The Relationship between Relapse and Overdose

There is a close, and often tragic, relationship between overdose and relapse. Many celebrity overdoses following rehab have been covered by the media. What is it about the recovery process and relapse that increases the chances of overdose?

What Is an Overdose?

Technically speaking, an overdose is any dose of a substance that is higher than prescribed by a doctor. When it comes to illicit drugs there is no safe dose, so the term overdose is used to describe any dose that leads to the following symptoms:

  • Unconsciousness
  • Uncontrollable behavior
  • Catatonia
  • Coma
  • Death

Overdose happens when a person takes more of a drug than their body can metabolize. In some cases overdose occurs when a person who has developed a high tolerance for a given drug takes an increased dose in order to feel the desired effects. In other cases it happens due to an interaction with other substances in the user’s system. Combining certain drugs with alcohol, for instance, greatly lowers the amount of the drug that is “safe” to use.

In other cases overdose is related to an intentional choice made by the user. Feelings of depression, panic, hopelessness, confusion, or shame may lead a person to knowingly take too much of a drug in order to completely avoid the pain they are feeling or to commit suicide.

What Is Relapse?

Relapse is a frustratingly common part of the recovery process. When a person stops using drugs or alcohol and begins the recovery process they will face overwhelming urges to go back to the substance they are dependent upon. During rehab they will learn new coping skills that will help them resist the temptation to use. Addiction is a powerful, psychological disease, however, and the recovering addict is likely to experience cravings for months or even years after they quit.

When a recovering addict succumbs to the temptations, cravings, justifications, and obsessions generated by their psychological addiction, and returns to their substance abuse it is called relapse. Recovering addicts must be on-guard against the possibility of relapse for the rest of their lives.

Why Is Overdose More Likely in a Relapse?

When recovering addicts relapse they are at an increased risk for overdose for several reasons. First, depending on how long they have been clean, their tolerance to the substance may have decreased significantly. It is very common for a relapsing addict to take the same amount of a drug that they were using before they entered treatment. That heightened quantity may be enough to incapacitate them or even to kill them.

Another reason for overdose among recovering addicts is the feelings of shame, frustration, failure, and depression that their relapse is causing. A relapsing heroin addict, for instance, may feel despondent about their actions and intentionally take more of the drug than they ever have.

Preventing Relapse and Overdose

The surest prevention of relapse is thorough rehab followed by strong aftercare. If you have relapsed, or fear you are about to, please call our toll-free helpline any time of day or night, we’re available seven days a week. Our counselors can answer any questions you have and can help you avoid overdose right now. Relapse need not mean the end of your recovery. It’s a set-back, to be sure, but many people have relapsed at least once before finally achieving lasting freedom from addiction. Call today. We can help.