Once cocaine enters the body, the drug acts on the brain’s pleasure centers to flood normal brain function with dopamine. Chasing and maintaining this euphoria puts cocaine users in the peril of overdosing. Even first-time users place themselves at risk of an overdose.
With cocaine, the threat of an overdose is always a possibility, here are the signs and symptoms to look for and what to do in the case of an emergency.
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What Are Cocaine Overdose Symptoms?
In many circumstances, symptoms of a cocaine overdose mirror the effects of the drug itself. Cocaine is known to produce an energizing high, and an overdose amplifies this energy to the extreme. This can cause irritability, anxiety, exhilaration, depression, paranoia, and more. Beyond these mood and movement symptoms, an overdose can be recognized by chest pain, an elevated heart rate, twitching, and headaches.
Unfortunately, many of these symptoms go unacknowledged because the euphoria creates a façade of safety. If the likelihood of overdoses weren’t reason enough to worry, symptoms could lead to the onset of more permanent damage. Cocaine-related heart attacks are always a concern with use, as are strokes, seizures, and comas.
What Are Signs of a Cocaine Overdose?
There are several identifiable signs that a cocaine user is verging on becoming an overdose victim. Some of these signs include but are not limited to:
- High blood pressure
- High body temperature
- Agitated movements and restlessness
- Teeth grinding and chattering
- Unremitting energy
Cocaine overdoses can have a devastating effect on the human heart and the cardiovascular system. If any or all of the above signs are present, seek emergency medical care as soon as possible by calling 911.
How Much Cocaine Can Cause an Overdose?
As a party drug, cocaine overdoses usually happen one of two ways:
- Either the user ingests too much of the drug
- The user uses more and more to maintain their high
Therein lies the substances’ true danger. The high itself almost never lasts for more than an hour, so users are inclined to use it incrementally. When users do not realize the amount they’ve put into their bodies already, this is a recipe for disaster.
Just how much cocaine presents the risk of an overdose? Well, the answer varies based on the individual or unique circumstances.
Method of ingestion — orally, nasally or intravenously — plays a factor, as does the purity of the cocaine and the tolerance of the individual themselves. Cocaine should never be injected as this method requires the least amount to produce a fatal reaction, with as little as 20 mg. Despite the dangers, most individual doses range between 10 and 150 mg each.
Mixing cocaine with other substances, particularly heroin or alcohol, only exacerbates the prospect of a fatal overdose. Drug mixing should be avoided at all costs.
What to Do in the Case of a Cocaine Overdose?
If you believe you are witnessing or experiencing an overdose, seek emergency medical care as soon as possible by calling 911.
With rapid response, cocaine overdoses can sometimes be reversed and the victim saved. Preemptive steps should be taken even before medical personnel arrives to give the person overdosing a fighting chance. Things like ice, wet towels, and cool blankets can be used to lower the individual’s core body temperature and prevent excessive overheating.
This cooling method will continue under medical supervision until treatment is no longer required, so beginning the process right away helps in the long run. There is a time limit on this: leaving ice on the body too long can increase the risk for hypothermia and frostbite.
Enough cannot be said about keeping the individual calm. The heart goes into overdrive during an overdose, so any mitigating efforts to lower heart rate are essential. Also, respiratory failure may occur due to the overactivity of the cardiovascular system. Having the overdosing person focus on steady breathing may help.
How is Cocaine Overdose Treated?
There is no special cocaine overdose antidote. The medical intervention relies on treating the principal symptoms of the overdose. In a hospital setting, treatment often begins by giving the victim a sedative to lower their blood pressure and heart rate. Drugs such as benzodiazepines are used to accomplish this. Administering these medications also lessens the chance of heart attack or stroke.
Following recovery, it is imperative that one avoids overdosing again in the long term. The immense stress an overdose puts on vital organs leaves them susceptible to future trauma and damage. Given cocaine’s highly addictive quality, this is easier said than done. Sometimes, the best defense is preventative care. Seeking out the proper treatment efforts can put you or your family members on a path free of the fear of overdoses altogether.
Treatment for Cocaine Addiction at The Recovery Village
If you or a loved one is ready to break free from addiction and put an overdose behind you, The Recovery Village is here to help. Our nationwide facilities provide high-quality, evidence-based care to those who need it most. Reach out to us and take the first step toward healing. Intake coordinators are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to take your call.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2011: National Estimates of Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits.” 2011. Accessed June 15, 2020.
Seth, Puja; Scholl, Lawrence; Rudd, Rose; Bacon, Sarah. “Overdose Deaths Involving Opioids, Cocaine, and Psychostimulants — United States, 2015–2016.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 30, 2018. Accessed June 15, 2020.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.