Derived from the coca plant that grows in abundance in South America, cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug used recreationally across the globe. Cocaine, or the informal ‘coke’ or ‘blow,’ is characterized by its talc-like white powder, which is snorted or injected by users. Once put into 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 peril of overdosing.

Cocaine has always been considered a rich man’s drug due to its exorbitant street price. Its use is widespread, though, second only to alcohol when it comes to emergency hospital visits, exceeding 500,000 a year.  

Despite this, cocaine use and overdoses have mostly been on the decline in recent years. Many drug users cannot justify the return on investment of cost-per-high. Especially when other drugs such as opioids are so cheap and prevalent. Still, ever since opioid addiction and use in the United States has reached epidemic proportions, cocaine overdoses have begun to rise steadily once again. Users are more likely to mix the two, sometimes without even realizing it. In 2015 alone, some 7,000 overdose fatalities were attributed to cocaine, and the figures are expected to rise in correlation with opioid overdoses.

Unlike some drugs, users can overdose on cocaine the first time they take it. With the threat of cocaine overdose always a possibility, here are the signs and symptoms to look out for when you or a loved one partakes in this deadly toxin.

Cocaine Overdose | Cocaine Overdose Treatment, Signs, & Symptoms
In many circumstances, symptoms of a cocaine overdose mirror the effects of the drug itself. For example, 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, cocaine overdoses can be recognized by chest pain, elevated heart rate, twitching and headaches.

Unfortunately, many of these symptoms go unacknowledged because the euphoria creates a façade of safety. And, if the likelihood of overdoses weren’t reason enough to worry, symptoms can lead to the onset of more permanent damage. Heart attacks are always a concern, as are strokes, seizures and comas.

On the outside looking in, 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
  • Confusion to the point of apparent psychosis
  • Agitated movements and restlessness
  • Teeth grinding and chattering
  • Talkativeness
  • Unremitting energy

Cocaine overdoses have a devastating effect on the human heart and cardiovascular system. If any or all of the above signs are present, it is imperative that the individual seek emergency medical care as soon as possible. 

As a party drug, cocaine overdoses usually happen two ways: either the user ingests too much to begin with, or they use 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. This, mixed with the fact that users do not realize the amount they’ve put into their bodies already, is a recipe for disaster.

Just how much cocaine does it take to overdose? Well, the answer is up for some debate. Method of ingestion — orally, nasally or intravenously — plays a factor, as does the purity of the cocaine and the tolerance of the individual themselves. What we do know is that injecting the drug requires the least amount to produce a fatal reaction, with as little as 20 mg. For perspective, 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. This is a common practice that should be avoided at all costs.

With rapid response, cocaine overdoses can be reversed and the victim saved. Preemptive steps should be taken even before medical personnel arrive to give the person overdosing a fighting chance. To start, 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.

Enough cannot be said about keeping the individual calm, too. 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 over-activeness of the cardiovascular system. Having the person overdosing focus on steady breathing is another must.

There is no special cocaine overdose antidote. Thus, medical intervention is reliant 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 or 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, often times this is easier said than done. Still, 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.

If you or a loved one is ready to break free from cocaine addiction and put 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 today to take the first step toward healing. Intake coordinators are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to take your call. 

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.