Why Do So Many People Overdose After Rehab?

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woman distressed in recoveryEight days ago, Angela was in rehab. Now she’s completely off heroin and has an impressive five weeks of sobriety under her belt. She has a new job and a new apartment. But things are starting to get a little more stressful than she thought they’d be — so many changes, so many new responsibilities.

One night after work, Angela’s stress became too much to handle. She could feel herself slipping. Her mind was overcome by cravings.

In an instant, that familiar voice in her head reappeared. “You just need a little something to take the edge off — something to help you relax. It’s just this one time. No big deal. You can go back to being sober tomorrow.”

Three hours later, Angela woke up in a hospital bed. She’d overdosed on heroin. Fortunately for Angela, she was saved when a neighbor found her unconscious and barely breathing in their apartment complex hallway. EMTs were able to revive her from the overdose.

Many others aren’t so lucky.

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The Heightened Risk of an Overdose After Rehab

When Angela entered rehab, she stopped using opioids. Before rehab, she had been using drugs for two years. During those two years, her body built up a tolerance for opioids. Eventually, she needed a much bigger dose to keep getting the same effect from the drugs.

Fresh out of rehab, Angela had been drug-free for weeks. Her body had returned to a normal, healthy state. And that can be dangerous.

Angela’s systems weren’t constantly interacting with and reacting to the effects of opioids. That means she no longer had the same tolerance she’d built up before entering treatment.

But Angela wasn’t thinking about detox, tolerance levels, or the potential of an overdose. So, she took the same dose of heroin she was using right before rehab. And her body went into shock.

She hit her body with an amount of heroin it was no longer used to, and her system couldn’t handle it. So, it started shutting down.

The result: an overdose that nearly killed her.

The Common Story of Overdosing After Rehab

Angela’s situation isn’t unusual. After leaving rehab, many people return to their old habits. And while their habits haven’t changed, their bodies and tolerance levels have.

When people relapse after treatment, they often make the mistake of thinking they can take the same dose they used pre-rehab. They don’t realize that dose could now be fatal, and they end up overdosing.

Some people get lucky and survive the overdose. But many don’t.

Top Reasons for a Post-Rehab Overdose

Angela looked to opioids to help her cope with stress. This is a common reason for overdose after rehab. Whether at home or work, stress builds up, and the person who is addicted feels they can’t cope with everything without using substances.

Here are five other common mindsets that can lead to a post-rehab overdose:

  • Just One More Time:

Jeff wanted to take his life in a new direction. He hadn’t taken any pills in weeks.

But, when he ran into an old friend who invited him over, he knew what they would end up doing. “Why not?” he thought. “I might never see him again. One last time can’t hurt.”

But, yes, it can. Jeff no longer has the tolerance for the level of drugs he and his friend used to use. If he takes that amount tonight, there’s a very good chance he’ll overdose.

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47,300* People Addicted
23,100* Getting Help
8,209* Deaths
*Statistic from 2015
  • Feeling the pain 

Devan’s old shoulder injury was flaring up again. After battling with a painkiller addiction, he had been drug-free for six months. But the pain was back.

And he didn’t think he could manage it without those pills.

The problem: If Devan took the same dose of painkillers today that he was taking when he quit six months ago, the amount would kill him.

  • Too Strong for Triggers

Sam used to get high every time he went to his cousin’s house. Now, he’s been out of rehab for three weeks and has stayed clean.

But just walking by his cousin’s place makes him want to use. He doesn’t try to avoid the neighborhood — or his cousin.

And the cravings are getting more intense.

If Sam doesn’t find a way to address his triggers and cravings, and gives in to them, he’ll be in danger of an overdose.

  • Something Completely Different

Kelly went to rehab to deal with her alcohol addiction. Three months sober, Kelly starts using heroin instead of drinking. But her body isn’t used to this drug.

Because she substitutes one drug for another, Kelly is at high risk for an overdose.

  • Feeling Despair

Sobriety has just become too much. Brian is in a deep well of depression and sees no hope.

He decides to take every pill he can find to escape it all with an intentional overdose to end his life.

And the Leading Cause for an Overdose After Rehab…

Of all the reasons for post-rehab overdose, one of the most common is self-deception. Here’s what that looks like:

“Sure, I had a drug addiction before, but I have control now. This time, I won’t let things get out of hand.”

But this line of thinking shows that things are already out of hand. And a relapse could be (and often is) fatal — especially after rehab.

For information about treatment options for you or a loved one, call 800-407-7195(Who Answers?) today.


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the Take-Away

Eight days ago, Angela was in rehab. Now she’s completely off heroin and has an impressive five weeks of sobriety under her belt. She has a new job and a new apartment. But things are starting to get a little more stressful than she thought they’d be — so many changes, so many new responsibilities. …