What Are the Symptoms of a Drug Overdose?

Various health facilities and recovery centers work tirelessly to minimize the risk of a drug overdose. A great deal of progress has been made, yet, there is still a high rate of drug overdose deaths across the country. The United States recorded 70,237 and 67,367 drug overdose deaths in 2017 and 2018, respectively.1

What is Drug Overdose?

A drug overdose occurs when an individual consumes illicit drugs or more drugs than was medically recommended, and their body reacts adversely to it. An overdose can be intentional, such as when a person tries to commit suicide or it can occur when a person tries to get high.2 It can also be accidental, especially in cases where drugs were kept within reach of children or individuals with impaired mental abilities.3 Drug overdose is implicative of drug toxicity in the body, up to the extent that overwhelms the normal body functions.

People react to drugs differently. Some persons unknowingly overdose on prescription drugs, even when they have taken a recommended dose. In such cases, a dose usually accepted for use by the medical community may be too much for the person’s body to handle. Aside from prescription drugs, an individual can overdose on over-the-counter drugs, illicit drugs, or a mix of any form of drugs with other substances.

Generally, opioids account for most drug overdose, with almost 70 percent of the 67,367 drug overdose deaths in 2018 stemming from opioid overdose.4 Opioid overdose deaths culminated in recent years as a result of dependence on prescription opioids and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.5, 6 Due to the relentless exponential increase of drug overdose, the CDC deemed it fit to classify drug overdoses as an epidemic.4

A drug overdose doesn’t always result in death. There are  many medical interventions and rehabilitation programs put in place to help people dealing with drug abuse or overdose. If you have a loved one or friend who has a heightened chance of a drug overdose, it is imperative to know the symptoms. Also, you should be able to call for or offer necessary help when a symptom is identified.

What Are the Symptoms of Drug Overdose?

The symptoms of a drug’s overdose may vary from person to person. There are cases where symptoms of drug abuse might be innate (e.g., pupillary miosis), or doesn’t leave easily detectable signs. Sometimes, people who are experiencing an overdose are unaware of it. Most especially, those who take “drugs for kicks” and are under the heavy influence of such drugs at the given moment.

Drug abuse and drug overdose go hand in hand. If an individual is abusing a drug or any substance, they are at a high risk of overdosing on it. The effects of a drug overdose could be fatal or non-fatal and may be predominant in certain parts of the body. Whatever the case may be, it is important to know the symptoms and address them immediately.

General symptoms of fatal and non-fatal drug overdose are:
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Enlarged or dilated pupils
  • Change in body temperature
  • Coma
  • Diarrhea
  • Body becomes limp
  • Hallucinations
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Pale, ashen or clammy skin
  • Convulsions
  • Aggressiveness or violent behavior
  • Seizures and trembling
  • Unconsciousness
  • Bluish coloration of lips or fingertips (indicating lack of oxygen)
  • Death (in extreme, uncontrolled cases)
Though some symptoms are more fatal than the others, most times, the non-fatal symptoms are the precursors of the fatal ones. Despite how low the gravity of an overdose might appear, it is always better to treat any occurrence as an emergency.

Factors influencing the symptoms of a drug overdose include:
  • The type of drug taken
  • The quantity consumed
  • The health status of the person at the point of consumption

What to Do In Case Of an Overdose

Oftentimes, it is impossible for an individual experiencing an overdose to do something about it, as they are most likely to have lost control of their bodily functions. If you think that someone has overdosed on a drug, you can do a few things to help save their life.

In life-threatening circumstances, do not panic, call 911, stay with the person, and remain supportive while waiting for help.
  • If the individual is unconscious but still breathing, place them on their side and help clear their airway by tilting the head back.7 This ensures they don’t choke on their vomit.
  • Do not feed them any food or drink.
  • Do not try to make them vomit.
  • For an opioid or heroin overdose, administer naloxone if it is available and you know how to use it.
  • Report the drug ingested to the emergency responders.
In some cases, an individual might overdose on a drug repeatedly, refuse to be helped, or become violent. It is best to request the help of paramedics or law enforcement officials to persuade the person to accept treatment. Once recovered, the first life-changing treatment should be attending a Houston drug detox to rid the body of all substances.

Common Drugs That Cause Overdose

A person can overdose on any drug. But, some drugs are more likely to cause an overdose due to their after-effects.8 The list includes:
  • Opioids
  • Heroin
  • Prescription pills
  • Cannabis
  • Alcohol
  • MDMA (a.k.a. Molly or Ecstasy)
  • Depressants
  • Cocaine and other stimulants

Risk Factors of Drug Overdose

As stated earlier, a drug overdose can be intentional or accidental. Some of the risk factors that increase the chances of intentional drug overdose include:
  • Gradually increasing drug dosage without a doctor’s recommendations
  • Prior overdose
  • Quitting a substance abuse treatment program
  • Dependence on a drug’s after-effects
  • Unwillingness to seek medical help at the initial stages of abuse
  • Going back to an addictive drug after abstaining from it.
  • The use of a prescription opioid9
  • Prevalence of illegally manufactured drugs and prescription drugs in the black market
Avoiding the situations listed above can help prevent or lower the chances of a drug overdose. Moving to a Houston Sober Living home will ensure that the long-term recovery will take place in drug-free environment.

How to Treat a Drug Overdose

The treatment offered for a drug overdose depends on the drug, the amount consumed, and the person’s health status. Drug overdose can lead to lethal outcomes such as brain damage or organ failure, which requires a lot of medical attention. Other times, it may be mild and easily treated. Below are some of the common treatments for drug overdose used by professionals.
  • Activated charcoal – This binds and keeps the drugs in the stomach when ingested. This prevents drug absorption into the blood. The drug, alongside the charcoal, is expelled from the body in the stool.
  • Use of antidotes – Some drugs have been specially formulated and intended for the treatment of an overdose.
  • Sedation – This is mostly used for violent drug abusers to keep them relaxed for treatment or until the drug’s effects wear off.
  • Stomach pumping – Though rarely used, this involves washing the stomach to remove unabsorbed drugs.

Recovering From Drug Overdose

After treatment has been administered, it is necessary to take all precautionary measures to prevent a repeat of the occurrence. It is best to opt for a healthy lifestyle and avoid exposure to illegal drugs. Another major way of staying clean in the long run is by enrolling in an addiction recovery program, such as medical detox, Austin drug rehab, outpatient rehab, or sober living program.


  1. https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
  2. https://admin.americanaddictioncenters.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Overdose-Symptoms.png
  3. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/drug-overdose#1
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/index.html
  5. https://www.drugpolicy.org/issues/drug-overdose
  6. https://www.hri.global/files/2016/11/15/North_America.pdf
  7. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/drug-overdose
  8. https://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/saferpartying-how-to-recognize-overdose_0.pdf
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6007807/