What To Expect After A Drug Overdose

What To Expect After A Drug Overdose

Anyone who abuses drugs may overdose. A drug overdose is a medical emergency that poses serious risks, including permanent brain damage and death. That’s why it’s important to seek treatment as soon as it occurs. 

If you or someone you love has overdosed, here’s what to expect afterward.

What To Expect After A Drug Overdose

When you or someone you know shows signs of overdose, call 911 right away. The signs can vary depending on the drug and the person. However, the most common signs of overdose include:

  • choking or gurgling sounds
  • nausea and vomiting
  • confusion
  • sudden mood changes
  • sudden change in breathing, heart rate, or body temperature
  • seizures
  • loss of consciousness

When you call 911, the dispatcher will gather information about the person’s symptoms and give you further instructions. For example, they may instruct you to provide CPR or to move the person to a safer position or environment. 

Naloxone

In addition, you may be asked to administer naloxone if you have it. Naloxone (brand name Narcan) is a medication that can rapidly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. You can get it at most pharmacies without a prescription. 

Even if you think the person did not use opioids, naloxone could save their life. That’s because many street drugs are laced with deadly opioids like fentanyl. 

Emergency Medical Response

In most cases, the dispatcher will send emergency medical responders to your location. When they arrive, they will examine the person’s breathing, heart rate, and other vital signs. Depending on the person’s condition, they may then administer a variety of treatments, including:

  • intravenous fluids
  • oxygen, breathing tubes, breathing machines (ventilators), or other forms of airway support
  • activated charcoal, which can prevent drugs from getting absorbed into the body

Emergency Room

They may also transport the person to an emergency room. There, doctors may perform multiple tests, such as chest x-rays, blood and urine tests, CT (computerized tomography) scans, and EKGs (electrocardiograms). These tests will help determine any additional treatments the person needs.

In some cases, the person may be sent home that day and feel normal again rather quickly. Other times, they may be admitted into the hospital for days, weeks, or months. Doctors will watch for signs of life-threatening complications, such as cardiac arrest, and provide emergency treatment if needed. 

How To Prevent Future Drug Overdoses

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), experiencing one drug overdose makes you more likely to experience a second one. 

To lower your risk of overdose, you must stop abusing drugs. That means you should never use illegal drugs. Also, only use prescription drugs exactly as prescribed by your doctor. In other words, you should never:

  • take more prescription drugs than prescribed
  • take prescription drugs more often than prescribed
  • mix prescription drugs with other drugs (unless instructed to do so by your doctor) 
  • use prescription drugs in a manner not prescribed, such as crushing and snorting pills

You should also keep your family safe from accidental overdose by storing all pills in secure containers out of a child’s reach. In addition, if you or a loved one has been prescribed an opioid, keep naloxone on hand. If you accidentally take too much of the opioid or a child ingests it, naloxone could be life-saving. 

Also, to avoid an alcohol overdose (also called alcohol poisoning), avoid drinking or only drink in moderation. 

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines moderate drinking as having no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. 

Drug Abuse & Addiction Treatment

If you feel unable to stop abusing drugs, you may have drug addiction (also called substance use disorder). This disease makes you feel unable to stop using drugs despite negative consequences. Other symptoms include:

  • mood swings
  • loss of motivation
  • avoidance of friends and family members
  • tolerance (needing increasingly larger or more frequent amounts of a drug to feel the desired effects)
  • physical dependence (experiencing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating or anxiety, when you go without drugs)

People who experience these symptoms should seek help at a substance abuse and addiction treatment center. These centers offer evidence-based treatment services such as:

  • mental health counseling, where a therapist can help you manage drug cravings and any mental health concerns that contributed to your drug use in the first place
  • medical detox, where doctors can help you stop using drugs with minimal withdrawal symptoms
  • medication-assisted treatment, where doctors can prescribe medications to ease cravings and withdrawal symptoms associated with certain types of addiction

Some centers also offer dual diagnosis treatment. That means they treat addiction alongside other mental health conditions, such as depression and schizophrenia. When you receive treatment for all of your mental health concerns at once, you’re much more likely to achieve long-term recovery.

To learn more about addiction treatment, please contact a Recovering Champions specialist. Our substance abuse treatment programs provide personalized, comprehensive care to protect you from overdose and other drug-related dangers.

Written by
Recovering Champions Editorial Team

Published on: May 3, 2022

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This page does not provide medical advice.

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