Drug and alcohol overdose is an increasing health problem in the United States. If you have recently completed a detox program, you may be at advanced risk for relapse and overdose. Before we get into some preventative tips, let’s first discuss the basics of overdose, symptoms to look for, and risk factors after detox.
What Is an Overdose?
An overdose occurs when you take more than the recommended amount of a substance, such as drugs, alcohol or even over-the-counter medications. An overdose can result in mild to serious symptoms which will vary depending on the type of substance used, the dosage that was taken, and the person’s weight and height.
Physical signs of an overdose typically include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Loss of consciousness
Drug and alcohol overdoses can be extremely serious or even deadly, and unfortunately, the rate of overdoses caused by these substances is increasing. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, drug overdose deaths have become a significant health problem in the United States. In fact, the rate of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2015 was more than 2.5 times the rate in 1999.
Why Are Overdoses So Common After Detox?
Early recovery is a very vulnerable time for someone suffering from addiction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that an estimated 40 to 60 percent of people treated for substance use disorders eventually relapse. If you are just coming out of detox, you may be at advanced risk for relapse because you haven’t yet begun an inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment program and your sobriety is new.
Overdose is one of the most dangerous risks of relapse. After detox, you may be faced with extremely stressful or emotional circumstances that may cause intense cravings. These urges could lead you back into drug use. At that point, you will have completely lost or severely diminished your tolerance for the drug, making your typical dosage much more toxic than it was before you were sober. Additionally, a lack of tolerance will make it very difficult to accurately judge how much of a substance you can safely take.
The High Risk of Opioid Overdose
In comparison to other commonly used drugs, opioids have the largest risk of overdose. A 2014 report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 60 percent of drug overdoses involve an opioid. Prescription opioids aren’t excluded from this risk either. In fact, they are a large contributor to the problem. The CDC reported that half of all U.S. opioid deaths today involve a prescription opioid and in 2015, more than 15,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription opioids.
Heroin abuse is also one of the main causes of overdoses after detox. Unfortunately, many individuals who experience strong cravings after detox will have a distorted view of what is safe and unsafe. If they give into those cravings and take a dosage that is too large, the drug will enter the brainstem and severely depress the respiratory system, which can stop their breathing.
Preventing Overdose After Abstinence in Detox
Detox in a clinical facility helps you safely withdraw from a substance after discontinuing all use. After detox, there are four primary things you can do to protect yourself or a loved one from relapse and overdose.
- Enroll in an addiction treatment program – Residential inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment is a great way to begin your new sober life. These recovery programs will not only provide a safe, comfortable place for you to remain sober, but they will also empower you with the necessary life skills and tools to make long-lasting recovery a reality. In working through the 12-step program with others in recovery, you’ll gain valuable self-awareness, have the support of your peers in recovery, and learn how to restructure your life in a healthy way. After you graduate from an inpatient or outpatient treatment program, you may also want to continue treatment with a sober living program. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that treatment lasting 90 days or longer is recommended for maintaining positive outcomes, so the longer you continue your treatment, the better.
- Mindfully prepare your home after a loved one returns from detox – Removing all addictive substances from your home is one major way you can help a loved one manage cravings after completing detox. You may also want to store all prescription and over-the-counter medications in a safe, locked location to ensure that any temptation is minimized. This process should also include being mindful of the conversations you have with others in the home and engaging your loved one in fun, sober activities, both in and outside the home.
- Maintain a strong support system – While you’re in detox, clinical staff, detox counselors, and your peers are all there to keep you accountable. After you return home, you’ll continue to need that support to maintain your sobriety. Continuing your addiction treatment with drug or alcohol rehabilitation (as mentioned above) is a great way to do this. If you are financially or otherwise unable to commit to rehab, joining a local Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) group or Nar-Anon family group can help keep you on track and accountable to your recovery.
- Create a relapse prevention plan – If you are in recovery, you should have a relapse prevention plan. These types of plans are designed to help you prevent and prepare for relapse while involving others in your recovery journey. If you do relapse, your prevention plan will be there to minimize the damage and quickly get you back on track.
Relapse and overdose are very real risks for individuals in recovery. If you are concerned about someone you love or can feel yourself slipping into relapse after detox, please contact our admissions team. We can help you find the appropriate care you need to maintain your sobriety.