The Heartbreak of 'Just One More High'

Have you lost a friend or loved one to a drug or alcohol addiction?  Many understand the pain associated with “just one more high”, especially if the person was in recovery. Read on to learn about the link between relapse and death. Nurses Announcements Archive


  • Columnist
    Specializes in Clinical Leadership, Staff Development, Education.

In the recovery community, you will lose people you love. At first, you will be shocked when you hear news of a friend’s overdose, suicide or accident. You will grieve, attend funerals and lean on others for comfort and support. You may even struggle with your own sobriety. Your drug of choice may begin tapping your shoulder, saying “I can help you to escape the pain of grief”.

The Purpose of the Recovery Community

In the past few months, I have lost several friends to addiction and am feeling the weight of cumulative grief. I have been in recovery for alcoholism for over 3 years and am a member of a large recovery community. I benefit from other nurses and am able to relate to their experiences. A “recovery community” is a group of people supporting each other as they do the hard work of getting clean/sober and the hard work of staying clean/sober. I participate in several recovery groups (Alcoholics Anonymous, Nurse Support Group, Caduceus, and others).

After 3 years of sobriety, I stay connected with my recovery group for 2 reasons:

  • To stay sober and avoid relapse, and
  • To be an example, support others and give back

Having a support system of others, that you can relate to, is important for anyone in recovery. For nurses, it also helps in working through the shame and guilt experienced from a professional standpoint.

We Do Recover

Many people, just like myself, do recover and rebuild joyful lives. This is the most important reality of addiction. The likelihood of long-term sobriety increases with each consecutive year spent in sobriety.

I am writing this article because of the pain that comes with losing someone you love to substance abuse. “Losing someone” refers to more than just a death. It starts with the loss we experience because of the behaviors, choices and insanity that comes with addiction. I don’t want to paint a “hopeless” picture, there is always hope and it is absolutely obtainable.

What Does It Mean to Relapse?

Relapse is when someone starts to use or drink again after a period of sobriety. Relapse usually begins with cravings or increased thoughts about a substance of choice. People in recovery often return to substance abuse because it is a familiar (although ineffective), coping mechanism. When someone relapses, it is a way to for them to learn more about what is needed to experience long-term sobriety.

Relapse Statistics

Setbacks and relapse often occur in recovery, although relapse it is not necessary in order to maintain sobriety over a long period of time. Between 40 and 60 percent of people with an alcohol or drug addiction will relapse. A relapse on opioids (prescription pain medications and heroin) carries more risk because they suppress the central nervous system and slow breathing.

No One Is Immune

Addiction and death related to substance abuse can happen to anyone. It is non-discriminatory across age, gender, race, social status, and occupation. Here is a glimpse at a few individuals I have lost in my recovery community.

  • A new first-time grandparent and business manager. Died from a heroin overdose after multiple months of sobriety.
  • A nurse with 10+ years’ experience. Overdosed on a mix of opioids and benzodiazepines.
  • A 20-something college student. Died from a head injury (fall) while intoxicated after 2 years sobriety.

Why So Dangerous?

When someone has been substance-free for a period of time, they’re at risk of overdose increases. This is true regardless of how sobriety was achieved, through formal treatment or other methods (“cold-turkey”, imprisonment, ect.) This is because their tolerance level is not what is was when they were in active addiction. I have often heard the words “it went bad so fast and was much worse” from someone who is describing their substance use following a period of abstinence. A dose that was once habit, may now be fatal.

Where to Start?

The issues, frustration and grief surrounding substance abuse can easily become overwhelming. It can be hard finding a “starting point” when trying to personally make a difference. Educating yourself on the issues affecting you is a great first step. Here are some resources you can check out:

Have you experienced grief with the relapse of a patient or someone close to you?

NutmeggeRN, BSN

2 Articles; 4,619 Posts

Specializes in kids.

Stay Strong!

Specializes in OMFS, Dentistry.

Just lost a friend last week. She was an RN for 12 years, somehow got caught up in substance abuse (hid it very well) recently let go from her hospital d/t diversion of narcotics. At this point, I believe she thought her life and career were over and took her own life. OD on purpose.

It is very hard to wrap my head around still... wishing I knew more, try to help, the whole nine yards.


+ Add a Comment

By using the site, you agree with our Policies. X