Drug Overdose Symptoms & Prevention

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Table of Contents

What is a drug overdose?

Drug overdoses are characterized by overconsumption of a substance which can be prescription or over-the-counter drugs obtained legally or illegally. Simply put, a drug overdose occurs any time a user takes more than the recommended amount of the substance, but it can also apply anytime the user has taken enough to have a harmful reaction. Sometimes this is intentional, but more often the overdose is accidental. Many of the drugs that can cause an overdose also create a dependency in the user. These drugs require the user to need more of the drug to feel its effects. If someone has developed a tolerance to the substance, they are especially at increased risk of experiencing an overdose.

man experiencing a drug overdose

Overdosing is extremely serious and can lead to severe complications including death, so it should never be taken lightly. If you are witnessing an overdose immediately call 911. Never leave the victim of an overdose. Wait with them until help arrives and accompany them to the emergency room if you can. Bring any empty bottles you see with you as these can help quickly identify the cause of the overdose. Before help arrives, lay the victim on their side to help keep their airways open. This could save your friend or loved one’s life!

The severity of the overdose is based on multiple factors including which drug was overdosed, how much was consumed, and the health or medical history of the overdose victim. This applies to both prescription and illicit/illegal drugs. The longer the misuse continues, the more likely the user will experience an overdose. The risk of overdosing is even greater if the drugs are consumed with alcohol, combined with other drugs, or if the user also takes other drugs…even if they aren’t being taken at the same time. Additionally, the likelihood of overdosing increases dramatically if the user has experienced an overdose before. 

If someone has a history of mental disorders this can also be a risk factor for a drug overdose. Experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts can both cause someone to want to abuse drugs especially if these symptoms go untreated. It is important for people who struggle with mental health to get the help that they need without worrying about the stigma of seeking treatment. It is also crucial that we destigmatize the treatment of drug abuse syndromes. Depending on the drug, many users will need medical supervision and treatment (such as methadone or suboxone) to stop.

Drug Overdose Deaths

In the United States, there has been a steady rise in drug abuse which in turn has been accompanied by a rise in drug overdose fatalities. In 2018, there were 67,367 drug overdose deaths in the United States alone according to the CDC. The majority of these cases (almost 70%) were linked to overdoses of opioids or opioid synthetics. 

Since a drug overdose affects the entire body, the way a drug overdose presents in a victim can vary depending on individual factors. For instance, vital signs such as heart rate, temperature, blood pressure, and breathing could be either too low, too high, or not register at all which can cause the overdose to be fatal. Keep reading for which drugs cause overdose and more signs of overdose.

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Drugs That Can Cause an Overdose

  1. Prescription and Synthetic Opioids (morphine, oxycodone, fentanyl, etc.)
  2. Psychostimulants (especially Methamphetamine or Angel Dust)
  3. Cocaine
  4. Barbiturates
  5. Heroin
  6. Benzodiazepines
  7. Antidepressants

Signs of a Drug Overdose

Depressant Overdoses

Drugs that slow the central nervous system (affecting breathing and heart rate) such as opioids and benzodiazepines are known as depressants. These can be fatal or cause permanent brain damage, especially when used in combination or with alcohol. Signs of depressant drug (heroin, morphine, oxycodone, OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, fentanyl, methadone) overdose include:

  • shallow breathing or no breathing 
  • gurgling sounds (can be a sign of blocked airways)
  • blue lips or fingertips
  • limp arms and legs
  • unresponsive to stimulus
  • disoriented
  • loss of consciousness

There are many varying factors when it comes to how a person will react to overdosing on drugs. It can take hours in some instances or much less time in others.

Stimulant Overdoses

Stimulants such as amphetamines cause people to be more alert, confident, and have more energy. In large doses, however, they can wreak havoc on the nervous system by speeding it up. An overdose increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, or seizure, and it can sometimes result in dangerous psychotic episodes. Watch for the following signs and symptoms of overdose:

  • chest pain
  • disorientation/confusion
  • severe headache
  • seizures
  • high temperature
  • difficulty breathing
  • paranoia
  • hallucinations
  • unconsciousness

What happens after a drug overdose?

After a drug overdose, there are treatments available to assist recovery. Emergency personnel will monitor the victim’s vitals and attempt life-saving procedures as needed. Some of these include intubation, stomach pumping, and therapeutic drugs (these will be based on what kind of overdose has occurred). Drug screenings and psychiatric evaluations may be performed to establish the victim’s history of drug abuse. Attention will be especially paid to the victim’s mental health if it’s determined that the overdose was intentional. Detox is an important first step after an overdose. People who experience an overdose are at high risk of overdosing again because their bodies can no longer handle the amount of drugs they need to experience a high. Just detoxing alone may not be enough to completely stop abusing drugs, but it will help build a solid foundation for recovery. Medically supervised detox and rehab may be what you need to get your life back.

Call us for drug or alcohol abuse help

Drug overdoses are preventable, and there are treatment and counseling options available to you or your loved one. At the American Addiction Institute of Mind & Medicine, we know that drug addiction can happen to anyone, regardless of their background. We provide a customized Intensive Out-Patient program to patients struggling with drug or alcohol addiction all over Orange County, CA. 

Every patient requires a different approach, which is why we offer a wide range of services to help them led by the local Orange County drug rehab specialist, Faried Banimahd, MD. Patients and their families can choose which path is best suited for them after consulting with our experts. Call us today!

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