In 2017, cocaine was responsible for 19% of all overdose deaths in the United States. As one of the most infamous drugs in the world, cocaine is a powerful and highly addictive stimulant drug. Most instances of cocaine overdoses involve deadly arrhythmias and cardiac arrest. For family and friends of cocaine users, it’s essential to recognize the signs of a cocaine overdose. Overdoses may be fatal, but if swiftly treated, they are reversible. Below are the signs, symptoms, and treatment options for a cocaine overdose.
What is cocaine, and what makes it so addictive?
Cocaine is a powder substance that is processed from the leaves of the coca plant, which is native to South America. This plant has been used for centuries to aid in alertness and increased energy. The powdered, processed form of the coca leaf, cocaine, is both highly addictive and dangerous.
Cocaine causes feelings of euphoria in users. The drug makes people highly alert, energetic, social, and hypersensitive to stimuli. Cocaine is a short-lived drug and is one of the reasons why the risk of overdose in cocaine users is so high.
What is a cocaine overdose?
Cocaine overdoses occur when someone takes too much of the drug, and their system can’t handle it. When cocaine use reaches toxic levels in the body, extreme reactions occur. In essence, the use of too much cocaine, or of mixing cocaine with another substance, will poison the body.
Another significant risk with taking cocaine is that cocaine overdoses aren’t solely dictated by the amount of cocaine someone ingests. A person can overdose on cocaine after snorting a few hundred milligrams of the substance, while another person can ingest a few grams of cocaine and not overdose. With cocaine use, the risk of overdose is wildly unpredictable.
Cocaine potency also varies widely, since the drug is manufactured on the street. Someone can’t know exactly how much cocaine is in the batch they’ve purchased. Cocaine can also be cut or laced with other drugs, like heroin or fentanyl. This increases the risk of overdose in users. The potency of a gram of cocaine from one source can vary significantly from another source of cocaine, which makes it extremely dangerous.
What are the symptoms of a cocaine overdose?
Cocaine is a stimulant drug that increases central nervous system functions. When someone takes cocaine, they will experience an increase in core body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. In cocaine overdoses, these side effects are extreme. Dissolving cocaine powder in water and injecting the drug increase the risk of overdose. The physical and psychological symptoms of cocaine overdose will vary from one person to the next, but the following signs are common in cocaine overdoses:
- Elevated blood pressure and heart rate
- Changes in respiration
- Chest pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Paranoia and hallucinations
- Excited delirium
What are the dangers of a cocaine overdose?
People who casually use cocaine are at risk of overdose, but that risk drastically increases for people who are addicted to cocaine. People with an addiction to cocaine will often binge the drug, taking large amounts of it in a short amount of time to prolong the euphoric effects of the substance. Unfortunately, the physical effects of binging cocaine are dangerous and profound.
When someone takes a large dose of cocaine, the heart rhythm is severely impacted, which increases the risk of heart attacks. Serious neurological risks may also occur, such as intense headaches, comas, and seizures. Cocaine use also upsets the gastrointestinal tract and can cause severe nausea, vomiting, and dehydration.
People who are addicted to cocaine may also mix the drug with other substances as a way to experience an intense and long-lasting high. When people do this, the cardiovascular systems and organs are put at risk, especially in cases where someone mixes cocaine with alcohol. These two substances have opposite effects on the body, and each one heightens the impact of the other to dangerous degrees.
Cocaine not only impacts the body, but it also affects the brain. Long-term cocaine abuse can cause marked changes in brain chemistry and structure. People who overdose on cocaine and use large amounts of the drug may cause permanent brain damage. In heavy cocaine users, cerebral bleeding can occur. Cocaine addiction can also lead to permanent memory loss and problems with decision making and motor functioning.
What are the treatment options for cocaine overdose?
Untreated, a cocaine overdose can be fatal. If a cocaine overdose is caught early, it is easy to reverse, and users can go on to not experience any permanent effects from the incident. But after an overdose occurs, users must get treatment for substance abuse. Prolonged cocaine abuse increases the chances of a fatal overdose along with permanent damage to the brain and body.
If someone suspects their friend or family member is overdosing on cocaine, it is critical that they call 911 and not leave the person unattended. Seizures are frequent in cocaine overdoses. If this occurs, it’s important not to hold the person or otherwise restrain them. Instead, position them safely on their side on the floor. Remove any objects that they could hit with their head or limbs. Apply a cold compress to the person’s forehead, side and back of their neck, and at their wrists to reduce body temperature.
Medical personnel will take the person to the ER, where they will be given a range of medications and intravenous fluids to reverse the effects of the overdose. Depending on the severity of the overdose, the person may need to stay in the hospital for several days before attending rehab.
Are you or a loved one struggling with cocaine addiction? The sooner you get help, the sooner you can heal. Please contact Mission Harbor Behavioral Health today. Representatives are standing by to assist and answer your questions about rehabilitation and therapy.
The facilities at Mission Harbor are staffed with trained experts to best assist patients with their mental health issues. We are capable of dealing with any and all cases with a licensed staff, equipment, and approved techniques. Our mission is to help those who want to help themselves, and we support your decision in seeking help.
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