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People who use drugs or alcohol on a regular basis often find that they need to take more and more of the same drug in order to feel the desired effects, such as euphoria, and this is called tolerance.1 Increasing amounts may eventually lead to an overdose. Alcohol or drug overdose can lead to severe mental and physical health consequences and even death.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in 2017 in the United States. Deaths from fentanyl or fentanyl analogues accounted for nearly 30,000 of those.2
Many overdose deaths may be prevented with quick medical intervention.1 In order to get someone the emergency medical treatment they need, you need to be aware of the signs of an alcohol or drug overdose. While it is important to note that different drugs can produce different overdose symptoms, there are some general indicators that a person is in danger and may be experiencing a potentially life-threatening overdose. If you have any suspicion that someone has overdosed, call for emergency help right away.
Some drugs, such as opioids (heroin and prescription painkillers), benzodiazepines, other sedative-hypnotics, barbiturates and alcohol, may cause life-threatening respiratory depression if a person overdoses on them.3,4,5
Stimulants such as cocaine and prescription stimulants may also be overdosed on, and overdose from these drugs has been associated with heart attacks and seizures.6,7
If you suspect an individual has overdosed, do not hesitate to call 911. Every second counts when it comes to saving someone’s life.
Intervening early in an overdose can save a person’s life, but you must know what to look for. These are some signs that could indicate that a person is suffering from an overdose:
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An overdose is considered a life-threatening emergency. These are not all the possible signs of an overdose, and signs can vary. If you at all suspect someone has overdosed, call 911 for help and follow the instructions of the operator. If you know which drugs the person has taken, relay that information to the operator.10 However, it is not necessary that you have this information to call. The operator may ask you about the overdosing individual’s symptoms and guide you in steps to take (e.g., laying the person on their side, beginning CPR, etc.) as you wait for the ambulance to arrive.5,16
When the crisis has passed, it may be a good time to attempt to bring up the issue of getting help. You can direct the person to resources that can help them if they are struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction. The overdose could be the wakeup call that person needs to recover.
Additional Articles of Interest
Sophie Stein is a Clinical Editor at American Addiction Centers. She received her master’s of science in nursing from Vanderbilt University School of Nursing. Sophie previously worked as a psychiatric-mental health... Read More