How Getting Sober & Relapsing on Heroin can Cause an Overdose


Something that happens time and again: People go through drug treatment for heroin dependency, and when they relapse, they suffer an overdose. They take the same dosage they were taking back when they were using every day, but this time, it’s simply too much for them to handle.

It All Comes Down To Tolerance

What it all comes down to is simple: Tolerance. A full-time heroin user is going to have a much higher tolerance, they’ll be able to take on a high potency hit without too much immediate danger to their system. Their body is used to it. It’s the same thing that happens when you haven’t had a cigarette for awhile, and the first one you have in months nearly knocks you on your back. It’s why the first cup of coffee in the morning is so much stronger than the second. The more you use a substance, the higher your tolerance to it. This even applies to natural highs. If you suffer from sex addiction, for instance, those first few hookups may be exciting, but by the sixth, tenth, twentieth time, it’s more of a necessity than it is a thrill. Even runners and bodybuilders have to pace themselves so that the endorphin boost of working out doesn’t wear off.

How It Happens

The whole process is pretty simple. Chemically speaking, you’ve essentially turned from an every-day-addict to a first time user.

1. You use heroin every day, building up a high tolerance.
2. You need stronger doses every time you use.
3. You go through detox and recovery, bringing your tolerance back down to the level of a first time user.
4. You relapse, but you use the same dosage you used towards the end of your addiction, not towards the start, and this results in overdose.

Are Relapses Inevitable?

Some people go through recovery and they never touch a needle again for the rest of their lives. The threat of relapse is always there, but it’s not something that happens to each and every user. That said, you do need to educate yourself just in case. It’d be nice if you could just have a guarantee that your addiction is behind you, but few of us can be so lucky. Maybe you’ll never use heroin again, but you need to know how to do it without killing yourself just in case. We can tell you “don’t do drugs,” but people who are going to use are going to use, and it’s best if they do it as safely as possible. So here are some things you need to know:

– Your safe-dosage right now might not even match the first dose you ever took. There’s no perfect, one-size-fits-all dose, and weight gain or loss, changes in diet and changes in lifestyle can all play a part.
– Use less than you think you need, and wait to see how it kicks in before using any more.
– Do what you can to avoid relapsing in the first place.

Avoiding Relapse

You might not really need to relapse. You might not need that “just this once” hit. Call a friend, call your therapist, call someone who helped you through your recovery. You have people who care about you and you don’t have to do it all yourself. Get in touch with someone who’s been in your corner the whole way. If you’re feeling depressed, lonesome, forlorn, these are the feelings that will push you right back into old habits. But you can’t run away from those feelings, you have to process them, deal with them. Talking them through can help, getting involved in something that makes you feel good can help. The worst thing that you can do is sit alone in your room dwelling on past mistakes and guilt and everything that’s stressing you out. Get out of your own headspace, talk to someone, go outside, and remember that you’re the one in control now.

And If You Do Relapse…

If you’ve relapsed, don’t beat yourself up over it. For many, it’s part of the process, a reminder of what it was you were trying to escape. Get yourself back into drug rehab and keep going. Self-pity is not going to help you to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Positive thinking will help, exercise will help, spending time with friends will help, guilt-tripping yourself will not.