What is an Overdose?
An overdose, as the name implies, is a biological response to when the human body receives too much of a substance or mix of substances. People can overdose on illicit drugs, alcohol, prescription medications, and many other substances that one would not strictly consider dangerous. The basic idea is that too much of anything is bad for the body. In terms of drugs, there are a few different ways your body can become overwhelmed by substances. Generally, overdoses can be broken into two categories: depressants and stimulants.
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 how these drugs are able to sedate users and are the same desirable effects that people are after when they abuse them. When too much of a depressant is used, this can cause an overdose and that can lead someone to stop breathing altogether. When oxygen is unable to reach the brain, permanent damage can occur within three to five minutes, shortly followed by death.
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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, with the highest concentration in the brain. 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 the brain can’t perform other functions. This will then slow down a person’s breathing to the point of stopping it. Different opioids can be more 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 the reason the President of the United States declared a national opioid epidemic in 2017.
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.
Alcohol is a CNS depressant, just like opioids. Though, it is possible to overdose, the symptoms of which are very different from how opioids and other harder drugs will affect the body. Rather, consuming too much alcohol will cause alcohol poisoning. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:
- Mental confusion
- Slow breathing (fewer than 8 breaths per minute)
- Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)
- Hypothermia, bluish skin color, paleness
These symptoms, while dangerous, are not necessarily fatal. It is much easier for someone to die from opioid overdose, where they stop breathing all together, than alcohol poisoning. However, as with any drug, excessive use can cause permanent damage. This damage can mean developing diseases that are tied to excessive drinking. Like different kinds of cancer.
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63,600 people died in 2016 from overdose.
115 people die every day from an opioid overdose.
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Stimulants work on the CNS, but in the opposite way of opioids. They will increase the heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature and speed up breathing. Because of these reactions, users may experience fits of rage and erratic behavior. While some stimulants, like cocaine or amphetamines, are fairly straight forward, others may carry some hallucinogenic property as well, like LSD or mushrooms. When they are over-used they can cause a seizure, stroke, heart attack, and potentially death. While there is no blocker for these reactions, like naloxone, treating the conditions as they come, like any regular heart attack or seizure, can save the person’s life. When in doubt, getting the victim to the hospital can save their 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 the two are not always connected. Life can go on after an overdose, but only if the person suffering understands and learns from it. Getting on the road to recovery is not easily done but it is always possible, and the only guaranteed way to never suffer an overdose again. If you don’t know where this path begins, or need help getting help for a loved one, please reach out to a dedicated treatment specialist. They’re here, 24/7, to answer any questions you may have. Be it for yourself or someone else.
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