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Survival Skills 101: What To Do When The Person You Love Is An Active Heroin Addict

I would like to start by saying that I was addicted to opiates for many years. I went through multiple treatment programs and also spent some time in jail before I was able to learn how to live without drugs. I say that so you can see that recovery is possible.

What should you do when your world comes crashing down?
What should you do when your world comes crashing down?

Don’t Take It Personally

My social media news feed is often full of people who say they don’t understand why addicts do the things they do. I just want to say that when it comes to addiction, be thankful that you don’t understand. To understand is to have experienced it. Ignorance is actually bliss in this case.

If you are going to try to help a drug addict that you love, then my advice would be to develop a thick skin. They will do things that are going to hurt you. Some of the things will, make you feel very used and cheated. Your first instinct will be to tell this person how awful they are for treating you this way, but the thing you must remember is that they do what they must in order to feed their addiction. They won’t want to hurt you. In a way, it’s not even personal: it’s just what has to be done. Once a person gets addicted to heroin, they completely lose the choice of whether or not they use. Their disease will compel them to do whatever they have to, to whomever they have to, in order to get the next fix.

Back Off: Way, Way Off

It’s very difficult to take your emotions out of the equation, but if you are going to be of any help at all then your emotions will only get in the way. Telling a drug addict that they are bad is pointing out the obvious. There is nothing that you can say to a drug addict that they don’t say to themselves multiple times a day. After all, no self respecting person would trade their body for drugs, or steal in order to support his habit. Sharp words from you aren’t going to help. What drug addicts really need is someone to love them from a distance. This will be the hardest part. This was the hardest part for me. I literally had to leave the person that I loved in order to help her. It’s is hard to think of leaving as a loving act, but that was the best thing for her at the time. I had tried everything I could think of to help her. Even though I knew firsthand how crippling enabling from loved ones could be, I found myself enabling her everyday. The desire to help was just too strong when I came face to face with her disease.

You don't have to fight your loved one's addiction.
You don’t have to fight your loved one’s addiction.

Don’t Expect A Miracle

I also had trouble with expectations in the beginning. There will be times—moments of clarity, if you will—when the addict realizes the futility of fighting addiction alone and wants help, but I know from experience that these desires are fleeting and those feelings will diminish at the same rate as the addict’s current buzz. Placing expectations on an addict, or holding them to the things they promise while high only sets you up to be hurt.

Threats are another thing that I struggled with at first, because it was a good release for me to be able to say if you do this then I am done, but I was never serious and rarely followed through with what I had promised. It was just counterproductive, largely because you are threatening a person who is threatened with jail time or even death on a daily basis, yet continues to use. What do threats amount to in the face of that? It’s better in the long run to sit down, think about some boundaries, and stick to your guns.

Active heroin addiction is a headache and a heartache.
Loving an addict can be a headache.

Put Your Sanity First

In my case, I left her to her disease. It was a kind of tactical retreat. I was no match for heroin. I had to come up with a different tactic. I asked her to leave, which she was all too happy to do at the time. Now this is the part you will struggle with if your situation is like mine. The her that I talk about is my wife. When she left, she went to stay with another man. Am I crazy? She did me so wrong, right? It is true. I was done wrong, but I wasn’t innocent. In my addiction, I’d shown her that she could use her body as a means of financing her addiction. I was reaping what I had sown.

I would love to tell you that my struggle with my addict is over, but it continues as we speak. Loving an addict is a very hard existence, and there is no shame in giving up. Sometimes, I want to throw my hands up and say I’m done. But I keep my faith and I keep pushing forward. I remind myself that most addicts don’t mean to hurt loved ones, nor does that absolve them of their wrongs.

What keeps me going is the knowledge that this story is just a chapter in my life. This story is just some of the things that I have learned, mostly through trial and error. No one can force a drug addict to get help and sometimes the best thing you can do is leave them to it.