Drug Overdose Information

Drug addiction can tear apart families, ruin relationships, destroy finances and diminish opportunities. But by far the most tragic and often permanent consequence of addiction is an overdose. Every time individuals use dangerous substances, they are putting themselves at risk of an overdose, and could lose their health or lives as a result.

Understanding Overdose

‘Overdose’ refers to when a user takes too large a dosage of drugs than his or her body can cope with. Overdoses are startlingly common—they actually kill more people than car crashes every year. It’s a serious and all too prevalent problem.

Unfortunately, of the overwhelming number of overdoses every year, a significant amount are intentional. Addiction is an isolating experience, and some addicts feel that the life they live on drugs is simply not worth living. Taking a larger hit than normal may seem like the perfect way out of their pain and suffering. In fact, some sad statistics show intentional overdose to be a leading cause of death among heroin addicts.

A larger percentage of overdoses, however, occur without any advanced planning or intention. To respond to their growing tolerance, users will take more and more of the drug to reach the same high. Sometimes the addict will overestimate the amount of drugs their body can handle, resulting in an overdose. Similarly, some people overdose after long periods of sobriety, after their brain has started to adjust to functioning without drugs. They don’t realize their brain is no longer prepared to handle such a high dose.

Common Culprits

Nearly every single type of drug can induce an overdose, but some are associated with a larger risk. Of those, prescription painkillers are a major player. Common prescription painkillers associated with overdose include:

  • Vicodin
  • OxyContin
  • Opium
  • Methadone

What separates this group of drugs from the others is that they tend to be taken innocuously at first. Doctors write thousands of prescriptions for painkillers every year, usually to help patients cope with an injury or pain following a surgery. Sometimes the pills are the only treatment that helps the patient manage the discomfort, so he or she will use more than the recommended dosage just to endure pain during menial tasks. It’s alarmingly easy for users to take extra-large doses without giving the matter second thought.

Illicit drugs are also associated with overdoses, particularly the opiate heroin. Heroin contributes to a significant percentage of overdoses every year, either by itself or in combination with other substances. There are a couple reasons why heroin is so dangerous.

For one, heroin works quickly, so users have little time to act when they’ve taken too much. Secondly, the drug is both manufactured and sold on the black market, so strength and purity are difficult to determine. Some users overdose just because they underestimated the concentration within their dose.

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Consequences of Overdose

Although death is the most serious, and perhaps the most common, outcome of overdoses, it’s not the only consequence that can emerge from taking too much of a powerful substance. Ultimately, outcomes of overdoses are dependent on the person, the drugs taken, and the length of time between the overdose and the arrival of medical attention.

With proper medical assistance during a heroin overdose, for example, the person may awaken almost immediately and appear fine in the following hours. Without medical care, however, the person’s breathing rates can diminish so dramatically that parts of their brain are deprived of oxygen, causing irreversible cognitive damage.

Those in the midst of an overdose from a sedating drug are also vulnerable to attacks from others, including robbery, assault, rape or kidnapping.

The sedative effects of some drugs put users in a weak and defenseless state. Should they be revived from an overdose, due to medical attention, they may be left with physical or emotional scars that are difficult to heal.

Recovery Times

The most important step in helping someone recover from an overdose is immediate medical attention. In some cases, antidote medications can elicit speedy and effective relief from an overdose. For heroin and prescription painkillers, for example, certain medications can block the substances’ actions and halt the negative reactions. The person may be restored to health just moments after administering the antidote.

But even when the antidote is effective, the patient will still need to undergo further medical monitoring. The medication may wear off before their body processes all of the illicit substance, meaning they’re at risk of a second overdose. People who have overdosed typically need medical supervision for hours, even days, to ensure that their bodies are properly healing.

But that’s not where medical treatment ends. An overdose is a glaring red flag that the person is suffering from a serious addiction that requires intensive and ongoing care. He or she needs the help of professionals trained in treating and overcoming drug addiction.

If you have questions about the treatment process for addiction, we invite you to contact usanytime. We are always available to provide support and guidance to any questions you may have regarding addiction treatment and how you or a loved one can start on the path to healing.