Cocaine is taken in a variety of ways, including as a powder that is inhaled through the nose (snorting), injected in liquid form directly into the veins, or processed into a rock crystal that is smoked. Any of these forms of cocaine use can ultimately lead to an overdose.
In some cases, a person can suffer sudden death from their very first use of cocaine. Cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant that raises the heart rate, gives the user a sense of short-lived euphoria that is followed immediately by an intense desire to use more of the drug in an effort to recapture the original “high.” Cocaine use can lead to stoke, heart attack and seizures, and cocaine overdose is a real risk.
There are two reasons that cocaine is so instantaneously addictive, especially in rock form. The first is because the effects generally don’t last very long. If taken as a powder, the euphoric and life-threatening effects begin within a few moments and last for a half-hour to an hour. Taken in rock form, the results are immediate, but only last for approximately five or 10 minutes. The same is true for the intravenous version. The cocaine user is left with an immediate desire to use the drug again in a vain attempt to avoid the subsequent “crash.” Subsequent uses almost always disappoint, but the user will try again and again in an effort to chase that first high. Too much of the drug taken in too short a time period can result in an overdose.
Symptoms of Cocaine Overdose
Because cocaine is a major stimulant, many of the symptoms of a cocaine overdose can be misinterpreted as something entirely different. Essentially, the horrific short-term effects of cocaine use combine to create a scenario that can easily lead to premature death when too much cocaine enters the body too quickly. These effects include:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Increased heart rate
- Kidney failure
- Hyperthermia (increase in body temperature)
Any one of these symptoms by itself could indicate any number of problems, of course. Therefore, it is important that medical staff is informed of all the facts surrounding usage, dosage and overall health when being treated for a cocaine overdose.
Psychologically, there are more symptoms that could indicate an individual has ingested lethal amounts of cocaine. If a person who has been using cocaine repeatedly in a short period of time exhibits panic, paranoia, hallucinations, or is excessively irritable, it could indicate an overdose and you should call for help as soon as possible.
Treatment Options for Cocaine Overdose Are Limited
The treatment for a cocaine overdose is generally limited to treating the individual symptoms. Tranquilizers may be administered in a medical setting, although the use of illicit “downers” to combat an overdose can be even more dangerous than the original drug. As recently as 2008, some researchers had discovered a possible way to treat both addiction and overdose from cocaine; the final results are still being researched with a grant from the National Institutes of Health. While this possible medication is being developed, however, doctors are left with trying to save lives by keeping the patient stable while letting the drug run its course. It should be noted that allowing the drug to run its course without medical help for the cascade of symptoms is likely to result in severe problems, up to and including death. As a result, don’t wait to seek medical help.
The best treatment for a cocaine overdose is preventative. Ideally, you should seek help for addiction before you face the awful consequences of a possible overdose. Finding a good treatment center like Alta Mira, with our staff of trained professionals and our dedication to helping people achieve sobriety, is the first step to surviving the disease of addiction. Cocaine addiction is one of the toughest addictions to fight. Proper guidance, solid facilities and superior resources can make all the difference in the journey to sobriety.
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Amounts of Cocaine Required for an Overdose
It is impossible to know how much cocaine is too much for any individual person. The amounts needed for an overdose to occur depend upon the weight of the person using the drug, the tolerance developed, the amount of time over which the drugs are consumed, and whether the individual has other health concerns. If an individual has already suffered a heart attack, for instance, they may be more likely to suffer an overdose death with less of the drug than an otherwise healthy user because their heart may already be weakened.
Cocaine creates an atmosphere of overuse by the very nature of the high one receives from the drug and the immediate drug-seeking behavior that follows as the effects begin to wane.
Deaths Caused by Cocaine Overdose
Many times, death occurs when cocaine is mixed with other drugs of abuse, including alcohol. Cocaethylene is a substance created by the liver when an individual drinks alcohol and uses cocaine at the same time. This combination and the creation of a third harmful substance increase the likelihood of a sudden death incident, with or without an overdose scenario coming into play.
Other deaths from cocaine are generally cause by the victim or his associates not taking the signs of overdose seriously enough to seek medical attention. Chest pain and other symptoms could indicate the user is having a heart attack or other cardiac issue but severe paranoia can be just as telling. When these symptoms are ignored for too long, severe life-threatening events can take place very quickly.
The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) is a division of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Each year, they compile a report for the number of emergency department visits related to various drugs. The 2011 report discusses the findings for the year 2008. According to the latest report, cocaine was involved in more than 400,000 emergency department visits for the largest percentage of any other illicit drug – 43.4 percent. The highest use of cocaine occurred in patients ages 35 to 44 years old.
Additional information for the same year, based upon trends over the preceding years, has indicated that there is a shift in drug use from the inner cities to the rural and suburban areas, with overdose deaths occurring more and more frequently in these areas.
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Who Suffers From a Cocaine Overdose?
Overdose from cocaine does not always end in death but when it does, many individuals – in addition to the victim – suffer because of it. Parents lose their children, spouses lose their partners, and children lose their parents. Friends who may have used drugs with the victim are left pondering the guilt that may adversely affect their own attempts to get healthy and enter recovery. When the victim survives, he or she may be faced with aftereffects of the impact the near loss of a loved one has had on the family members, especially children, who witness the events unfold.
Hopefully, if you or someone you know experiences an overdose related to the abuse of cocaine, the outcome will be more positive. With luck and quick medical attention, it is possible to survive a cocaine overdose and use the experience as a driving force to the get help needed to begin the recovery journey. For more information on the best addiction treatment and how to prevent a cocaine overdose in yourself or someone you love, contact us today.