In Support

Each year, thousands of individuals pass due to drug and alcohol overdose. In fact, deaths from drug overdose in the United States in 2017 were higher than ever. What’s that look like? In 2017, more than 72,000 people died of overdoses – or nearly 200 people a day. The addiction epidemic our country is facing knows no bounds affecting all walks of life, all of our communities and all of our hearts. We’ve lost countless sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, friends, loved ones, neighbors … the list could go on. It’s difficult to come into contact with someone now a days who has not been affected by alcohol and drug addiction in some way shape or form. Almost everyone now knows someone or of someone who has passed due to drug overdose.

International Overdose Awareness Day is a global event held on August 31st each year to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related dealth. It’s a time to acknowledge the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have passed as a result of drug overdose.


What’s an Alcohol or Drug Overdose?

An alcohol or drug overdose occurs when you take in more alcohol or drugs or a combination of alcohol and drugs than your body can physically handle. Individuals can overdose on many things including alcohol, cocaine, Tylenol, opioids or a mixture of drugs. Perhaps the most fatal, opioid overdoses happen when there are so many opioids or a combination of opioids and other drugs in the body that the individual is unresponsive to stimulation and/or breathing is inadequate. Heroin, prescription opioids (Oxycontin, Fentanyl, Morphine, Vicodin, Percocet, etc) and other downers such as alcohol and benzodiazepines (Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, Ativan, etc) are an especially dangerous combination given they all affect the body’s central nervous system which slows down breathing, blood pressure and heart rate. Stimulant overdoses which include drugs such as; cocaine, ecstasy, and speed increase an individuals heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature, in turn, speeding up breathing and leading to seizure, stroke, heart attack or death.

Alcohol Overdose

Signs & Symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Loss of Co-ordination
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Irregular breathing or Slow breathing
  • Pale or blue-tinged skin
  • Unconsciousness or passing out

What to do:

  • Call an ambulance
  • Keep them warm
  • If they’re unconscious, don’t leave them on their back, move to side
  • If awake, attempt to keep awake and sitting
  • Be prepared to give CPR

What Not to Do:

  • Leave them to sleep it of: Even if someone does not continue to drink, the amount of alcohol in someone’s blood will continue to rise.
  • Give them coffee: alcohol and coffee both dehydrate the body; therefore, this can cause severe dehydration or even permanent brain damage.
  • Make them sick: this puts an individual at risk of choking on their own vomit
  • Walk them around: alcohol slows brain function, as well as affects co-ordination and balancing; therefore, walking them around could cause them to hurt themselves or others
  • Put them in a cold shower: This could dangerously reduce the body temperature and lead to hypothermia
Depressant (Benzodiazepines, Barbiturates) Overdose

Signs & Symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Unresponsive, but awake
  • Limp body
  • Pale and/or clammy face
  • Blue fingernails or lips
  • Shallow or erratic breathing or not breathing at all
  • Slow or erratic heartbeat
  • Choking
  • Loss of consciousness

What to do:

  • Call an ambulance
  • Be prepared to give CPR
  • Ensure they have adequate air
  • If unconscious put them on their side
  • Provide paramedics with as much information as possible

What not to do:

  • Ignore choking, snoring or gurgling this could be a sign that they could be having a difficult time breathing
  • Leave the person alone
  • Give the person anything to drink, eat or try to induce vomiting
Opioid (Oxycodone, Morphine, Codeine, Heroin, Fentanyl, Methadone, and Opium) Overdose

Signs & Symptoms:

  • No response to stimuli
  • Shallow/stopped breathing
  • Can’t be woken up
  • Unusual snoring/gurgling sounds
  • Blue/grey lips or fingertips
  • Floppy arms and legs

What to do:

  • Check for vital signs: Alert? Breathing? Colour of skin?
  • Call an ambulance
  • Try to get a response
  • If unconscious put them on their sides
  • If you have Narcan/Naloxone use it
  • Be prepared to give CPR 

What not to do:

  • Leave the person alone
  • Give the person anything to eat or drink or induce vomiting
Stimulant (Amphetamine, Cocaine, Ecstasy, MDMA) Overdose

Signs & Symptoms:

  • Sweaty skin
  • Headaches
  • Chest pain
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Psychotic symptoms
  • Severe agitation or panic
  • Confusion or disorientation

What to do:

  • Call an ambulance
  • Move the person to a quiet place
  • Cool the person down with a wet towel on their forehead or underarms
  • If unconscious put the person on their side

What not to do?

  • Leave the person alone
  • Give the person anything to eat or drink or induce vomiting

What Are Risk Factors?

A large number of overdoses occur from individuals mixing heroin, prescription opioids and/or other alcohol with benzodiazepines. Another common drug combination that increases the risk of overdose is speedballing, mixing heroin and cocaine. Tolerance, which is your body’s ability to process certain amounts of a drug also plays a large role in overdose. Tolerance develops over time, the longer an individual uses the more they’ll need in order to feel the same effects of the drug. What’s important to note is that tolerance decreases rapidly when someone takes a break from using a drug, for example, when they enter into treatment. Therefore, those who’ve had a period of sobriety who return to their previous amount of drug use are at a higher risk of overdose.


For more information on alcohol and drug overdose, or International Overdose Awareness Day Click Here.

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