What Is An Overdose?

An overdose is a biological response to when the human body receives too much of a substance or mix of substances. An overdose can be intentional or accidental. People can overdose on illicit drugs, alcohol, prescription medications, and many other substances. In many cases, overdoses are fatal, although most individuals who have overdosed can be saved if medical treatment is provided quickly enough. In terms of drugs, there are a few different ways your body can become overwhelmed by substances. However, the most common cause of death during any chemical overdose is respiratory failure.

If you believe someone is experiencing a drug overdose, please stop reading and seek medical attention.

Depressant Overdose

Depressants that affect the central nervous system, (CNS), include Opioids, Benzodiazepines, and alcohol. Drugs that are CNS Depressants will lower blood pressure and body temperature, and slow the heart rate and breathing. This is why these drugs cause sedating effects, which in turn results in the reduction of anxiety and increase in a calm and euphoric effect. When too high of dosages of Depressants are used, it can lead to adverse side effects, such as respiratory failure, overdose, coma, or even death.

Opioid Overdose

Opioids are one of the easiest substances to overdose on, given how they function once consumed. The human body has Opioid receptors in several different areas, including the brain, central and peripheral nervous systems, and the gastrointestinal tract. When someone uses an Opioid, these receptors are activated and slow the body down. When the body becomes overwhelmed by Opioids, all of these receptors are blocked, and it can’t perform other functions. This will then lead to a high risk of overdosing, which may slow down a person’s breathing to the point of stopping it. Different Opioids can be more or less severe. Where it may take a few minutes for someone who just took Heroin to feel the effects of an overdose, someone who uses Fentanyl will feel it within seconds. These powerful opioids are a reason for the Opioid epidemic.

What Is Naloxone?

Naloxone, popularly sold by the brand name of Narcan, is an Opioid agonist that can block the effects that Opioids have on the body. If someone experiences an overdose, depending on the severity, one to several doses of Narcan can actually stop it in progress, and save someone’s life. Narcan is available without prescription across the country.

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Alcohol Overdose

An alcohol overdose happens when you drink more alcohol than your body can safely process. Generally, the body can safely process around 1 unit of pure alcohol per hour (estimated to be the amount of alcohol in a small shot of liquor, a half pint of beer, or a third of a glass of wine). If an individual consumes more alcohol than this in shorter time periods, the alcohol builds up in the body due to the body not being able to metabolize the alcohol fast enough, and an accumulation of alcohol spreads throughout the body. This may lead to an alcohol overdose, better known as alcohol poisoning.

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Mental confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing (fewer than 8 breaths per minute)
  • Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)
  • Hypothermia, bluish skin color, paleness

The most common risk factors that influence your chances of having an alcohol overdose are:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Body Size
  • Tolerance
  • Binge Drinking
  • Drug Use
  • Other Health Conditions

Additional risks that can occur due to consuming larger amounts of alcohol than the body can metabolize are:

  • The slowing down or cessation of breathing, heart rate, and gag reflex
  • Cardiac arrest due to a decrease in body temperature (hypothermia)
  • Seizures as a result of low blood sugar levels

Overdose Statistics



Between April 2020 and April 2021, over 100,000 Americans died of overdose.



The above statistic marked a 28.5% increase from the year prior.

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Stimulant Overdose

Stimulants, such as Meth or Cocaine, work on the CNS, but in the opposite way of Opioids. They will increase the heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and breathing. A Stimulant overdose occurs when the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, or blood circulation rate is overworked to the point of breaking down

Symptoms of Stimulant overdose include:

  • Jerking or rigid limbs
  • Irregular or shallow breathing
  • Sudden onset of high fever
  • Rapidly increasing pulse
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Chest pain
  • Severe headaches
  • Excessive sweating
  • Irritability and/or agitation
  • Disorientation or mental confusion
  • Stroke
  • Cardiac arrest

There are no FDA-approved treatments for Stimulant overdose. However, there are medications that can help reduce or stabilize elevated vital symptoms, such as blood pressure, pulse, body temperature, and any respiratory irregularities. There are also medications that can be used to stop an individual who is experiencing convulsions or seizures, such as anti-epileptic medications. Getting the individual to the nearest emergency room can save the person’s life.

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Finding Help For Overdose

Remember, that being able to treat an overdose at home is not a replacement for a hospital. Even if the moment has passed, and the victim seems fine, there is still a chance that something is going on that cannot be seen by the human eye. Taking the victim to the hospital, can mean the difference between life and death.

“Overdose” is a scary word. We often associate it with death, but life can go on after an overdose. If you don’t know where that path begins, or need support for a loved one, contact a treatment provider.



Cooper Smith

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  • Cooper Smith earned his Bachelor’s in Writing for Entertainment from Full Sail University. While he was initially interested in a career in television, he saw an issue in his community and felt compelled to do something more. Now, he uses his knowledge to reach out to people who may need help and make the public aware of issues we are facing as a society. When he isn’t behind a computer, Cooper travels somewhere new.

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Reviewed by Certified Addiction Professional:

Theresa Parisi

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  • Theresa Parisi is a Certified Addiction Professional (CAP), Certified Behavioral Health Case Manager (CBHCM), and International Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ICADC) with over 12 years of experience in the addiction treatment field.

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Reviewed by Doctor of Addiction Medicine:

Dr. Ashish Bhatt, MD

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  • Addiction Center’s Medical Content Director, Dr. Ashish Bhatt, MD, MRO is an accomplished physician, addiction medicine specialist, and psychiatrist with over 20 years of medical and administrative leadership.

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