If you or someone you care about abuses drugs and Alcohol, an overdose could change your life forever.
Anyone who uses Alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both is at risk of experiencing an overdose, also known as an OD. Many celebrities have died from fatal overdoses, including Marilyn Monroe, Micheal Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Amy Winehouse, and each year in the United States an estimated 50,000 overdose deaths are recorded each year.
Overdose and the Body
You can overdose on virtually any kind of prescription, over-the-counter medication, street drug, Alcohol, and even some natural and herbal remedies. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to take massive amounts of drugs or drink large quantities of Alcohol to suffer from an overdose – in fact, you can even experience serious side effects from taking the same dosage you’ve already been using for days, weeks, or even months without incident.
Simply put, overdosing is when you ingest a toxic amount of a drug, Alcohol or a combination of different substances. You may overdose by accident, or you could take high doses of drugs and Alcohol deliberately to either harm yourself, seek attention or end your life.
Your risk of suffering from an overdose rises dramatically when you mix different substances together, such as drugs and Alcohol, prescription drugs and street drugs, or any combination of these.
Certain drugs alter how your body metabolizes other drugs, which can dramatically change the effect substances have on your cognitive abilities and physical well-being. For example, if you drink Alcohol and take Benzodiazepines, the depressant effects of both substances will be magnified, making the chance that you’ll overdose much higher than if you simply consumed Alcohol or only took Benzodiazepine.
In most cases, an overdose is a serious medical emergency – a person who is overdosing needs immediate medical help. Overdosing can cause life-threatening symptoms such as respiratory distress, cardiovascular failure, asphyxia, and seizures. Even if your symptoms aren’t life threatening, overdosing isn’t something you should take lightly – in fact, many addicted people view an overdose as the moment when they first realize the wide-reaching, negative consequences associated with their drug or Alcohol use.
Many people who abuse substances mistakenly believe that as long as they get emergency help quickly, they can recover from an overdose – unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
It’s important to understand that while antidotes like Naloxone or Narcan have helped save countless addicted people from fatally overdosing on Opiates, in some cases there is simply no treatment available to help reverse the effects of a drug overdose.
Overdosing is a truly frightening experience for everyone involved – the user, people who witness the overdose, and friends and loved ones of the substance abuser. Although it’s possible to suffer from a serious overdose and survive, many addicts who overdoes either die, or are left with permanent brain damage and severe mental health issues.
What Happens When You Overdose?
When you overdose, the symptoms you experience depend on a wide variety of factors such as what substances you’ve been using, how much of those substances you’ve consumed, and your overall health and wellness. While there are a wide variety of common signs and symptoms of overdose, it’s difficult to predict exactly how your body will respond to an overdose.
Overdosing on some substances can be very fast and fatal, while ingesting excessive amounts other substances will produce exceptionally uncomfortable symptoms that rarely lead to death.
For example, if you have a preexisting heart condition that makes you predisposed to having a slow resting heart rate and you take a depressant drug, your risk of overdosing is much higher than for someone who has no cardiovascular health issues.
If you overdose on depressants such as Opioids, Barbiturates, or Benzodiazepines, you’ll likely experience dangerous, and life-threatening symptoms such as a reduced heart rate and slowed respiration rate. This is because depressants work by slowing down the central nervous system to help produce a calming effect in people who suffer from severe anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and sleep disorders.
The risk of overdosing on depressants is exceptionally high, even when they are taken under the supervision of a doctor, because there is a very fine line between the therapeutic dose and a dose that slows down your heart and breathing rate to dangerously low levels.
If you overdose on a stimulant like Amphetamines, Cocaine, Ecstasy or Crystal Meth, you can expect to experience an escalation in your blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration rate – this can cause severe chest pain, debilitating headaches, and even seizures. You may feel confused, disorientated, and even agitated; you could become aggressive, paranoid, and suffer from distressing, vivid hallucinations. You may feel like your body is burning up from the inside, and breathing could be difficult. In extreme cases, you could have a fatal stroke or heart attack as a result of a stimulant overdose.
Overdosing on Alcohol is known as Alcohol poisoning, because drinking too much literally makes you sick. You could suffer from slow, or irregular breathing that can cause you to pass out or suffer from hypothermia, even if you’re inside or in a warm climate. Because Alcohol is both a depressant and an irritant to your gastro-intestinal system, when you overdose on Alcohol your gag reflex may stop working, even if you vomit – this can lead to death by asphyxiation.
If you’re able to get medical help when you overdose, the treatment you receive will depend largely on the type of drug you’ve overdosed on. In the case of Alcohol poisoning, you may have a tube inserted into your stomach through your mouth, also known as intubation, to keep your airway open and prevent you from choking on your own vomit. For other types of overdose, you may be given activated charcoal to prevent the drugs from entering your bloodstream; be injected with an antidote; or have your stomach pumped out using a mechanical pump.
The CDC reported that from 2014 to 2015 Heroin overdoses increased by 20.6 %
What to Do if Your Loved One Overdoses on Drugs or Alcohol
If you suspect someone is overdosing, stay calm, and call 911 immediately. Overdosing on drugs, Alcohol, or a combination of substances is a medical emergency – left untreated, an overdose can be deadly.
In cases where the person who is overdosing is still conscious, try to ask the victim what substances they’ve taken – different drugs require different antidotes and treatments, and the more information you can provide the first responders, the better.
Remember that some drugs can cause users to become hostile, aggressive, and even psychotic, so it’s important to keep yourself safe while trying to get help for the overdose victim. The victim may not realize that they are in danger, and they may be unwilling to accept help – in these cases, law enforcement officials may be able to intervene.
If the person who is overdosing is unconscious, place him or her on their side with the lower arm extended perpendicular to their body – this is known as the recovery position, and it can help to keep his or her airway clear if they begin vomiting. Do not attempt to put anything in the victims’ mouth, and do not try to induce vomiting. Stay with the victim until the police, fire department, or ambulance arrives.
Overdose victims who successfully recover from their overdose may experience a flood of difficult emotions; they could feel embarrassed, ashamed, or even angry at the people who helped them survive their overdose. If you were involved in getting the victim emergency help, they may accuse you of overreacting to the situation, or trying to ruin their ‘high’ by calling an ambulance. While these things can sound hurtful, it’s important to remember that you may have saved the addicts’ life by intervening when they were overdosing.
Substance abusers often downplay the danger they were in while they were overdosing, especially if they are in denial about their drug or Alcohol problems – after all, many people who are addicted believe that they are in control of their drug and Alcohol use, and overdosing is clearly a sign that their substance abuse is out of control.
Whether an overdose is accidental or deliberate, it’s important to seek professional help. If the overdose victim was attempting to commit suicide by overdosing, he or she may need to be admitted to an inpatient mental facility for treatment. Often a suicide attempt is a cry for help, and people who are addicted try to end their lives by overdosing may be desperately seeking a way out of their current lifestyle.
If the overdose they want to get help for their addiction issues, you can help by supporting them to find a treatment center, meeting with their doctor, and encouraging them to deal with their drug and Alcohol abuse. In cases where the addicted person refuses help, you can still take steps like meeting with an addiction counselor and joining a support group for friends and family members of people with substance abuse issues.
According to the CDC, 13,000 people died from Heroin overdose in 2015.
Alcohol vs Drug Overdose
For decades, overdose has been a leading cause of death in the United States, and statistics show that the overdose epidemic is only getting worse. In 1999, there were fewer than 17,000 drug-related deaths in the U.S; that number skyrocketed to over 52,000 in 2015, and researchers from the New York Times compiled data from state health departments, county coroners, and medicate examiners to estimate that 62,497 overdose deaths occurred in the United States in 2016 – that’s an average of 120 deaths every single day.
By comparison, in the South American country of Uruguay, there is about one overdose-related death daily, while in Australia, about 6 people die due to a drug and Alcohol overdose each day.
According to a recent report prepared by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, more drug and Alcohol overdoses occur in the U.S. per capita than anywhere else in the world. In fact, about 27 percent of all overdoses happen here, even though America is home to only 4 percent of the world’s total population. Researchers believe that the high number of overdoses from drugs and Alcohol are related to the widespread use of prescription Opioids, since Americans also lead the world in consumption of drugs such as Codeine, Morphine and Oxycodone.
The CDC tracks overdose statistics for some high-risk drugs, including heroin – a synthetic, potent Opioid that’s often the drug of choice among addicts who developed an addiction to opioids through prescription medications. The CDC reports that heroin-related overdose deaths have risen sharply in recent years, and between 2014 and 2015 the number of people who died from a Heroin overdose rose by nearly 21 percent. The largest demographic group among victims of Heroin overdose during that time was males aged 25-44, with a Heroin-linked death rate of 13.2 per 100,000 nationwide.
Statistics also show that there is no typical victim of overdose, and that this epidemic impacts people throughout the country regardless of their race, income level, sex, or whether they have health insurance coverage. The greatest statistical increase in overdoses has occurred throughout the East, with states like Pennsylvania, New York, Rhode Island, and Maine recording a jump in their overdose death rates of 20 percent or greater between 2014 and 2015. There have also been dramatic increases in overdoses in North Dakota, New Hampshire, the District of Columbia, and Washington state.
In some regions, deaths from heroin overdose have all but disappeared, however, overdoses from Fentanyl and Carfentanil have spiked, thanks in part to the fact that these drugs are both readily available from street-level drug dealers, and that taking only a small amount can have deadly consequences for users.
In 2014, about 2 million Americans abused or were addicted to prescription opioids.
Signs and Symptoms of Overdose
Whether you, or someone you care about uses Alcohol, drugs, or a combination of the two, it’s important to be aware of the common signs and symptoms of an overdose. Remember that differences in the dosages, the type of drug or drugs taken, the route of ingestion, and the overall health of the overdose victim will all affect how severe the overdose is.
Taking toxic levels of drugs or Alcohol will impact how you act, think, and feel. For example, your physical symptoms can include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath or shallow breathing
- Slowed heart rate
Tremors or seizures
Lack of coordination
An overdose will influence your cognitive abilities as well; you might have difficulty reading, trouble forming sentences, and experience short-term memory loss. Hallucinations can cause visual disturbances – you may see objects, people, and animals that aren’t there. This can lead to agitation, paranoia, and violent, aggressive behavior.
In extreme overdose cases, victims will experience a catastrophic health crisis, such as a heart attack, stroke, or complete respiratory failure. They may fall into a coma and die.
Specific types of drugs tend to cause very distinct overdose signs and symptoms, such as Opioids. If people overdoses on Opioids, they may fall into a catatonic-like state – they’ll look like they are awake, however, they won’t be able to talk or respond to stimulus. Opioid overdose often causes victims to experience dangerously low heart rates, which in turn can make their fingernails and lips turn blue or black due to the lack of blood flow. They may emit choking sounds, or make a gurgling noise while they appear to be sleeping.
By comparison, the signs and symptoms caused by an overdose on stimulant drugs like Amphetamine often include a dangerous escalation in the respiration, blood pressure and heart rate of the victim, which can lead to cardiac arrest. The drug user may become extremely aggressive, and experience a temporary escalation in their physical strength. Confusion is also common among people suffering from a stimulant overdose, as are seizures, shaking, and vomiting.
It’s important to call 911 at the first signs of a drug overdose. In many cases, the victims’ condition will get worse, even if they’ve stopped using the drugs or drinking Alcohol, since the substances they’ve taken will continue to enter their bloodstream for hours after their last dose. Don’t attempt to induce vomiting in the victim unless you’ve been directed to do so by a doctor or the poison control center, and be sure to tell first responders as much information as you can about the type, and quantity, of drugs and Alcohol the overdose victim has ingested.