What Can I Do if My Sister Is Hooked on Pain Pills?

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A certain family of painkillers called opioids can create dependency. If your sister has become addicted to drugs such as codeine, oxycodone, morphine or hydrocodone, she may develop unpleasant withdrawal symptoms upon ceasing the medication. There has been a sharp rise in overdoses on prescription painkillers among women in particular, according to statistics published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although most people who become addicted to pain pills tend to have a genetic predisposition to addiction.

Facing Addiction

Although opioids have addictive properties, full-blown addiction has a psychological element to it. Educate yourself about addiction in order to understand how it works and to be able to recognize the associated thinking and behaviors. If your sister has developed an addiction to painkillers, treat her with empathy and understanding. Confronting an addict is usually ineffective. When you need to express your concerns about her addiction, communicate with your sister clearly and firmly, rather than arguing with or threatening her.

Positive Reinforcement

The Community Reinforcement and Family Training Approach (CRAFT) to addiction recovery is modeled on a paradigm developed by Robert J. Meyers to help alcoholics recover. This approach suggests that positive reinforcement by family members can be effective in promoting addiction recovery. The emphasis is on rewarding behaviors that are likely to lead to sobriety and sustained recovery and not doing anything which might further escalate the problem or give the addict a reason to retreat into the pill bottle.

Practical Steps

Increase the likelihood that your sister will pursue recovery by providing a positive, sober environment and encouraging her when she makes progress. Reward any periods of abstinence or reduced painkiller usage by paying her special attention and spending quality time with her. Avoid "enabling" behaviors, such as covering up your sister's problem or helping her to get drugs. Identify situations that prompt painkiller use and avoid adding to your sister's stress levels at these times.

Find Further Support

Groups for family members of addicts such as Nar-Anon and Al-Anon will welcome and support you, while fellowship groups such as Narcotics Anonymous or SMART Recovery can help support your sister. While drug rehabilitation programs and help from professionals can be of benefit, such treatments are only likely to work when your sister is motivated to change. Even if she is unmotivated to begin with, you can increase your sister's motivation by providing positive reinforcement, so that recovery becomes a more appealing option.