Drug and alcohol abuse comes with the heightened risk of severe side effects, including overdose and death. Drug overdoses are usually unintentional. This means that an individual uses more of a prescription drug than directed by a physician, abuses an illicit drug, such as heroin, or combines substances in a way that amplifies or counteracts the effects of each other.
Accidental overdoses can occur when a person is attempting to commit suicide—or experiencing feelings of apathy about life. These are not as prevalent, but unfortunately, they do happen. Regardless of the intent, an overdose, if survived, can have enduring effects on an individual’s physical and mental wellness.
Drug Overdose Symptoms
Drug overdose signs and symptoms and will vary depending on the substance taken, and whether it was used in conjunction with other drugs or alcohol.
Common drug overdose symptoms may include the following:
- Dilated pupils
- Unsteady gait
- Chest pain
- Respiratory depression /arrest
- Gurgling sounds (death rattle)
- Bluish lips or fingertips (cyanosis)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Very high or low body temperature
- Hostile or violent behavior
- Disorientation or confusion
- Convulsions, tremors, and seizures
- Unresponsiveness (stupor)
- Coma or unconsciousness
An individual may not display all of these symptoms, but just a few of these may indicate a person is experiencing an overdose.
The abuse of any psychoactive substance always carries the risk of overdose. However, some behaviors and conditions may serve to increase that risk, such as the following:
- Having a chemical dependency on the substance
- Prior overdose(s)
- Abuse of more than one substance
- Using an excessive amount of the substance during one episode
- Dropping out of substance abuse treatment or rehab
- Increasing dosages over time due to tolerance
- Hesitation to seek emergency medical attention when needed
- IV drug use
- Being recently released from jail or prison
- Past suicidal thoughts or attempts
- Resuming substance abuse after an extended period of sobriety
- Low physical tolerance
Tolerance refers to a condition that manifests when the body has become accustomed to the presence of a drug, and the user requires ever-increasing amounts or more frequent doses of a drug to achieve the sought-after effects. If an individual continually increases the amount they take or use the drug more often, he or she may have a dramatically higher risk of experiencing an overdose.
Tolerance may also affect a person’s overdose risk in other ways. For example, individuals with a history of heavy alcohol or drug abuse can develop a significant tolerance to the substance’s effects, allowing them to use more than another person who has had less exposure to the drug in question.
Following attempts to discontinue drug use or any period of abstinence, tolerance can decrease in the drug-free interval. If that individual abruptly returns to use of the substance, especially in amounts to which they were formally used, an overdose is more likely to occur.
What to Do in the Event of a Drug Overdose
If you or a loved one is experiencing an overdose on drugs or alcohol, you should seek emergency medical intervention by calling 911 immediately or visiting the nearest hospital. If you are calling on the part of a loved one, it might be necessary to perform some of the following life-saving procedures while waiting for medical personnel to arrive.
Note: Do not put your own personal safety at risk because certain drugs can incite aggressive or unpredictable behavior in the person who is under the influence.
- Check to see if the individual is breathing and try to determine their heart and respiration rates.
- If the person is unresponsive, ask him or her questions to assess their level of alertness and to keep them engaged if possible.
- If he or she is not breathing, turn the person onto their side.
- If you are qualified to do so, administer CPR if needed as well as any other first aid as directed by a 911 operator.
- Do not let the individual use any more of the substance.
- Garner as much information as possible, including the amount and time in which the last dose was used.
- If prescription drugs have been taken, take the bottle or container with you to the emergency room, even if it’s empty.
- Make a note of any drug paraphernalia that may identify the substance(s) that were used.
- Do not try to reason or debate with the person overdosing or express opinions about the situation.
- Stay calm while waiting for emergency medical personnel to arrive.
- Reassure the individual that help is on the way.
Preventing Drug Overdoses
Of course, not using drugs or alcohol in excess is the most effective way to prevent an overdose. However, if you a person you know is already struggling with addiction or exhibiting problematic substance use behavior, taking certain steps can help mitigate the risk of an overdose, including the following:
- Increase awareness of overdose signs and symptoms.
- Keep track of the amount of the substance used.
- Avoid taking more than one substance in combination.
- Start with a relatively low dose if you haven’t used it for a while.
- Use in the presence of another individual if you feel you must do so.
- Seek substance abuse treatment if you believe you have a chemical and/or emotional dependency.
Detox and Professional Treatment for Drug or Alcohol Addiction
Treatment for addiction issues can help prevent an overdose. Some treatment options to consider include the following:
The first stage in recovery is typically medical detox, in which a person will receive medical assistance to help manage withdrawal symptoms. At the same time, their body cleanses itself of a substance and regains some stability. Following this, most people benefit from a long-term, evidence-based recovery program to maximize their chances of a complete recovery.
Inpatient or Residential Treatment
Individuals can select inpatient programs that can last anywhere from a few weeks to many months. Residential treatment programs offer a highly-structured environment with around-the-clock mental health support and medical care. Persons can participate in a wide range of treatments, including psychotherapy, individual and family counseling, educational and peer support groups, and experiential activities such as art and music therapy.
Many patients transition from residential treatment to a partial hospitalization program, a highly-structured and intensive semi-outpatient program. Individuals stay in a private residence but attend treatment sessions on most days of the week for several hours each day.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on identifying and changing dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors that have contributed to a substance abuse problem.
Individual and Group Counseling
In individual counseling, people interact one-on-one with a certified counselor to address emotional and social issues that underpin addiction. In group counseling, a trained facilitator leads several members of a group in recovery, and participants receive peer support and advice from others who have encountered similar issues.
Just Believe Recovery offers these clinically-proven therapeutic services, delivered with expertise by compassionate addiction and medical professionals. We provide clients with the tools, education, and support they direly need to achieve abstinence and experience a long-lasting recovery.
We can help you restore balance, happiness, and wellness to your life! Contact us today to find out how we can help!