A drug overdose happens when someone consumes too much of a drug, whether this is prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, or illicit substances. Fatal overdoses can occur, but with the proper medical attention and support, people are often able to survive an overdose.
If you or a loved one are using drugs, you may be worried about the risk of an overdose and what you can do to help. If you are concerned, it is essential to seek medical attention immediately. This post will explore some commonly used drugs, their overdose symptoms, and how long it takes to recover from the overdose.
Symptoms of An Overdose
In 2020 alone, according to the National Institute of Health, over 90,000 people died from drug overdoses in the United States. Non-fatal overdoses are even more common; knowing what to expect when an overdose occurs may help save a life.
Different drugs, how much is taken, and how they are taken determine the extent of the overdose symptoms. For example, when a drug is taken in pill form, the chemicals are released more slowly into the body compared to when a drug is injected. This means it is easier to take too much of something when injected, increasing the risk of an overdose.
An alcohol overdose, also known as alcohol poisoning, results from alcohol abuse. An overdose depends on many things, such as body weight, tolerance, and gender. Some symptoms include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Loss of consciousness
- Low body temperature
An opioid overdose can occur from both illegally produced substances and prescription opioids. Illegal opioids, including heroin or synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and prescription opioids, like hydrocodone, are highly addictive and have a high overdose rate. Many opioids suppress the respiratory system. During an overdose, a person suffers a failure to breathe, also known as respiratory depression. Other symptoms include:
- Loss of conciseness
- Breathing difficulties, e.g., labored breathing
- Pinpoint pupils
- Clammy skin
Benzodiazepines are prescription drugs that are taken for their calming effects. They act as central nervous system depressants that slow activity in the brain. Xanax, Valium, and Ambien are all examples of benzodiazepines. Overdose symptoms include:
- Blurred or double vision
- Breathing troubles
Stimulants such as cocaine are highly addictive. Cocaine is often taken on binges, making an overdose more likely to occur. Symptoms of a stimulant overdose include:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Extreme anxiety
A drug overdose can occur if a person takes two or more illicit substances, also known as polydrug use. Mixing drugs can be extremely harmful as the effects of the combination of different drugs can be unpredictable, more potent, and sometimes deadly. Benzodiazepine-related overdoses often involve the use of prescription medication alongside opioids.
If you are concerned that someone may be overdosing, you must immediately seek assistance from a medical professional.
How Long do Overdose Symptoms Last?
The length of a drug overdose heavily depends on how quickly medical attention is received, and it can be a life or death situation. For example, if someone is experiencing an opioid overdose, administration of Naloxone can reverse the effects.
How Long Does it Take to Recover From Drug Overdoses?
The length of time it takes to recover from an overdose can vary as there can be short-term and long-term effects. Ultimately, three key factors influence how long it will take for a person to recover from an overdose, these are:
- The dosage: Stronger doses of drugs can cause symptoms to occur faster and last longer.
- Type of drug: The type of drug used heavily influences how long it takes to recover. Some drugs may cause semi-permanent damage, such as liver damage or a brain injury.
- History of abuse: If someone has a history of substance abuse, the overdose may have occurred due to the consumption of one or more drugs at the same time. This causes more severe overdose symptoms and makes the recovery process longer.
What to do if You Witness a Drug Overdose?
If you believe you are witnessing someone overdose, you must consider it a medical emergency and immediately seek medical attention, no matter how severe you think the symptoms may be. Symptoms of a drug overdose can last from minutes to hours, but all can be fatal.
Many people fear seeking medical attention for an overdose in case of legal consequences. To encourage people to seek medical attention when witnessing or experiencing an overdose, 40 states now practice a Good Samaritan Law. This ensures that the people reporting the overdose are free from being arrested, charged, or prosecuted. Do not hesitate to call for emergency help if you think someone is overdosing. This is a potentially life-saving call or something that could prevent the person from experiencing long-term negative symptoms.
When waiting for emergency help, address immediate needs and medical issues. An emergency operator will most likely give you instructions to follow until somebody arrives. These may include:
- Do not leave the person who is overdosing alone
- Check pulse for slowed or increased heart rate
- Attempt to keep them awake
- Prevent them from losing consciousness
- If they are seizing (experiencing seizure), ensure the area is cleared of things on which they may injure themselves
- Keep their temperature down
Drug Overdose Treatment
After an overdose, it is essential to treat urgent medical issues that may have arisen due to the incident. Check for memory loss, abnormal vital signs, gastrointestinal problems, and any other physical problems that may require medical care.
If an overdose is intentional, the person will receive a mental health evaluation to see if psychiatric care is necessary. If a person is a danger to themselves, some treatment providers can request that they are committed to treatment. After a medical professional has assessed the person, they may evaluate them for a substance use disorder to determine whether substance abuse treatment is appropriate.
Although it can occur the first time using a drug, overdose is more typically the outcome of a substance use disorder. The most effective way to deal with this is through substance abuse treatment, where a person receives ongoing medical care. Discuss all options when receiving professional help to determine what options are best suited for you.
Substance Abuse Treatment
The most effective substance abuse treatment options include behavioral therapy and addiction medicine.
When first contacting treatment programs, a patient will complete an intake interview to help determine what treatment is best suited and assist in creating an individualized treatment plan.
Medical detox is first undergone; this can occur before attending. However, most treatment centers provide a medical detox program.
Several different forms of therapy and care can be used throughout the recovery journey. The main goal of any addiction treatment is to deal with any substance abuse problems or mental health issues that may be present and to aid patients in overcoming cravings, avoiding relapses, and to assist them in remaining sober throughout their recovery.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a proven clinically effective substance abuse treatment typically combined with behavioral therapy. Providers use FDA-approved medications that help treat overdose symptoms, control withdrawal, and reduce cravings to prevent a relapse.
At the end of most treatment programs, patients will have discussed aftercare plans to ensure that the progress made within treatment is continued throughout the recovery journey.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, do not wait for an overdose. A range of treatment options can aid you in your recovery.
NPAC is a leading addiction center that offers clients compassionate and expert staff who uphold clinical excellence.
We understand each individual’s unique recovery journey and will work with you to determine which treatment options are best suited. We combine FDA-approved medication with specialized therapeutic techniques to assist you in a successful and happy recovery.
Contact NPAC today to discuss how treatment programs could work for you.