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Typically, an overdose is not intentional, and happens by accident. Consuming more than the recommended dosage of a prescription medication or over-the-counter drug can increase a person’s tolerance level and the chance of an overdose. You should treat any overdose symptoms as a medical emergency. Quick medical attention is necessary to avoid serious health issues and even death.

If you see someone experiencing signs and symptoms of a drug overdose, immediately call 911 and stay with them until emergency professionals arrive. If you are aware of the substance consumed, report all information to emergency professionals to ensure proper medical treatment is given.

Drug Overdose Symptoms to Watch For

Consuming different drugs can cause a variety of signs and symptoms. Common overdose symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pains
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Deep snoring
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Hallucination
  • Internal bleeding
  • Loss of balance control
  • Seizures
  • Skin turning blue
  • Trouble breathing or not breathing at all
  • Vision issues
  • Vomiting

Symptoms by Drug Class:

Depressants: enlarged pupils, weak or quick heart rate, light breathing, sweaty skin, and coma (could cause death).
Hallucinogens: fixation, seizures, and unconsciousness, especially with Phencyclidine (PCP).
Inhalants: unconsciousness and seizures (could cause death).
Marijuana: fatigue, paranoia, and even fixation.
Narcotics: seizures, sweaty skin, slow and light breathing, coma (could cause death).
Stimulants: increased body temperature, increased anxiety, delusions, and seizures (could cause death).

Alcohol Poisoning/Overdose

Generally, we do not think of alcohol causing an overdose. However, alcohol is a depressant, and drinking in excess or binge drinking can cause acute alcohol poisoning that can lead to an overdose. Since the body only processes one unit of alcohol an hour, drinking too much too fast or in a short amount of time, can raise the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to a dangerous level and prevent the body and organs from working properly. Mixing alcohol with illicit, prescription, or over-the-counter drugs can lead to an accidental drug overdose.

Signs of alcohol intoxication overdose include:

  • Disorientation
  • Coordination loss
  • Vomiting/choking on vomit while unconscious
  • Seizures
  • Slow or irregular breathing
  • Low blood pressure/low heart rate
  • Pale or blue-tinged skin
  • Drop in body temperature (hypothermia)
  • Conscious but unresponsive
  • Unconsciousness

Preventing Drug Overdose

Being informed and taking precaution with all medications can prevent an accidental overdose. Always read your medication labels and only take medications as directed by your doctor. You should always store them in their original package to reduce the risk of confusing one medicine for another. Mixing medications with other drugs and/or alcohol can cause adverse effects and increase the risk of an overdose. Do not take medication which is not prescribed to you by a healthcare professional. Always inform your doctor of any medications you currently take or have stopped recently, and if you have overdosed in the past. If you have finished a prescription drug, dispose of it properly by returning it to the pharmacy for proper disposal.

Seeking treatment for addiction or substance abuse can help prevent an overdose. Treatment can help you begin your new path to a clean and healthy lifestyle. Some options include:

  • Detox: Generally, detox therapy is offered in both inpatient and outpatient programs. Detox programs help manage withdrawal symptoms and help lower cravings during the early stages of recovery. Once detox is complete, you often join a more formal recovery program to help you succeed in sobriety.
  • Residential or Inpatient: This program usually lasts from a few weeks to several months. Residential or inpatient treatment facilities are highly controlled, and you receive support and care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There will be different therapy options including one-on-one counseling, random drug testing, psycho-educational groups, and classes to prevent relapse.
  • Partial Hospitalization: Often those who have completed inpatient rehabilitation, transfer to partial hospitalization because it is a highly controlled environment and intensive outpatient program. You can live in your own home but are required to attend meetings most days out of the week and for several hours a day. Some programs offer patients the flexibility of weekend and evening options.
  • Intensive Outpatient: This type of outpatient program offers group and individual counseling options. You can live in your own home but must participate in group therapy 10-12 hours a week. Some facilities provide weekend and evening options.
  • Standard Outpatient: In standard outpatient programs, you must participate in individual counseling sessions and scheduled group therapies for 1-2 days a week. Standard outpatient treatment is often helpful for those in need of long-term care after sobriety. These forms of rehabilitation can continue for years if needed.
  • Gender specific: This is for patients who feel they cannot concentrate on sobriety with the opposite sex present.
  • Veteran: Veteran programs offer several treatment options for those who have served in the armed forces including vocational rehab, addiction, and co-existing illness treatments.
  • 12-Step Groups: Centered around the 12-steps of recovery that was used and made by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Some 12-step programs propose a coordinated path to recovery built on recognizing a higher power and succeeding through the steps with the help of a sponsor. Some patients attend 12-step group sessions in conjunction with other treatment facilities.

Is Overdose a Sign that Treatment is Needed?

While a first-time substance overdose does not mean a person suffers from drug addiction, educational treatment and therapy may be needed. Typically, when someone overdoses and does not suffer from addiction, it is a lesson in itself regarding future drug use.

However, many people who overdose typically have a history of drug abuse or addiction. Treatment including medical detox and therapy is often needed. Treatment programs are developed to help tackle the initial reasoning that led to the addiction or drug abuse, as well as any underlying mental or medical health issues.

Recovery makes possible a future free from drug addiction and the risk of overdose. If you would like to learn more about alcohol or drug treatment or intervention options, Serenity Acres Treatment Center can help.