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Signs of a Cocaine Overdose

5 minute read

Some people think of cocaine as a relatively harmless party drug, but the effects of cocaine can be dangerous and even deadly. Cocaine overdose deaths rose by almost 27% in 2020 according to the CDC, and cocaine use has seen a rise in recent years. The National Survey on Drug Abuse reports that cocaine overdose deaths that involve synthetic opioids have been the main factor in cocaine overdose deaths in recent years. Signs and symptoms of a cocaine overdose include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Irregular or increased heart rate
  • Chest pains
  • Vomiting
  • Breathing problems
  • Agitation, anxiety, or paranoia
  • High blood pressure
  • Blurred vision
  • High body temperature
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Seizure
  • Cardiac arrest

If an individual is experiencing any of these symptoms, the best thing to do is call 911 before they progress.

What Causes a Cocaine Overdose?

Your risk of overdose on cocaine is based on a few factors:

  • How much cocaine you used.
  • How long you’ve been using cocaine.
  • Your physical health.
  • If you’ve combined cocaine with other substances.

A first-time user can overdose on cocaine if they take too large of an amount for their system, especially if they’re using alcohol and other drugs. A chronic cocaine abuser can overdose by taking dangerous amounts of cocaine to try to maintain their high. Once you develop a tolerance to cocaine, it takes more to get the desired effect. A cocaine high is brief compared to other drugs, so users may take several doses in one day to stay high. Substance abusers who haven’t used cocaine for a while are also at risk for an unintentional overdose. Their tolerance is down and so lower doses can greatly affect their system.

Another cause of cocaine overdose is impurities in the drug. Many illicit drug makers chase cocaine and other drugs with fentanyl. It’s a highly potent chemical and you can overdose on a small amount of it. Combining cocaine with other substances like heroin or alcohol increases your risk of overdose. Cocaine abusers may make a “speedball,” which is a combination of heroin and cocaine that can be highly dangerous and deadly. Cocaine’s stimulant effects can feel like they’re “canceling out” the depressive effects of alcohol and vice versa. This can cause people to take more of one or both of the substances.

Cocaine has stimulant effects that speed up functioning of some of your body’s systems. Its effect on the central nervous system increases heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure. A cocaine overdose can cause stress on the cardiovascular system, leading to organ failure, internal bleeding, and heart attacks. It can also cause electrical disturbances in the brain causing seizures.

Getting Help For a Cocaine Overdose

At the first signs of cocaine overdose symptoms, call 911. The quicker you get medical intervention, the better the chances of preventing long-term organ damage and decreasing risk of death. If you get help right away, you may be able to prevent more severe cocaine overdose symptoms like cardiac arrest or seizures.

While you wait for emergency personnel, make sure there is nothing around the individual that they could bang their head on if they have a seizure. If they have a high fever, you can apply cold compresses. Don’t leave them unattended. Don’t let fear of legal repercussions prevent you from calling for help during a cocaine overdose. Most states have good Samaritan laws that prevent you or the individual overdosing from being arrested or charged with drug possession.

Dangers of Cocaine Abuse and Overdose

Cocaine users are at risk for several health issues. Some of these include:

Brain Damage

Cocaine abuse depletes your brain of dopamine, which can cause cocaine withdrawal when you go without it. Imbalance of brain chemicals can also lead to anxiety and depression symptoms. Many people have severe depression or feel suicidal during cocaine withdrawal. This comes from the cocaine high as the brain struggles severely to make the balance, which is why your mood drastically crashes after the highs. Cocaine abuse can also decrease gray matter, damage the brain’s structure, kill off neurons, and cause seizure disorders.

Heart Problems and Heart Attack

Cocaine greatly impacts the circulatory system. Some of the ways cocaine affects the heart include:

  • Irregular heart rhythms
  • Constricted blood vessels and blood clots
  • Inflamed heart muscle
  • Heart failure
  • Aorta tears
  • Hardened arteries
  • Heart attack

Digestive Issues

Cocaine abuse can decrease the gut’s good bacteria and eat away at the stomach’s acidity barrier. It can also lead to weight loss and malnutrition, acid reflux, diarrhea, and damage to bowel tissues.

Lung Damage

Cocaine constricts blood vessels and capillaries, which can harden the walls of the lungs. It can cause swelling of the lungs, rupturing air sacs and arteries. Lung spasms leading to respiratory failure is also a risk.

Hormone Dysregulation

Cocaine abusers can have a dysregulated endocrine system. Cocaine’s effect on hormone production and regulation can disrupt menstrual cycles, lower sperm count, and cause fertility issues.

Get Cocaine Addiction Treatment

Addiction is a disease that is treatable. If you or a loved one is struggling, reach out. Substance abuse not only ruins your life, it can be dangerous and deadly. Recovery is the fresh start you need.

Footprints to Recovery offers evidence-based drug rehab programs that get to the root causes of substance use disorders. Our behavioral health professionals will help you address underlying issues like trauma, co-occurring disorders (dual diagnosis), and unhealthy thinking patterns that can perpetuate addiction. You’ll learn relapse-prevention skills that support long-term addiction recovery from alcohol and drug abuse. We offer a full continuum of care that includes medical detox and inpatient treatment as well as outpatient options.

Levels of care at our addiction and mental health treatment centers include:

A better life is possible. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, call us today for a free, confidential consultation.

References

  1. https://archive.cdc.gov/#/details?url=https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2020/p1218-overdose-deaths-covid-19.html
  2. https://www.unodc.org/res/wdr2021/field/WDR21_Booklet_1.pdf
  3. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/cocaine
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24738841/
  5. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-48428-2
  6. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/digestive-system-how-it-works
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6387265/
  8. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/health-consequences-drug-misuse/respiratory-effects#:~:text=Smoking%20crack%20cocaine%20can%20cause,or%20make%20asthma%20symptoms%20worse
  9. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/262579998_Effects_of_cocaine_on_the_hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal_axis
Medically Reviewed by Lindsay Hutchison, MS, LPC, LCADC
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