Drug overdoses are not always fatal. But just because you survive an overdose doesn’t mean you automatically return to normal. Not only is a drug overdose a sign that your substance use is serious, but also there may be short- and long-term consequences for your mental, emotional and physical well-being.
Since 1999, drug overdoses have increased by 781 percent. While many overdoses are fatal, some are reversible. However, if you don’t get help for your substance use disorder, another overdose can prove fatal. Let’s learn more about what happens during an overdose, the adverse health effects that can occur and the importance of getting help.
What Happens During an Overdose?
An overdose happens when you take a toxic amount of a drug. Most overdoses occur from opioids, but they can also occur from other drugs like cocaine or benzodiazepines. Let’s look closer at what happens to the brain and body during an overdose.
Different drugs can affect various systems in the body, disrupting normal functioning. For instance, opioids can depress the central nervous system, leading to slowed breathing and heart rate, while stimulants can cause dangerous spikes in heart rate and blood pressure.
Overwhelming the brain
The brain is at the center of an overdose’s impact. Different drugs target various neurotransmitter systems, affecting mood, perception and vital functions. During an overdose, these systems can become imbalanced, leading to confusion, loss of consciousness, and in severe cases, seizures.
Perhaps one of the most critical aspects of a drug overdose is respiratory depression. Many drugs, especially opioids and sedatives, can suppress the brain’s ability to regulate breathing. As a result, your breathing may become slow, shallow or even stop altogether.
Cardiovascular effects are also common during an overdose. Stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines can cause dangerous spikes in heart rate and blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke. On the other hand, depressants like opioids can lead to dangerously low blood pressure, potentially causing shock.
Mental health effects
A drug overdose doesn’t just affect the body; it also has profound psychological implications. You may experience confusion, delirium, hallucinations or extreme agitation. In some cases, an overdose can trigger severe anxiety, panic attacks and even exacerbate underlying mental health conditions.
Seizures and unconsciousness
Depending on the drug involved and its effects on the brain, an overdose can lead to seizures and loss of consciousness. Seizures are the result of abnormal electrical activity in the brain and can be life-threatening if not managed promptly. Loss of consciousness is a dangerous state, as it can lead to choking on vomit or other life-threatening complications.
In severe cases, a drug overdose can trigger multi-system failure. The heart, lungs, kidneys and other vital organs may struggle to maintain function due to the imbalances caused by the toxic effects of the drug. Without immediate medical intervention, this can lead to irreversible damage or death.
Health Outcomes for Non-Fatal Overdoses
Most of the information on preventing overdoses is related to saving lives. However, aside from fatality, there are many other adverse effects that overdoses can cause.
- Nerve damage. When you overdose, your body could be stuck in the same position for a long time, leading to nerve damage or paralysis of the limbs. In extreme cases, a limb may need to be amputated because the blood circulation was cut off too long.
- Brain damage. The brain is deprived of oxygen during an overdose, which means it can’t work as it should. This can cause permanent brain damage, a loss of vision or hearing and even a vegetative state.
- Toxic brain injury. A toxic brain injury refers to damage in the brain. Depending on the area affected, this injury can cause mood swings, trouble solving problems, headaches, issues with memory and more.
- Organ damage. Along with the brain, oxygen is cut off to other organs in the body, causing them to shut down. The kidneys are of particular concern because they can’t keep up with filtering toxins out of the blood.
Preventing Drug Overdoses
Preventing overdoses requires a multi-faceted approach that includes education, harm reduction, support systems and policy changes. For example, naloxone is a medication that can reverse the effects of opioids, and it’s extremely effective when administered at the right time. Most states allow anyone to be trained to use and carry naloxone.
Even more important is addressing the root cause of overdose, which is substance use. People who struggle with substance use disorders require treatment, therapy and counseling to overcome their problems and reduce the risk for overdosing. Fortunately, these disorders respond well to treatment.
Pura Vida Recovery is a drug and alcohol rehab center that helps clients achieve long-lasting sobriety. Not only do we offer inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation services, but also we specialize in sober living. By the time clients complete our program, they are secure in their recoveries and able to transition to everyday living.
To learn more about our treatment services and how we can help you break the cycle, contact Pura Vida Recovery today.