How to Identify Drug Overdose Symptoms

Drug Overdose Symptoms | Harmony Recovery Center

How to Identify Drug Overdose Symptoms – Drug or alcohol abuse comes with the risk of severe side effects, including overdose. Drug overdoses are usually accidental, meaning that a person takes more of a prescription drug than directed by a doctor or uses an illicit drug such as heroin in a potentially life-threatening amount.

Intentional overdoses typically occur when a person is actively trying to commit suicide – or at least someone experiencing feelings of apathy about life. These are less common, but tragically, they do happen. Regardless of intent, a drug overdose, if survived, can have long-lasting effects on a person’s physical and mental health.

Drug Overdose Symptoms

Drug overdose symptoms and signs can vary depending on the substance used, and whether it was taken in combination with additional drugs or alcohol.

Common drug overdose symptoms and signs may include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Unsteady gait
  • Chest pain
  • Severe respiratory depression or respiratory arrest
  • Gurgling sounds (death rattle)
  • Bluing of the lips or fingertips (cyanosis)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abnormally high body temperature (hyperthermia)
  • Agitated, aggressive, or violent behavior
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Convulsions, tremors, or seizures
  • Unresponsiveness, unconsciousness, or coma
  • Death

A person may not display all or even most of these drug overdose symptoms, but just a few of these signs may indicate a person is suffering from an overdose.

Overdose Risk Factors

The abuse of any substance always carries a risk of overdose. However, some behaviors and conditions may further increase that risk, including the following:

  • Having a physiological dependency on the substance
  • Prior overdose(s)
  • Abusing multiple substances, including alcohol
  • Using a large amount of the substance during one episode
  • Dropping out of addiction treatment or rehab
  • Steadily increasing the dose of the substance over time
  • Hesitation to seek emergency help when needed
  • Intravenous drug use
  • Being recently released from incarceration
  • Past suicide attempts
  • Resuming drug use after a prolonged period of sobriety
  • Low level of physical tolerance

Tolerance refers to a condition that occurs when the body has grown accustomed to the presence of the drug, and the user requires increasing amounts or more frequent doses of the drug to achieve the desired effect. If a person continues to increase a dose or take the drug more frequently, he or she may have a significantly higher risk of experiencing an overdose.

Tolerance may also impact a person’s overdose risk in another way. For example, people with a history of heavy drug or alcohol abuse may develop a considerable tolerance to the effects of a substance, allowing them to use more than someone who has less exposure to the substance in question.

Following attempts to quit drug use or any period of abstinence, tolerance can diminish in the drug-free interval. If that person suddenly returns to using the drug, especially in amounts to which they may have once been accustomed, overdose may be more likely.

What to Do in Case of a Drug Overdose

What to Do in Case of a Drug Overdose

If you notice that a loved one is displaying these drug overdose symptoms and you suspect that they may be overdosing on drugs or alcohol, seek emergency medical attention by calling 911 immediately. If you are calling on behalf of a loved one, it might also be necessary for you to perform some of the following procedures while waiting for medical help to arrive.

Do not put your own safety at risk, however, because certain drugs can prompt violent or unpredictable behavior in the person under their influence.

  • Check to see if the person is breathing and try to determine their heart rate.
  • If the person is unresponsive, ask the person questions to evaluate their level of alertness and to keep them engaged, if at all possible.
  • If the person is not breathing, turn him or her onto their side.
  • If you are qualified to do so, provide CPR if needed and administer first aid as directed by the 911 operator.
  • Do not allow the person to use any more of the substance.
  • Gather as much information as possible, including the dose and the last time the person used the substance.
  • If prescription drugs or other labeled substances have been used, take the bottle or bag with you to the ER, even if it’s empty.
  • Make a note of any paraphernalia that may identify the drug that was used.
  • Do not try to reason or argue with the person overdosing or voice opinions about the situation.
  • Stay calm while waiting for first responders to arrive.
  • Reassure the person that help is on the way.

Preventing Drug Overdose

Naturally, not using drugs is the most effective way to prevent an overdose. But if you or someone you know is already experiencing addiction or exhibiting problematic substance use behavior, taking specific steps can help reduce the risk of an overdose, including the following:

Increase awareness of drug overdose symptoms and dangers.
Know the drug and dose of the drug you are taking.
Avoid using multiple substances in combination.
Start with a low dose if you haven’t used in a while.
Use in the presence of another person, if you must use.
Seek addiction treatment if you think you have a dependency.

Detox and Treatment for Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Treatment for substance abuse and addiction problems can help prevent an overdose. Some treatment options to consider may include the following:

Medical Detox

The first stage in recovery is medical detox, in which a client will receive assistance managing withdrawal symptoms while their body rids itself of a substance and restabilizes. Following this, most clients generally switch gears and enter into a more formal recovery program to maximize their chances of a successful recovery.

Inpatient or Residential Treatment

Clients can select from many inpatient programs that can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Inpatient treatment programs offer a highly-structured environment with 24/7 mental health and medical care and support. Clients participate in a wide range of treatments, including group therapy, individual counseling, psychoeducational groups, and relapse prevention education classes.

Partial Hospitalization

Many patients transition from inpatient treatment to partial hospitalization, a highly-structured and therapeutically intensive outpatient program. Clients live at home but attend treatment sessions most days of the week for several hours per day.

Intensive Outpatient

During intensive outpatient treatment, clients reside outside the center at a private residence or sober living facility and undergo treatment sessions several hours per week. Services are usually available throughout the day or evenings, allowing clients the flexibility to attend to school, work, or family responsibilities.

Standard Outpatient

In outpatient treatment, clients attend regularly scheduled group therapy and individual counseling sessions one or two days or evenings each week. This form of treatment may be helpful for the long-term preservation of abstinence following completion of more intensive treatment and may continue for months or years if required.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy that concentrates on identifying and altering dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors that have contributed to or perpetuated a substance abuse problem.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

In some cases, clients may receive specific medications to help them wean off the drug. Additional pharmaceutical intervention may be beneficial to address co-occurring mental or physical ailments.

Individual and Group Counseling

In individual counseling, clients interact one-on-one with a counselor to address psychological and social issues that may underpin addiction. In group counseling, a counselor leads a group of others in recovery, and clients receive peer support and learn from others who have experienced similar issues.

Our center offers these evidence-based, therapeutic services, delivered with compassion and expertise by caring addiction treatment professionals. We provide clients with the education, tools, and support they need to achieve abstinence and enjoy a long-lasting recovery.

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