight, as I know the experience you speak from. Great piece.

After a long, chaotic heroin

After a long, chaotic heroin addiction, my son went to a dual diagnoses treatment center (his 5th rehab). The counselors there, (for the first time ever), explained to him what was wrong with him. They gave it a name, they helped him understand there was no shame in that, they told him it could be managed.

He is over 14 months clean, a transformation in him I never believed possible. Don't give up, is my message to parents.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Lou: Where did your son go to treatment? My son has a dual diagnosis, but of course is not taking prescribed meds. Everytime he is in treatment both the "addiction" & "mental illness" don't seem to be treated equally.

Long and Chaotic

Thank you for your comment, Lou.

We here at Pat Moore Foundation are always happy to hear/read when people, such as your son and you, work through addiction and find answers along the way.

14 months is awesome, and it seems you've never given up!

Keep up the great work all around.

Recovery Rob

My favorite blog!

I visit "Recovery Happens" everyday...I have learned so much from Barbara and gained such comfort too. The above article is an excellent source of information from someone who is really dealing with it all.

Favorite Blog

Thank you for your comment.

Barbara is a great 'find' and fantastic resource on the internet. We love reading her blog post because she knows and understands where many family members are coming from.

Again, thanks for the stellar comment, and we hope you enjoy reading some of our other blogs as well!

Recovery Rob

9 Tips for Supporting the Heroin Addict in your Household

Barbara did a great job of describing the roller coaster that takes place for the family members, especially in year one.

As a parent of a heroin addict who is active in recovery, I truly understand the pain and agony the families go through and recognize the importance of "this community" reaching out to each other and providing support. There is so little information available for family and friends of addicts, because this disease carries such a stigma with it.

Excellent article!

A GREAT job by Barbara

Thank you for your comment.

Yes, we have to agree with the wonderful job Barbara did a describing the 'roller coaster' ride that addiction places on family members. When we read this submission we couldn't wait to post it. We know good when we see it! :)

Again, thank you for your comments and excellent conversation.

Recovery Rob

great article

Thank you for this wonderful article Barbara. I needed it and got a lot out of it, esp., the part about the guilt. I was overwhelmed with guilt when I came to my computer. Reading this helped. Bless you.

Great Article

Thank you for the comment.

We have passed this message on to Barbara, as she will surely be happy to hear from you. Family and friends of addicts certainly understand one another. The trials and guilt we each feel may sometimes feel insurmountable.

It's great to know there are many others out there who are just like us.

Thank you again.

Recovery Rob

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