Heroin addiction is one of the most frightening and challenging experiences anyone can go through. Often, the plight of the parents, siblings and partners of people going through this turmoil is overlooked. Your love and concern bring up intense and overwhelming feelings of joy when the sufferer stops using that turn to despair if they relapse. Substance use disorders cause people to become highly proficient at hiding their behavior, making it difficult to spot blips in their recovery. It is important to know the signs of heroin relapse in order to provide the necessary support and help the individual needs to get back on track.

There are warning signs of heroin relapse to watch out for, and the earlier you pick up on them, the better chance you have of helping your loved one. A relapse prevention plan is necessary for those in recovery, and it should include strategies to cope with triggers, stressors, and urges to use. Your priority should be getting them into inpatient heroin rehab, with experts recommending at least three months as the required length of a professional treatment. To overcome this relapsing disease, they require substance abuse detox, addiction therapy and to be taught coping mechanisms they can apply to everyday life.

Concept image for mood swings which is one of the signs of heroin relapse

The Three Stages of Relapse

Heroin relapse rates are high, and it is common for people in recovery to experience multiple relapses before achieving lasting sobriety. Relapse isn’t a single event during which the person suffering from addiction chooses to revert to their old habit. It’s a process that usually begins with feelings that they find impossible to cope with. It’s widely thought that there are three stages of relapse. They are:


Addiction is a chronic disease, not a choice, and before the sufferer physically turns back to heroin, they usually face several negative emotional responses. It’s important to remember that the brain of an addict sees using drugs as a coping mechanism, a solution to problems. The individual may start to withdraw from their support systems and internalize their feelings. Spotting the signs at this stage gives you the best chance of averting relapse.

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This stage of the relapse process is very traumatic for the person experiencing it and involves significant feelings of turmoil and conflict. On the one hand, they want to continue along the road to recovery, but the illness is imploring them to return to using. Once persistent thoughts of using again enter the mind of an addict, it can be almost impossible to resist. Often, it leads to the final stage of relapse.


This is the stage that most people associate with relapse and involves attempting to get drugs and consuming them. Using just one time can begin a cycle of craving that causes the sufferer to return to their old pattern. It’s imperative to get the individual into treatment as soon as possible to give them the best chance of long-term recovery from alcohol or drug abuse.


Family members and partners of those with substance abuse disorders should develop an awareness of triggers that can lead them to relapse. Some of these are almost universal, and mental health issues such as anxiety or depression are prevalent. When addicts have feelings they find difficult to cope with, they tend to turn to drugs instead of talking to try to work through them. Encouraging your loved one to speak can be one of the most important ways of helping them.


Young man raising his hands concept image for a successful recovery process

Signs of Heroin Relapse to Look Out for

  • Attitude shifts
  • Elevated stress levels
  • Secretive behavior and denial
  • Falling out of the routine that helped them to recover
  • Withdrawal from social network
  • Loss of control
  • Cessation of attending meetings or counseling sessions

If you’re in doubt, speak to an expert. Our drug treatment center in NC has a team of addiction specialists you can talk to at 252-715-3905 if you’re concerned that your loved one might be on the brink of relapse.

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