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Heroin Relapse Signs and How to Stop Cravings

relapse after heroin addiction treatment

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Among the most challenging factors with recovering from heroin addiction is succumbing to a heroin relapse. The body tends to build a lot of tolerance to the drug. This allows addicts to take large doses without succumbing to an overdose. When discontinued, the tolerance goes away.
A relapse involves an addict going back to using it after discontinuing it for some time. This could be caused by heroin cravings which ultimately lead to using if left unchecked.
Considering the many factors that could lead to a relapse, such as the current low heroin street prices, it is not hard to get back into bad habits. The relapse rates for heroin addicts are no encouraging.
Sadly, the current heroin relapse statistics indicate that up to 90% of relapses occur within the first week of leaving a detox facility. This means that the few days after quitting are rather precarious and require a lot of care.

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Table of Contents

Relapse Warning Signs to Look Out For

Before understanding the relapse signs to look out for, one needs to understand how long the withdrawal period takes. How long does heroin withdrawal last? Normally, symptoms peak within 1 to 3 days. They can take up to 1 week after which they begin to subside. During this period, there is a high chance that an addict will relapse due to the cravings. These signs are more likely to manifest themselves during this period.
It is possible to identify relapse signs. Just like spotting the signs of heroin addiction, spotting signs of relapse is important in preventing it from happening.
Here are some of heroin relapse signs

  • Erratic changes in behavior (e.g., change in eating behaviors) man hiding something in hands
  • Mood changes
  • Denial
  • Secretive behavior
  • Withdrawal from support systems
  • Social irresponsibility such as committing or taking part in crimes
  • Personal irresponsibility (e.g., neglecting their hygiene)

It is best to help an addict as soon as they start manifesting heroin relapse symptoms. Therefore, familiarizing oneself with the signs of heroin relapse can help one catch them early enough. This way they can get the help they need.

Heroin Relapse Rates. Why is it So High?

Heroin is one of the finest and most brutal drugs in terms of addiction. Looking at heroin by definition it is a substance derived from poppy plants. The resin from the plants is broken down to form morphine which is then refined further to form heroin. It is, therefore, no wonder it’s the heroin addiction relapse rates are so high.
According to statistics by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), heroin-related overdoses have more than quadrupled since 2010. These mirrors other heroin statistics that show the same discouraging numbers. Such heroin relapse rates point to a severe enough statistic for the CDC to classify death from opioid-related drugs an epidemic. However, it is unclear how many of them are relapse related.
Relapse rates are very high for any opiate addiction including heroin. It does not matter what method of treatment is applied. With increased national attention on the problem, more resources are pouring into medication-assisted treatment. This has done well to improve the overall quitting heroin success rate. However, recovery is a complicated process.
The addiction often starts from abusing prescription opiates. Users report it makes them feel good, and they enjoy it. As the body develops tolerance, it needs more of the drug to feel good. This lead many to go deeper into addiction, however, some try to stop it Cold Turkey. Consequently, the bad feelings associated with withdrawal are more pronounced. It becomes that only thing stopping an addict from feeling the withdrawal symptoms.
Once life centers on the drug, a person seems to be little choice in the matter. They usually have no idea how to how to stop heroin cravings.

Heroin Relapse Risk: Biological and Behavioral Reasons for Relapse

There are biological and behavioral factors to consider when assessing the risk of relapse. Biologically, the brain becomes used to large doses. This leads to painful withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings.
Medication-assisted treatment with methadone, buprenorphine, or naloxone can help calm these effects and prevent overdose.
As mentioned before, addicts center their lives around getting and using the drug. Consequently, this means lifestyle changes are necessary when they quit. Before addiction set in, the drug served a purpose for the individual taking it. Without an alternative, a person is likely to return to using in order to fulfill that purpose.
Also, the ritual of getting and using the drug can cause conditional responses to develop. They refer to conditional responses in addiction treatment as triggers. Furthermore, it can be anything such as

  • People people doing drugs on the dark street
  • Places
  • Smells
  • Drug paraphernalia
  • Music
  • Environments

When a trigger confronts someone with a history of abuse, cravings intensify. As a result, the ability to “just say no” decreases significantly. Triggers are strong behavioral cues, and they need to be substituted that with healthier activities.
Social aspects of using are another significant factor to look out for. Someone’s entire life may revolve around its use. Then, all their friends and associates are likely triggers. Asking someone to get rid of social connections can be devastating. Therefore, it is important to provide an alternative to replace those social connections.

Preventing Heroin Relapse

It is possible to recover from addiction. One will, however, need to use comprehensive treatment. Such treatment focuses on biological and behavioral risk factors. Medication-assisted treatment can prevent overdose and relieve withdrawal symptoms. Behavioral and mental health counseling can deal with underlying issues. Furthermore, long-term peer support can help build a heroin-free lifestyle.
There are so many behavioral and biological factors increasing the risk of relapse. Therefore, it is best to get comprehensive treatment. This includes:

  • Addressing physical cravings and withdrawal symptoms with medication-assisted treatment.
  • Behavioral therapy to deal with issues related to finding a new purpose in life. It should include identifying and resolving triggers and building recovery-focused social connections.
  • Mental health counseling to address underlying issues related to drug use and the purpose that the drug fulfilled.
  • Medical services for health complications related to its use.
  • Family and community-based recovery support including legal, educational, and vocational services. This could also involve learning about and understanding ex-heroin addict personality in order to create a conducive environment for their recovery.
  • Peer support to build comprehensive lifestyle changes and give long-term recovery support (one could explore helpful avenues such as heroin anonymous).

Not all communities have treatment systems that meet the needs of those seeking help. There are other barriers to treatment as well. It includes:

  • An inability to pay for services,
  • Failure to get to services because they are far away
  • Lack of supportive others

By knowing what can help a person in recovery, families and supportive others can help fill in the gaps left by treatment services.

Heroin Relapse Risk Groups

Anyone can experience a relapse while in recovery, but research shows several things increase the chances:

  • Anxiety-related mental health issues lonely homeless man
  • No personal connections to lead them through treatment
  • Bad experiences while in treatment or with a treatment provider
  • Idleness
  • No support with finances, jobs, or other life issues once they get out of treatment

Also, users are used to instant gratification. Therefore, waiting lists to begin treatment or between levels of treatment increase the chance of relapse.
For example, one might wait a week to get into an inpatient program following detoxification. On the other hand, they might be waiting to get into an outpatient program following an inpatient program. Most users relapse within days of exiting a treatment program.

What to Do in Case of Relapse

The best option to consider in case of relapse is to consider medication-assisted treatment as an option. These medications significantly decrease the risk of death by overdose. They will cut physical cravings and withdrawal symptoms, and block the high.
Evaluate the treatment. If the ex-heroin addict in recovery is not involved in a comprehensive treatment program according to best practices, consider available options. Then, fill in the areas not covered and help them with those areas outside of treatment services. After all, heroin overdose drug Is not the only help an addict needs to fight their addiction.
For example, if treatment only focuses on behavioral triggers, one could consider supplementing that with the pursuit of education or vocational training.

Seeking Treatment After Relapse

Heroin relapse can and does occur sometimes. This should not be the end of the road. The best way to recover from a relapse is to face it head-on by seeking the right treatment.
Here are some of the steps that will help get ahead of a relapse.

  • Recognize the relapse and accept the weakness
  • Understand the triggers and avoid them
  • Come up with a plan to the fight addiction
  • Get professional help from a medical rehab facility or professional
  • Seek help from people who understand what it means to be an addict. These might include former heroin addicts.
Getting help for a relapse is a great idea because the consequences are too dire. Street heroin is not usually in its purest form, thanks to heroin cuts made by unscrupulous dealers. These cuts involve impurities that could have adverse effects on the body. This is just one of the reasons why one should fight addiction as much as they could.

Even in situations where coming back from a relapse is hindered by financial constraints,  one could look for helpful alternatives such as rehab without insurance.
Preventing a relapse from happening might not be easy, neither is bouncing back from a relapse. But it is doable. Like with all cases where treatment for drug addiction occurs, one should understand that the battle to staying clean is hardly won alone.

Help Line Woman

Hope Without Commitment

Find the best treatment options.
Call our free and confidential helpline

Most private insurances accepted

Marketing fee may apply

Medically Reviewed By Michael Espelin APRN
Olivier George

About Author

Olivier George, Ph.D.

Olivier George is a medical writer and head manager of the rehab center in California. He spends a lot of time in collecting and analyzing the traditional approaches for substance abuse treatment and assessing their efficiency.


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