Cocaine is an illegal stimulant drug that comes in the form of a white powder. According to research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), cocaine was most widely used in the United States in the 1990s.
Although rates of cocaine use have generally been stable for the past decade, the rates of drug overdoses involving cocaine have not. This is in part attributed to the opioid epidemic, as cocaine is just one of several drugs often-times mixed with opioids. In severe cases, mixing drugs like cocaine and opioids can lead to serious health consequences, including death.
It is also important to understand the dangers of using cocaine alone. Many people abuse cocaine for its ability to cause a brief but intense high, resulting in increased energy, talkability, and alertness. Repeated use of cocaine can lead to addiction, negative side effects such as paranoia and spasms, as well as increase a person’s risk for overdose.
If you know or suspect that someone you know is using cocaine, it may be helpful to know the most common signs of an overdose. Knowing the signs of a cocaine overdose can be life-saving, and prevent other serious short and long-lasting dangers of cocaine abuse with proper treatment.
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Five Common Signs Of A Cocaine Overdose
1. Physiological Changes
Some of the most noticeable signs of a cocaine overdose are the physiological changes that can occur within the body following an excessive dose. These can be dangerous and lead to life-threatening consequences.
Physiological signs of overdose can include:
- high blood pressure
- rapid heart rate or palpitations
- chest pain
- high body temperature (which can cause severe sweating)
- loss of control over urine flow
- dilated pupils
Overdose can also cause common side effects of cocaine use to become more intense. This includes symptoms such as increased nausea, fever, and lightheadedness.
2. Unusual Behavior
Cocaine abuse can cause drastic changes in both appearance and behavior, often causing a person to become severely agitated, paranoid, or act in other ways that seem bizarre. When someone has overdosed, these behavioral changes can become even more pronounced.
Behavioral signs of cocaine overdose may include:
- lack of awareness of one’s surroundings
- severe confusion
- severe agitation
Strange behavior is not uncommon among people using cocaine, but should still be taken seriously, particularly when accompanied by serious physical symptoms of potential overdose.
People who are acting very unusual after taking cocaine may be unable on their own to recognize they have overdosed, and will likely require help to seek emergency medical attention.
3. Bluish Skin
A common symptom of a drug overdose is changing in skin tone or color. Similar to overdosing on opioids, one of the most visible symptoms of a cocaine overdose is bluish skin. Body parts such as the fingernails and lips may also appear blue or purple-ish.
If a person has become severely pale or develops a bluish tint to their skin after using cocaine, this may indicate an overdose and should be treated accordingly.
4. Difficulty Breathing Or Rapid Breathing
Taking excessive doses of cocaine, especially through means of snorting or injecting the drug, may quickly lead to overstimulation within the body. This can cause a person to have difficulty breathing, or begin breathing very rapidly.
People who have overdosed may be unable to slow their breathing and may experience similar symptoms such as fast heart-rate or heart palpitations.
Seizures are one of the leading causes of death as a result of a cocaine overdose. In the event of an overdose, people who are seizing should be kept away from any objects nearby that could do them harm, including any sharp objects or unstable pieces of furniture. People experiencing seizures should also be kept on their side, not their back, to avoid choking.
If someone has temporarily stopped seizing, do not take this as a sign that danger has passed. Continue to seek emergency medical attention right away, as seizures may recur.
Risk Factors For Cocaine Overdose
Overdose can occur regardless of whether or not a person is using cocaine for the first time, or abuses it regularly. People who have never used cocaine before and are using it alone for the first time can be at high risk for using too much of the drug and overdosing.
People who regularly abuse cocaine, however, are at an even greater risk for overdose. Those who regularly abuse or are addicted to cocaine are more likely to act recklessly, have a high tolerance, and mix cocaine with other drugs. Mixing cocaine with substances such as alcohol or opioids can overwhelm the body much faster than using cocaine alone, and can be more deadly.
In addition, people with cocaine addiction are also more likely to take it in binges, which can dramatically increase the risk for overdose, cardiac arrest, and sudden death.
The primary cause of cocaine overdose is using too much of the substance at once or mixing it with other drugs. However, there are still several risk factors that can increase the chance of overdose.
Risk factors for overdose can include:
- alcohol abuse
- low tolerance
- using highly-concentrated forms of cocaine
- using cocaine in hot weather or while dehydrated
What Are The Dangers Of Cocaine Overdose?
It is common when abusing an illegal drug like cocaine to be worried about seeking help, even in the event of an overdose. When someone has overdosed, however, it is imperative to seek medical attention as quickly as possible. Cocaine overdose and overdoses involving multiple drugs can be deadly, with the most common causes of death being seizures and cardiac arrest.
Overdosing on cocaine can also risk permanent brain damage and moderate to severe organ damage. The outlook for a person who has overdosed will often depend on how severely organs such as the kidneys and heart were affected.
Depending on what organs have been affected in the event of an overdose, dangers of cocaine overdose may include:
- chronic symptoms of psychosis
- chronic anxiety
- kidney failure
- destruction of muscles
- lasting effects on mental functioning
- heart problems
- sudden death
What To Do If You Suspect Someone Has Overdosed On Cocaine
Watching someone you know overdose, or experiencing overdose yourself, can be scary but should be treated as quickly as possible.
If you or someone you know is demonstrating any signs of an overdose listed above, contact emergency services immediately by calling 9-1-1. Seeking professional medical attention is the most effective way to treat an overdose and prevent life-threatening consequences.
Upon arriving on the scene, emergency medical technicians may request the following information:
- amount of cocaine used
- whether the cocaine was mixed with other drugs
- age of the person
- your relationship to them
If you don’t know the answers to these questions, simply answer whichever questions you can. This can be important for making sure the person receives the most appropriate treatment.
Vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature may be measured repeatedly to monitor for escalating symptoms. People who have overdosed may also require hospitalization for breathing support, IV fluids, or other medicines.
Treatment For Cocaine Abuse And Addiction
Experiencing an overdose, or watching someone you care about overdose, can be frightening and may often be a wake-up call. If you or someone you know is abusing cocaine, it is never too early or too late to seek treatment.
At Vertava Health of Massachusetts, our treatment center offers a safe and supportive environment for people to overcome their addiction to powerful drugs like cocaine and discover the benefits of a future in recovery. Our Massachusetts facility offers various levels of care, including detox, residential, and outpatient treatment for people working to overcome their substance abuse.
Our individualized treatment plans for addiction feature a variety of evidence-based and holistic treatment services offered based on the unique needs of each patient to help them achieve lasting recovery. That is the Vertava Health of Massachusetts difference.
For more information about cocaine addiction or our treatment programs, contact Vertava Health of Massachusetts today to talk to one of our treatment specialists.