A drug overdose can be one of two things: It can either be a wake-up call that it’s time to change your lifestyle, or it can be the end of the line.
Unfortunately, not everyone is able to bounce back from a drug overdose. It’s for this reason that overdosing was the leading cause of injury death in 2012 and continues to be a major problem in our culture.
But what does overdose mean? By definition, an overdose is the chemical reaction that occurs when too much of a particular substance — be it an illegal drug or legal medication — is introduced into the human body, resulting in toxicity or death.
It’s important to realize that there are different types of overdoses. Overdoses can be accidental or intentional.
Accidental overdoses occur when the person taking a certain drug or medication does not intend on inflicting self-harm. It could be done in an attempt to get high or simply to relieve pain.
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to tell whether an accidental overdose was the result of nefarious intentions. For example, here is how an overdose can kill you when you don’t intend to hurt yourself: An athlete takes too many painkillers after a sports injury and wakes up several hours later in the hospital with no recollection of what happened. Was the athlete trying to relieve his pain or bring on a self-induced euphoric mental state? Families and medical professionals often struggle to answer difficult questions like this one.
An intentional overdose, on the other hand, occurs when someone ingests a drug or medication with the sole intention of inflicting self-harm. An intentional overdose is typically a cry for help. If the person survives, he or she can typically expect a stay in the hospital psychology unit for post-traumatic consultation and depression counseling.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 41,502 deaths from drug overdoses were unintentional in 2012. Almost 6,000 were meant to cause suicide.
Now that you have a basic understanding of the different types of overdoses that can occur, let’s take a look at how they differ from drug to drug.
The Seven Types of Drugs
Drugs affect people in many different ways. How someone can overdose varies. Two people can take the same amount of a drug at the same time, and one can be fine while the other winds up overdosing. A person’s physical and mental chemistry will play a big part in how a person absorbs, breaks down and releases a substance into his or her body.
While drugs can cause different reactions in people, however, they do share some inherent similarities. This is why the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) classifies them into seven categories:
1. Inhalants: Inhalants are substances that produce vapors that can be inhaled, or “huffed,” in order to produce an altered state of mind. Inhalants encompass a wide range of chemicals, but most commonly refer to aerosols, gases and nitrites. Examples include spray paint, gasoline and nitrous oxide.Any intentional inhalation of chemical vapors can technically be considered an overdose, since there is no true safe amount of an inhalant that can be tolerated by the body. In small doses, inhalation overdose will include effects similar to alcohol intoxication such as dizziness, feelings of euphoria and even hallucinations.
A severe inhalation overdose can include headaches, nausea and a loss of consciousness. A person may experience cardiac arrest, respiratory depression and even airway obstruction in the event of an allergic reaction or from vomiting.
2. Central nervous system (CNS) depressants:Just as the name suggests, CNS depressants are drugs that slow down brain and bodily functions. These drugs are most commonly drank, injected, ingested and snorted. They can include alcohol, barbiturates, opioids, opiates, tranquilizers and anti-depressants.Overdose from a depressant will depend on several factors: the speed in which the drug was taken, the recipient’s tolerance level, the strength of the drug and the amount of the substance that was consumed. An overdose from a depressant can happen instantly, or it can take several hours for a person’s heart rate to slow down and breathing to eventually stop — resulting in death or permanent brain damage.
3. CNS stimulants:Stimulants raise nervous and physiological activity in the body, resulting in increased awareness and heart rate. They are smoked, swallowed in pill form, ingested or injected. Stimulants are some of the most widely abused and available drugs on the market. The most commonly used stimulants include caffeine, cocaine and its boiled “crack” derivative, amphetamine and methamphetamine. Mephedrone, or “bath salts,” is another stimulant that is quickly gaining national attention as well.A stimulant overdose differs from other forms of overdoses due to the rapid onset in which it typically occurs. Mild overdoses can include headaches, hallucinations, paranoia and rapid breathing and heart rates, as well as increased body temperatures and accompanying dehydration. Severe overdoses can entail chest pain, seizures, loss of consciousness, stroke and cardiac arrest.
4. Narcotic anelgesics: These drugs are commonly administered to relieve acute, chronic and severe pain or to induce a state of unconsciousness. For this reason, they are typically administered following medical procedures. Since they are easy to obtain, they are also easy to abuse. The most commonly used narcotic analgesics are morphine and its derivatives, such as OxyContin.A narcotic analgesic overdose is similar to that of a depressant. It depresses respiration, decreases a user’s heart rate and can lead to coma or even death.
5. Hallucinogens: Psychoactive drugs can be ingested to produce alterations of consciousness and noticeable shifts in sensory awareness. Some of the most common hallucinogens include lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and psilocybin (the psychoactive ingredient found in certain strands of mushrooms). Mescaline, Salvinorin A (Salvia) Atropine and Scopolamine are other forms of hallucinogens that are available today.Most of the time, when ingesting a psychoactive substance, the actual overdose is the desired mental state, or “trip,” that occurs shortly after ingestion. However, just like other drugs, the effect of the drug — both mentally and physically — will be determined by a person’s physical chemistry.
Mental and physical hospitalizations can occur from panic attacks and other genetic traits that could be unlocked by the drug. Furthermore, hallucinogens are often impure and can be laced with other dangerous chemicals.
6. Dissociative anesthetics:A dissociate drug distorts sensory perception and results in intense feelings of detachment from a person’s physical surroundings. While they produce sensations similar to hallucinogens, they are not actually causing hallucinations — they are disassociations or clear separations of mental processes. Phencyclidine (PCP), Ketamine (Special “K”) and Dextromethorphan (DXM) are the most widely abused dissociative drugs.Dissociatives cause slurred speech, a loss of coordination and numbness in drug users. In large doses, they are known to cause overdoses. However, most injuries that result from dissociative abuse occur from accidental injuries or self-inflicted harm due to the feelings of invulnerability and superhuman strength they are known to produce.
People often ask: Is overdose death painful? Some overdoses can be painless, if a person simply falls asleep and does not wake up. But as this type of drug proves, severe pain can occur from other types of deaths that result from overdosing — such as car accidents or jumping off of buildings.
7. Cannabis: Marijuana has exploded into mainstream culture recently, as it is now legal to possess and use in several states across the U.S. Marijuana is most commonly smoked, eaten or administered through drops.While hospitalizations for a physical cannabis overdose are rare, it is often forgotten that it is still a serious drug and can cause a psychological addiction. Marijuana is especially risky for teenagers whose brains are still developing, as well as for older patients who may have cardiovascular or other health issues.
Overdosing by the Numbers
Just how big of a problem is overdosing in the U.S.? It’s a much bigger issue than you might think.
Here are some of the most alarming overdose statistics that we uncovered:
- Overdosing is on the rise: Despite the advent of the digital information age and the wealth of data that is readily available on drugs over the Web, the volume of overdoses continues to climb. In fact, drug overdoses have been steadily increasing since the early 1990s, with a 117 percent increase from 1999 to 2012. There is no indication that this number is slowing down.
- It doesn’t just affect adults: Thousands of children are sent to hospitals every year for ingesting harmful substances. Furthermore, pharmaceuticals are responsible for about 40 percent of exposures reported to poison control centers for children under the age of six.
- 114 Americans die every day from overdosing: Additionally, almost 7,000 people are treated in hospitals every day for non-fatal drug experiences.
- Who is most at risk for an overdose? Statistics show that men are 59 percent more likely to die than women from an overdose. Additionally, the 45- to 49-year-old age group is most at risk for dying from this type of incident.
Preventing an Overdose
How can we reduce the number of injuries and fatalities that occur every year from accidental and intentional drug interactions?
On a personal level, you need to stop abusing drugs. This is often easier said than done. Addiction is a disease and can require treatment in order to get healthy. You first need to acknowledge the fact that you are engaging in a very risky activity every time you put a harmful substance into your body.
The only way to truly prevent an overdose is to avoid taking drugs in the first place. It is possible to live a clean, sober and fun life. You have what it takes to change, even though you might not be aware of it in your present condition.
If you have kids, always keep your medications up high and out of sight, where they cannot find them. Drugs should also be sealed with child-proof locks at all times in order to prevent kids from opening containers and swallowing them.
Aside from the crushing sense of guilt that will accompany you if a child in your household overdoses on your supply, you could also be held accountable in a court of law, resulting in the removal of the child from your home by authorities and accompanying legal penalties.
You should also talk to your kids about drugs regularly, as education and awareness are some of the most powerful tools in keeping kids safe. Refusing to talk about the subject or hiding information from your kids will only add to their curiosity.
If you are close with someone who frequently uses drugs, such as a friend or family member, be sure to set guidelines about using substances in your house — especially if you have kids around.
Is This an Overdose?
As we mentioned, however, even with the proper precautions, drug overdoses can happen anyway. They are unpredictable. And when they do happen, knowing what to do can mean the difference between life and death — whether it is your life, the life of a loved one or a stranger you are with.
Let’s take a close look at how to identify an overdose so you can recognize one when you see it and spring to action.
Identifying Overdose Symptoms
Here’s how to tell if someone you are with is overdosing and the common symptoms of an overdose:
- Look for muscle twitching, convulsions, tremors, vomiting and hallucinations as these are often signs that the person has taken too much of a stimulant.
- You should also pay attention to whether the person is sleepy, confused or experiencing difficulty breathing, as this could be the sign of a narcotic or depressant overdose. Look for a reduced heart rate and slurred speech, too. The person will appear to be intoxicated and will suffer from reduced coordination.
- Additionally, also look for cold, clammy skin, blue lips and extremities, impaired vision, dilated pupils and abnormal behavior.
If you think someone is overdosing, do not hesitate to call 911. You should also:
- Let the person know that you are concerned he or she may be overdosing.
- Try to get as much information out of him or her as quickly as possible. Ask what was ingested, how much and when he or she took it.
If you do not think this is an emergency where seconds count, but you would like further advice, you can call poison control at 800-822-1222. You will be given anonymous access to an expert who will tell you exactly what to do.
If the situation continues to worsen, call 911 regardless of whether the person you are with thinks it is necessary. If they are in an altered state, they might try and resist, but call anyway. This person may not be aware of the danger at hand.
How Is an Overdose Treated?
Since every drug interacts with the body differently, there is no single method of treating an overdose. Treatment will depend on what was taken, when it was taken and the amount that was taken.
If a drug is swallowed, doctors may administer activated charcoal, which will bind itself to the drug and prevent it from spreading further into the bloodstream. The charcoal and drug is then expunged through a bowel movement.
Doctors may also pump the patient’s stomach using a gastric lavage in order to remove the drug before it becomes further absorbed by the body.
Additional drugs may be administered in the hospital for the purpose of countering the effects of the drug that is causing the overdose or to prevent the drug from causing permanent damage to the body.
Life After an Overdose
If an overdose is deemed to be intentional, a patient should immediately seek psychological counseling in order to identify the root cause of the issue. It could be a cry for help or indicative of a severe underlying mental heath disorder.
If the overdose is the result of a drug addiction, the next step should be rehabilitation. An overdose should be taken seriously. You want to ensure the person does not repeat the same mistake twice. Only through professional help can your loved one heal from addiction.
Why is rehabilitation a necessary part of the detoxification process? When a person stops using a drug, they may experience profound withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms are different for each drug, but they can be very severe. Even a drug such as marijuana, which does not produce physical dependence, can have unpleasant side effects including changes in appetite, sleep patterns and mood.
Depression is common during the first few days of detoxification. Withdrawal symptoms can last for several days or weeks, depending on how long the person has been using the drug and the strength of the addiction.
Without the proper support, guidance and environment, a user is liable to relapse and resume old habits when the stress of the withdrawal gets to be too intense. Rehabilitation provides a “safe zone,” in which a person can remove himself or herself from other influences and triggers that could cause a relapse. Triggers can be influential social circles, negative environments or a variety of other stressors.
Has Your Life Spiraled Out of Control?
If you have recently suffered from an overdose and are seeking rehabilitation, you need more than a standard facility that will help you detox. You need a comprehensive service that will walk you through treatment and counseling. The ideal program will demonstrate exactly how to begin a new, healthy life that is free of substance abuse.
12 Keys Best Rehab is a leading recovery provider that has all the resources necessary to assist you along your journey to lifelong recovery. Located on beautiful waterfront property in Jensen Beach, Florida, 12 Keys Best Rehab provides a full range of interventional services.
Insurance is accepted at 12 Keys Best Rehab, where clients are treated like family members. The facility boasts a small population of recovering addicts and a large staff, providing the ideal amount of care and attention that is needed for each patient.
The best part about 12 Keys, however, is the 12 Keys model for recovery.
Introducing the 12 Keys Model for Overdose Recovery
Your body is different from anyone else’s. So one size definitely does not fit all when it comes to drug and alcohol treatment. You need access to a customized, mutli-step program that will do more than check you in and check you out after your time is up.
The 12 Keys model for recovery is based on the 12-step process for addicts. The 12 Keys model combines thorough patient assessments, in-depth team reviews and customized, patient-centric treatment plans in order to ensure every client is ready to be re-introduced to the world upon completion of the program.
Clients participate in individual therapy sessions and group sessions. You will also obtain a sponsor and gain access to a global network of recovering users. This support network is an open invitation to come to meetings and engage in phone conversations. You will gain lifelong friends who you can rely on and grow with.
Why is 12 Keys able to provide such a tailored approach to client needs? Since the staff is large and well-qualified, each therapist is given a small load of clients to oversee, which allows the ability to continuously assess the patient. Therapists can be flexible in their treatment plans.
As clients progress through the treatment system, therapists are able to shed light on underlying issues and uncover the root-causes that are fueling addictive behaviors. As client needs change, therapists can change their plans accordingly in order to provide the best treatment possible.
Treatment at 12 Keys Best Rehab is a holistic, root-cause style therapy program. It focuses on nipping the problem of addiction in the bud instead of masking the problem with medications and instructions like some facilities will attempt to do. Clients don’t just emerge as recovered addicts — they emerge as new people, with a whole new outlook on life.
Here are some of the additional benefits that 12 Keys clients enjoy:
- Daily recreation: Rehabilitation is hard work, but it can also be fun and rewarding. Addicts are often surprised to find pleasure in new activities that they might not have previously considered or old ones that have fallen by the wayside. 12 Keys Best Rehab offers wholesome and exhilarating activities such as deep sea fishing, kayaking, standup paddleboarding, golfing, horseback riding, snorkeling and more.
- High quality meals: Meals are important for two reasons. They allow patients to come together, share stories and relax around a table. They also provide a great opportunity for staff to observe social interactions. Meals are planned specially by a nutritionist and prepared by a talented chef.
- Detoxification: Detoxification is not a punishment at 12 Keys. We like to view it as a time to repair the body and soothe the mind from the rigors of drug abuse. With the help of Dr. Victor A. Balta, a board-certified Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist with 25 years of experience in his field, and his staff, you can get the support you need to overcome detox symptoms.
As a 12 Keys Best Rehab client, you can also receive expert guidance and diagnosis. During your stay, you have the opportunity to address and treat underlying mental or behavioral health issues.
Are you ready to turn your life around? Learn more about how 12 Keys Rehab can help you kick your addiction once and for all and re-discover the life you are meant to lead.