Home » Tying together relapse and rising death tolls

Tying together relapse and rising death tolls

Posted on: January 12th, 2016 in Recovery No Comments


The relapse rate of people treated for substance use disorders ranges between 40 to 60 percent depending on the drug and the severity of the condition, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. Furthermore, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has measured that national overdose deaths for various substances have steadily risen since 2001, with approximately one in four deaths now attributable to alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drug use. Interestingly enough, these proportions are not only prevalent, but related as well.

How long-term addiction and relapse leads to overdose

Many accidental deaths within recovering populations are due to the drop in tolerance that occurs during sobriety, as told by Scott Krakower, M.D., at Zucker Hillside Hospital in New York. After Philip Seymour Hoffman’s overdose in 2014, he explained, “In the past they may have built up tolerance to drugs, but when they relapse and take the same amount of drugs they used in the past, they die.”

Professor James C. Garbutt, M.D., of the University of North Carolina delved into the science behind the body’s resilient nature and how it contributes to unintentionally fatal outcomes. In the context of opiate addiction and recovery, he said, “When people get sober, the receptors in their brain and the chemical mechanisms which process the drug become more sensitive, and the reaction to the opiate becomes more pronounced.”

Avoiding overdose by preventing relapse

With this uncovered connection between relapse and overdose in mind, Americans can lower mortality rates by cutting out the source. In a study conducted by Michelle Tuten from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, participants provided with a combination of drug-free recovery housing and an intensive day-treatment program were shown to increase the likelihood of abstinence by almost 10 times.

Even after receiving treatment, it is important to view addiction as a chronic disease. Although initial treatments like detox may physically remove addictive chemicals from the body, psychological dependencies can last much longer in the mind. Therapy can help dissolve these mental fixations, but quality treatment takes time.

Time heals all wounds … and cravings

An eye-opening 2007 study on sobriety after receiving treatment was a testament to time’s powerful effect on relapse. Researcher Michael L. Dennis, Ph.D., from Chestnut Health Systems found that in regards to its duration and other aspects of recovery:

  • 67 percent of former substance abusers will continue using drugs before their first year of recovery.
  • Between 20 to 50 percent of former substance abusers will continue using drugs within the first two years of recovery.
  • 15 percent of former substance abusers will continue using drugs after five years of recovery.

Without ongoing treatment and support, relapse is also more likely to happen. If you or a loved one has experienced chronic relapse or any other hurdles in recovery, our clinicians and case managers at Sovereign Health are equipped to manage any behavioral health issue that could burden one’s mind and body. Call our 24/7 helpline or visit us online to speak with an admissions specialist at any time.

Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer

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