It’s a frightening reality that must be recognized when you or someone you care about tries to overcome an addiction to opioids: Recovery comes with unique overdose dangers.
If a person who has quit drinking relapses, they’re likely to wake up with remorse and a hangover. If a person who has quit using opioids like prescription painkillers or heroin relapses, they may not wake up at all. It’s a frightening reality that must be recognized when you or someone you care about tries to overcome an addiction to opioids: Recovery comes with unique overdose dangers.
That’s because when a person stops using opioids, their body begins to lose the ability to tolerate the drug, and they can easily misjudge how much they can safely consume. What used to be a moderate dose may now be enough to prevent the brain from signaling the body to keep breathing. Compare that to the dangers of alcohol, which are substantial but usually take time to accumulate.
Dr. David Sack is an addiction psychiatrist and mental health expert from America. He currently serves as the CEO of Elements Behavioral Health, which is a network of addiction treatment centers spread across the US. He is a sought after media expert who has shared his knowledge on outlets such as Good Morning America, Dateline NBC, E! News and many others. He also contributes to the Huffington Post, PsychCentral and Psychology Today.
Editor: Nadeem Pasha
For opioid users, there’s another troubling truth: Even after successful treatment, few opioid users are able to remain continuously abstinent during the first year of recovery. The Australian Treatment Outcome Study puts the number at 14%.
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Opioid use will usually lessen after treatment and lives will improve, but, realistically, most people have at least one lapse in them. And one time can be all it takes to kill. The first two weeks after someone stops treatment are the peak time for overdose, when tolerance is low but new patterns of healthy behavior aren’t yet engrained.
Turning to Medication
So how do we stop potentially deadly overdoses in those early days and help people live long enough to make it to successful opioid recovery?
Increasingly treatment programs are sending clients home from opioid treatment with naloxone, known under the brand name Narcan. It’s an opioid antidote, a rescue medicine that is available for self-administration as a nasal spray or an injectable.
The real focus, however, should be on preventing overdose in the first place.