Anyone who has ever experienced the shadow of substance abuse in their lives – be it their own, in their household, or affecting another close friend or loved one – knows about the looming fear of overdose.
Overdose is a term often used in association with illicit substances, but the risk is just as present in addictions to prescription drugs or alcohol.
Drug overdose is not an easy topic to approach. Many of the discussions we hear and read about surrounding the ‘true risk of overdose’ are rife with misinformation. This post will break down what you need to know about the various forms of overdose, how long they last, and what effective recovery looks like.
What Is a Drug Overdose?
In the simplest terms, overdose occurs when an individual has taken too much of a substance for their body to clear safely. The dose likely to result in overdose varies from substance to substance and individual to individual. Factors like body weight, age, gender, metabolic health, mode of use, and history of use also complicate how much is too much.
Psychoactive substances don’t just affect the mind; many interact with chemicals in the brain that regulate and signal key bodily functions, such as body temperature, breathing, and heart rate. Most forms of overdose occur when a user has introduced so much of a drug into their system that these functions become dangerously impaired.
Overdose can be fatal. Sadly, overdose deaths in the US have been on a steady rise and took a sharp turn in 2020 when they increased to 91,799 in a single year. Provisional data compiled in October 2021 suggests that the number of people who die from drug overdoses has climbed higher to over 100,000 per year.
Signs of an Overdose
The signs of an overdose vary with the different drugs that are taken. Note that in cases of polysubstance abuse (abusing more than one drug simultaneously), overdose effects and duration can be difficult to predict.
Below, we highlight just a few symptoms of overdose:
- Alcohol overdose (alcohol poisoning) – Symptoms of alcohol overdose include confusion, vomiting, seizures, low body temperature, and unconsciousness.
- Marijuana overdose – Symptoms of marijuana overdose may include hallucinations, vomiting, confusion, panic attacks, paranoia, and rapid heart rate.
- Opioid overdose – Opioid overdose may lead to respiratory depression, weak or slow pulse, low body temperature, delirium, unconsciousness, and coma.
- Benzodiazepine overdose – Symptoms of benzo overdose may include disorientation, confusion, instability/loss of coordination, weakness, stupor, and coma.
- Meth and other amphetamine overdoses – These overdose symptoms can include convulsions, labored breathing, seizures, fever, chest pain, rapid heart rate, paranoia, and profound anxiety.
- Cocaine overdose – Cocaine overdose may lead to nausea, rapid or irregular heartbeat, hyperthermia, fever, seizures, and hallucinations.
Don’t delay if you see someone experiencing an overdose or suspect you may be having one yourself – this is a medical emergency that calls for immediate treatment. Drug overdose symptoms can last from a few minutes to a few hours and may become more severe as they continue. Call 911 immediately and explain the situation.
Listen to the advice of the emergency dispatch on how to help the person overdosing. Once medical attention is on its way, it may be necessary to:
- Keep the overdosing individual alert
- Monitor for abnormal vital signs
- Keep them sitting up or lying on their side (vomiting can block airways)
- Remove any obstructions to air pathways (necklaces, ties, etc.)
- Regulate the temperature of the individual overdosing
- If possible, figure out how much of what substance was used and from where it was procured
How Long Do Overdose Symptoms Last?
Untreated, the symptoms of an overdose can carry on for anything from minutes to hours. The duration of a drug overdose depends significantly on the drug itself, as all substances of abuse metabolize at different rates.
At the same time, injected substances may have a quicker onset of overdose than those inhaled or swallowed in pill form. Regardless of the drug used, medical assistance can substantially reduce the time and severity of overdoses.
What Does Drug Overdose Treatment Look Like?
Once the individual who has overdosed is in the care of emergency responders, immediate medical attention can be provided. This may include administering various Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved medications, such as naloxone or flumazenil. It may also include medical-grade activated charcoal, stomach pumping, or the introduction of intravenous fluids.
These treatments act as competitive ‘antidotes’ to the substance being overdosed on. They can also reduce the concentration of the substance in the bloodstream, lowering the length and intensity of the overdose.
How Long Does It Take To Recover From an Overdose?
After the immediate danger of overdose has been resolved, the next steps are to perform a physical health evaluation. This evaluation is necessary as some drug overdoses can result in brain injury or permanent damage to internal tissues that require ongoing medical care. A mental health evaluation, particularly in the event of intentional overdose, and an exploration of substance abuse treatment options are also vital.
Overdose cannot be recovered from when the body is still flooded with the substance that caused the damage to begin with. However, when an individual suffers from a substance use disorder, sobriety is challenging without medical attention and support. At the same time, overdosing, quitting, losing tolerance for a substance, and then relapsing puts the user at pronounced risk of an overdose occurring again.
Addiction treatment is a form of medical care that expedites the recovery process, smooths out the risks associated with withdrawal, and greatly reduces the chance of relapse.
What Can You Expect From a Substance Abuse Treatment Program?
At a substance abuse treatment facility like Cornerstone, clients can expect premiere, evidence-backed medical care from a team of specialists in addiction science. The first step in most of our addiction treatment programs is medical detox. This occurs immediately after the intake of a new client and describes the process of withdrawing and detoxifying the body from the substance of abuse in an observed, supported setting.
In some cases, we may prescribe an FDA-approved medication as a part of the detox process. We describe this as medication-assisted treatment or MAT. MAT is often called for in cases where the substance of abuse produces severe or intense withdrawal symptoms.
After this, therapeutic treatment is necessary to take the next steps toward recovery. Treatment should be personalized according to the individual’s needs and history of substance abuse. At Cornerstone, a program may include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
- Art therapy
- Person-centered therapy
- Emotion-focused therapy
- Compassion focused therapy
- Interpersonal therapy
- Acceptance and commitment therapy
- Transactional analysis
- Existential therapy
- Rational emotive behavioral therapy
- Schema therapy
- Integrative counseling
- Psychodynamic counseling
Addiction clouds and damages many aspects of how a person thinks, feels, and acts. Returning to life after recovering from a substance use disorder may require many people to exercise some skills they haven’t used for some time.
Complementary modalities for a more sustainable and holistic recovery journey are often included as part of treatment programs. These may include mindfulness, well-being activities, psychoeducation, nutrition education, and life skills work.
Contact Us Today
When you live with a substance abuse disorder, the risk of an overdose overshadows daily life. The best and most permanent way to release this constant and real source of worry is to seek out substance abuse treatment.
At Cornerstone, we are here to help. We pride ourselves in our team, treatment, and results that have eradicated the threat of overdose from countless clients’ lives. Reach out to us today for more information or to book an assessment at (714) 844-1004.