A lot can happen when you take more than the usual or recommended dose of a drug. Sometimes, you could experience mild symptoms like loss of coordination. But in extreme cases, you may end up with severe, harmful symptoms or even death. This is called an overdose.
Usually, your body’s metabolism can get rid of the substance, neutralizing the harmful effects. But if the drug level exceeds the threshold that your body can metabolize, the drug’s side effects can harm you physically and mentally.
An overdose happens when you take a toxic amount of a medicine or drug. It can be intentional or accidental:
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there have been 841,000 drug overdose deaths since 1999.
In 2019 alone, 70,630 overdose deaths happened in the US. Of this number, about 70% involved an opioid, mainly synthetic opioids. Cocaine, on the other hand, accounted for 15,000 overdose deaths in the US in 2017. The misuse of and addiction to opioids is a crisis that affects public health.
The most recent data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that about 100,306 people died from a drug overdose in the US during the 12 months ending April 2021.
An overdose is a medical emergency that needs immediate medical attention. Seek medical advice if you exhibit the following symptoms after taking a drug, alcohol, or a combination of both. You can also call 911 for urgent cases.
With that in mind, let’s look at what happens to your body when you overdose.
What happens to your body when you overdose?
When you overdose, chances are you won’t be aware of what’s happening. However, those around you will spot some or all of the symptoms discussed above. Usually, that’s because of how the drugs interact with your body.
When you overdose on opioids, your body temperature, heart rate, and breathing may drop to dangerously low levels, causing suffocation, heart attack, or brain damage. Your veins may collapse and suppress the normal flow of blood throughout the body. You may also find it hard to spit or swallow because of the suppression of the gag reflex.
Opioid overdose may disrupt the normal functioning of receptors between the heart and brain, leading to slow heart rate or no heart rate at all. Slow breathing translates to low oxygen levels and abnormal heart rhythms.
Opioids may also limit oxygen flow to the brain and cause permanent brain damage within four minutes of oxygen deprivation. They may cause seizures that further damage the brain. In extreme cases, this damage can leave you paralyzed and unable to speak.
Overdosing on stimulants or overamping causes the opposite symptoms to overdosing on opioids. Patients experience chest pain, passing out, irregular breathing, racing heart, sweating, feeling hot, high blood pressure, weakness, shaking, or stroke. Overdosing to cocaine is particularly bad and can cause stroke or heart attack.
Other things that might happen when you overdose:
There are different treatments for a drug overdose. Your doctor will determine the right one for you based on the type of drugs involved and symptoms. They may:
You’ll need to see a doctor for a follow-up to ensure no delayed injuries to any body organ. If it was an intentional overdose, follow-up also ensures that there are systems in place to prevent a recurrence.
Once a deliberate overdose is managed and you are out of immediate medical danger, you’ll need psychiatric care. You may also be considered for a mental health evaluation. Getting support for mental or substance abuse problems can be helpful.
If it’s a child, they’ll need help dealing with the trauma and learning from the mistake. A follow-up can reduce anxiety and educate the child and the parent.
Keep all medications in a safe and secure place to prevent accidental overdose. In case it’s an unintentional, illicit drug overdose, it’s best to get away from access to the drugs to prevent the problem from recurring.
If it’s an intentional overdose, you’ll need to address the underlying problem fast. Addiction treatment can help reverse the effects of substance abuse and get you on the path to recovery.
Summertime is a fun time, especially for teens and young adults. It’s hard to get bored on a summer day or night. That’s because there are plenty of parties, music festivals, trips and camping going on. But along with the fun, comes the risk of using drugs and alcohol.
Drugs and alcohol are a mainstay for most summer parties and events. And with all the free time and no commitment, teens are more inclined to indulge in use. Drug use can lead to addiction and overdose. But the hot weather also increases the risk of overheating, which may spiral out to other serious problems. So, before throwing caution to the wind during this season, you need to consider how impactful a single wrong decision can be.
A study by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) that ran from 2011 to 2017 shows that most teens and young adults tried out recreational or illegal drugs for the first time during summer.
Surprising? This should be more concerning than surprising as the seasonal environment tends to increase exposure to drugs.
Here are the top factors that make drug use so rampant during summer:
Summer tends to come just when you are done with your semester or free to enjoy longer holiday weekends. This gives you so much free time on your hands and room to be introduced to drugs and alcohol.
Who stays indoors in such hot weather? Summer plans are meant to be as exciting as possible, which is why it is the period that outdoor activities and social gatherings peak. Nevertheless, as you hop from one party or event to the next, there is no limit to the number of drugs and amount of alcohol you will get exposed to.
It is great that you received a nod from your parents/guardians to go for that camping trip or have your holiday by the beach. This means there is no adult to watch your actions as you spend time with daring friends who are willing to try out anything. Unfortunately, this also means lots of drugs and alcohol will be coming your way.
Summer might be the best time for outdoor activities and getting in touch with family and friends, but it is also a dangerous time to use drugs. The high heat and humidity experienced means that you need to quickly cool off to avoid overheating. This is why your body naturally increases blood flow to the skin, which acts as a radiator, and you sweat more to increase heat loss.
But, these well-coordinated biological processes do not remain the same when you take drugs. The disruption that most recreational and illegal drugs cause to your body’s natural cooling mechanism is extremely dangerous as it increases your risks of overheating.
Generally, most drugs will mess you up regardless of the weather and should be avoided at all costs. During summer, the odds are higher, and here are the most dangerous drugs to use when it is hot:
A recent publication in the Annals of Internal Medicine authored by Dr. Craig Crandall describes cocaine as a double-edged sword during summer. On the one hand, this is because it affects your body’s ability to regulate temperatures naturally. But, on the other hand, it gets you agitated, yet you don’t feel hot.”
Studies by the National Institute on Drug Abuse have further shown that cocaine-related deaths spike in summers. In addition, the risk of heat stroke or sudden shock and death is higher when you use cocaine because it leads to increased heart rate, confusion, having too much energy, and promotes blood clotting.
The most popular drug in outdoor music festivals for teens and young adults is MDMA or Ecstasy, or Molly, commonly used in pill form. Unfortunately, while it is used as a ‘rave drug’ that helps get into a party mood, it affects your ability to regulate body temperatures and increases heart rate and blood pressure. The results are often catastrophic as it leads to hypothermia, a life-threatening condition when urgent medical care is not provided.
Another drug that is taking the day across the United States is mephedrone or bath salts. This is a synthetic drug often sold as plant food, decorative sand, or toy cleaner.
However, bath salts are nothing close to the veil they wear as a ‘safe product.’ Used in hot weather, it causes increased heart rate and disrupts your ability to regulate body temperature. This can easily lead to heat stroke or death when emergency medical attention is not provided. It also has severe side effects such as teeth clenching and can quickly become addictive.
It is saddening that heroin use among teenagers and young adults is on the rise. This illegal drug commands a big share of the opioid epidemic that has affected the nation. It has severe effects when used during hot weather and could easily cause hypothermia, leaving you unconscious or in a coma.
Having legal access to alcohol as a young adult does not mean your summer should be all about binge drinking. Drinking alcohol in hot weather will see you quickly lose body water & nutrients, disrupt heat regulation, and impair your judgment. This will cause your body to overheat, increasing the risk of dehydration or heat stroke.
Summers should be a time of creating good memories by bonding with your friends and family. As you grow older, these memories will make some of the best highlights in your life. In turn, the last thing you need to do is let the seasonal environment or party wave influence you to start taking drugs.
If you have already started taking drugs, be sure not to turn into a long-term addict. In addition, there is no fun in having your body overheat because of using drugs in hot weather. This could quickly turn fatal, turning a happy summer into a dreadful moment for you and your loved ones.
Since it is becoming more challenging to avoid exposure to drugs, especially during summer, it is best to talk to a substance abuse counselor. This way, you will be better prepared to go through your teenage years and young adult life without abusing drugs. It also helps never to forget that summer fun does not have to involve indulgence in drugs.
People abuse drugs for various reasons. Some do so to fit in, to seem more mature, or to experiment. Others use drugs to escape, to relieve boredom, or rebel. They see drugs as a solution or a way to cope with a situation. But since most of these drugs are highly addictive, they often end up being the problem. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, illicit drug use can lead to dependence, addiction, and in worst cases, the drugs can kill you.
You’ve probably heard that drugs are dangerous one too many times; it’s getting hard to believe. But all drugs, including prescription pain relievers, have real potential for harm. Prescription drugs can kill you - irrespective of whether you use them alone, or you mix them with other drugs. Vital statistics show that the death toll from abuse and misuse of such drugs is steadily rising. And if you don’t stop using, you could be part of these statistics soon.
Most drug fatalities result from a combination of factors, not just the drug itself. For example:
Stimulants like cocaine flood the brain with norepinephrine and dopamine, creating euphoric effects while boosting focus and confidence. They also stimulate the cardiovascular system – and that’s where the danger comes in. Cocaine causes rapid or irregular heart rate, blood vessel constriction, and increased blood pressure.
The constriction of blood vessels means less oxygen supply to the heart muscle and can cause a heart attack. Cocaine users are 23 times more likely to have a heart attack than those who don’t use. No wonder cocaine is referred to as the perfect heart attack drug.
When opioids and other depressants, get to the brain, they bind to mu-opioid receptors and activate them. This produces euphoric effects but also triggers a series of physical and psychological actions. Opioids produce respiratory-depressing effects. As a result, fatal overdose victims often die from respiratory depression (choking to death) because they cannot get enough oxygen to feed the demand of their body’s organs.
A drug overdose happens when a person takes too much of a substance or a mix of substances. This is so even if it was an accidental overdose. People can overdose on alcohol, prescription drugs, illicit drugs, and other substances. In many cases, overdoses are fatal.
But those who get immediate medical attention can be saved. As mentioned earlier, drugs can overwhelm the body in different ways. But the most common cause of death during an overdose is respiratory failure.
The signs of an overdose depends on the type of drug involved. Overdose deaths involve sleepiness, confusion, and coma. Other factors can include:
Accidental overdose is the leading cause of death in the US for people under 50 years. Drug overdose deaths now surpass deaths from homicides, car accidents, firearms, or HIV/AIDS. In 2017 alone, more Americans died due to drug overdose than they did in the entire Vietnam War. Of these deaths, nearly 66% involved illicit drugs or prescription opioids.
In 2019, more than 70,000 Americans died from a drug overdose. And the drug overdose trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down. According to recent provisional data from the CDC, the number of overdose deaths shot to 81,000 deaths in 2020. This increase is attributable to the pandemic and its negative impacts on lives, especially of those struggling with substance use disorders.
The addiction epidemic was already a significant problem across the US. But the pandemic has only made the problem worse. Its spread has sent people into panic. And with long term travel restrictions, social isolation, economic shock, disrupted access to addiction support, and increased mental health distress, people turn to drug use and misuse trying to cope.
In 2018, there were 14,666 overdose deaths involving cocaine in the US, according to a CDC report. This represents about a 2.5% rate increase in cocaine-involved deaths in 2018 than in 2014. The report says that the overdose death rates attributed to cocaine that has been cut with synthetic opioids, like fentanyl increased faster in recent years than did deaths from pure cocaine. Among 70,237 drug overdose deaths in 2017, about 23,139 or 32% involved cocaine, psychostimulants, or both.
50,000 of the 2019 drug deaths were from an opioid overdose. The abuse of and addiction to opioids, including heroin, prescription drugs, and fentanyl, is a severe crisis that affects public health and economic and social welfare. CDC estimates the annual economic burden of prescription opioid abuse alone in the US to be $78.5b. This includes the cost of addiction treatment, health care, lost productivity, and criminal justice involvement.
States across the US are reporting a sharp increase in fentanyl-involved overdose deaths. Fentanyl overdoses can happen within seconds to minutes of use. The sad part is many users don’t seem to be looking for fentanyl and have no idea that the drug they’re using contains fentanyl.
Meth-related deaths are also rising across the US, according to NIDA. Overall data shows overdose rates rose from less than 0.8 to 4.5 per 100,000 women and 2 to 10 per 100,000 men, a more than fivefold rise from 2011 to 2018.
Call 911 if you suspect a drug overdose. Emergency help can save a life. General treatment strategies involve:
Overdose deaths remain a critical problem across our nation. If you have prescription medicines, ensure that you use them according to the doctor’s recommendations. Overdose occurring from prescription drugs often happens when they are used in ways not advised by your doctor.
Quitting drug use is also a great way to prevent overdose. If you are having a hard time quitting, you should seek professional help. Addiction treatment centers in Texas and across the US have therapists and physicians who can help address mental and physical health issues.
People use drugs for a range of reasons. Some to fit in, rebel, or even just to escape their reality. Others use drugs to experiment, relax, or release boredom. Drugs excite the parts of the brain that make you feel good – but they also do so much more harm, as you'll notice in this article. Some very real dangers come into play when mixing drugs with other substances.
Drugs are anything but equal. Sedatives like heroin, alcohol, and benzodiazepines have a numbing effect and tend to slow down body and brain functions. Stimulants like cocaine, ecstasy, crack, and amphetamines can give users a rush of energy and make them more alert. Hallucinogens, like psilocybin mushrooms and LSD, tend to alter the way users see, feel, smell, taste, or hear.
When taken in large quantities, sedatives can be fatal; stimulants can trigger panic attacks or anxiety; and hallucinogens can cause erratic or dangerous behaviors. But the question is what would happen when these drugs are mixed together?
Polydrug use is when users mix drugs or take one drug while still under another drug's influence. It can include the use of illegal drugs, alcohol, over-the-counter medications, and prescription drugs. People mix drugs for a range of reasons, with the most common ones being:
The problem with using more than one drug at any given time is that the effects become even more unpredictable. It is not always possible to tell the exact impact of a single drug or drug dose. Drug use affects each person differently. Sometimes, a person can use the same amount of a specific drug on separate occasions and have different effects each time. The difference happens due to reasons like:
It is hard to predict the effects of a single drug. But it is even harder to predict the effects of multiple drugs. In addition to the factors above, the effect of multiple drug use may vary based on the mixture's contents. Blending drugs with the same physical effects – like two or more sedatives or two or more hallucinogens) can be particularly dangerous. The blend is riskier because it amplifies pleasurable and adverse effects. Combining drugs like cocaine and ecstasy will elevate the ‘high’ and also increase the risk of a heart attack.
One of the most significant risks of mixing drugs is "combined drug intoxication (CDI)." CDI happens when two or more substances are taken simultaneously and can lead to life-threatening conditions like seizures, heart problems, coma, brain damage, liver damage and failure, stomach bleeding, and even death. There were 67,367 drug overdose deaths in the US in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention report.
Although we like to think about these drugs in isolation, for example, "fentanyl overdose deaths," a recent study by the National Center for Health Statistics revealed that most drug overdose deaths involve a mix of two or more drugs.
Many different types of lethal drug combinations exist and contribute to the raging drug overdose epidemic in the US. According to the Center for Disease and Control Prevention analysis, many opioid deaths also include other drugs.
A drug overdose doesn't necessarily happen because of taking too much of a single drug or alcohol. In fact, it mostly occurs when users overdose from a drug combination. Here are some examples of how mixing drugs can kill:
1. People mix two or more drugs – often the same class of depressants or stimulants – assuming that taking half of the usual dose of each of these drugs at a time will produce a similar effect, but it's not the case. Even a small amount of another depressant or stimulant can increase the impact - way beyond what would have been taken individually.
The effect is particularly fatal with depressants like synthetic opioids, alcohol, and tranquilizers like barbiturates and benzodiazepines. These drugs depress the central nervous system, which controls the respiratory system and heartbeat. Depressants slow down breathing and reduce heart rate. This, in turn lowers the blood pressure and the amount of oxygen that flows to the brain, leading to hypoxia. As a result, rapid cell death occurs in the brain and consequently causes brain damage or death.
2 Mixing stimulants and depressants – this sends contradicting messages to the body, impairing its function. The respiratory, cardiovascular and nervous system are put into a frenzy with simultaneous conflicting messages to slow down and speed up. This causes severe consequences and can lead to coma, fatal overdose, cardiac arrest, slowed breathing and in some cases, death.
3. A single drug – like a prescription drug or a glass of wine – may not impair a person's ability to drive. However, a combination of a glass of wine and the prescription drug may exponentially increase the effects of both so that the user may show signs of severe impairment. Driving while under the influence of mixed drugs can lead to severe injury or death of self and/or others.
4. Mixing alcohol and cocaine can be dangerous, especially when both these drugs are broken down in the liver simultaneously. When both drugs are present, the liver produces cocaethylene, a harmful chemical that stays in the body for extended periods and may increase the chance of heart attack, seizures, and even sudden death. Cocaethylene can also cause cardiac arrhythmia, brain damage and aneurysm.
5. Benzodiazepines mixed with alcohol, severely increases the deadly risk. Both of these drugs affect the same neurotransmitters. Their combination amplifies the intoxicating effects of alcohol and benzos and causes memory loss, hallucinations, impaired coordination, intense dizziness, severe depression, and even suicidal thoughts. The combination also depresses breathing, slows down the heart rate, causes seizures, and results in loss of consciousness, coma and death.
Anyone willing to risk their lives for recreational or social reasons has a serious drug use problem. The same applies to those who use drugs to try to overcome their mental health issues like anxiety, depression, or stress. People with polydrug addictions need intense addiction treatment and therapies because of the augmented damage their brains have sustained from the use.
You’ve heard the saying, “too much of something is poisonous.” But it couldn’t be more true that it is with substance abuse. A prescription drug keeps the pain away. And a glass of alcohol makes you merrier at the end of the day. However, with continued use, you risk building tolerance, dependence, addiction – and eventually, overdosing.
It’s easy to assume that “stable” substance use shields you from overdosing – but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, an article on CNN showed that long-term heroin users who end up with fatal overdoses are likely to have the same levels as those who overdose and survive.
The reality is that anyone can overdose from drugs or alcohol. There’s just no way to predict who and when. But later on in this article, we will discuss some factors that put one at higher risk for overdose.
A drug overdose is a medical emergency that happens when you consume a mix or too much of a substance. You can overdose on alcohol, prescription medications, illegal drugs and other substances. Overdoses are usually fatal, but most people who overdose can be saved if they get medical attention soon enough.
That’s why it is essential to familiarize yourself with the following signs and symptoms, should you find yourself in such a situation where you, or a loved one might be overdosing.
You’ll know you are overdosing when you notice some evident changes in your eyes. Narcotics like fentanyl, hydrocodone, morphine, and heroin cause the pupils to constrict, eyelids to become heavy, and eyes to water.
Changes in eye’s general motion or color are signs of intoxication. Red eyes are a common symptom of overdose for several drugs, especially marijuana, cocaine, and alcohol. This is because of the expansion of blood vessels in the eyes.
Here are some common signs of a drug overdose indicated by the eyes:
An opioid overdose causes a slow, irregular breathing pattern. If you are overdosing on opioids, you may become unresponsive or unconscious and notice that your fingernails or lips are blue. This is due to a low oxygen supply. Identifying these symptoms quickly could mean the difference between life and death, considering opioid overdoses kill about 128 people each day in the US.
Stimulants may have an opposite effect to opioids. They tend to increase the heart rate and cause chest pain, palpitations, and even stroke or cardiac arrest. When your heart is overly stressed, it may cause small muscle tears, bleeding, and severe pain.
Some common signs of overdose indicated by the heart and chest include:
Depressant overdose may result in loss of consciousness. Stimulant overdose, on the other hand, will cause aggressiveness, agitation, and anxiety. When you overdose on stimulants, depressants, or both, you may find that you are violent or aggressive – and that your behavior is largely unpredictable.
You may also feel confused and disoriented. In this case, you’ll find that you’re talking rapidly or nonsensically. You may fall, stumble, scream, or cry. And even if you are still conscious, you may notice that you aren’t in touch with your surroundings or able to maintain balance. So basically, you’ll know you are overdosing when you are:
Of course, you won’t know about your unresponsiveness or unconsciousness until later on when you recover. Unconsciousness happens when the brain cells shut down because of the overwhelming amount of toxins in your body.
Vomiting is your body’s way of getting rid of any toxic substance from the gastrointestinal system. It is perhaps the easiest way to tell you are overdosing since it’s more of a physical reaction. Sadly, you may vomit while unconscious, which makes it a choking hazard because you won’t be able to expel it. If this happens, you may suffer brain damage or even death. Vomiting is often accompanied by nausea.
Overdosing from alcohol or stimulants, like cocaine or methamphetamine comes with a risk of seizures. A seizure is a medical emergency; therefore, calling 911 as soon as you notice early signs like trembling and shivering can help save a life.
In extreme cases of drugs or alcohol overdose, you may end up dead. Drug overdose deaths are so common that there were 67,367 cases in the US in 2018 alone. While data for 2019 and 2020 has yet to be finalized, provisional data from the CDC suggests that drug overdose deaths are on a steady increase. The provisional data from 2020 shows a 13.2% increase in drug overdose deaths from the prior year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids, particularly synthetic opioids, are the main driver of drug overdose death.
These are only a few signs and symptoms of overdose – and they may vary from person to person. If you are experiencing an overdose, you should get immediate attention from medical professionals. Calling 911 can be a great way to access emergency help. The operator will ask about your symptoms and provide critical information about the things you should do as you wait for the ambulance to arrive.
You can overdose unintentionally for a range of reasons – like when you:
In many cases, drug overdoses are unintentional. When you start taking a drug, your body builds tolerance. So you’ll need to take more and more to achieve the same effect you did when you started. Failure to do so will lead to withdrawal symptoms.
In unintentional overdose deaths, many events can happen that increase your chances of overdose. For instance, illegal street drugs often mix with other substances – so you may not know how much of the drug is in each hit. Again, since illicit drugs are never labeled, a hit can be more potent than you anticipated.
Other common risk factors for overdosing include:
But it is also possible to overdose intentionally, when seeking a desired effect – to harm yourself or get high. If you’re overdosing to harm yourself, you should know that there are better ways to deal with the “unmanageable feelings.”
Intentional overdose can happen when you have an untreated mental disorder like anxiety, depression, and so on. If this is the case, it’s essential to seek treatment through a licensed rehab center that knows how to treat comorbid health conditions.
A drug overdose is a medical emergency and should not go unreported. Many states apply the Good Samaritan laws that protect you or anyone who calls 911 to report the emergency. So you don’t have to worry about ending up on the wrong side of the law.
Substance use disorder is one of the main causes of drug overdosing. It is, therefore, critical to seek help soon to avoid the severe consequences of an overdose. While knowing the signs and symptoms of an overdose is essential, treatment at a rehab center is the best way to safely detox, identify any underlying mental health issues, recover and lead a healthy life.