Addiction has plagued our world for years, but as the number of drug abusers continues to rise, it gives way to concern over what the future holds. In 2010, the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids claimed a reported one in every 10 people aged 12 or older in the US was addicted to drugs or alcohol in the previous year. Treatment is readily available, but many who need help don’t get it, contributing to this epidemic.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse accounts for only 11.2 percent of the 23.5 million people in the same age group that needed substance abuse treatment in 2009 actually receiving help. Drug overdose occurs when more of a substance is ingested than a person can tolerate or at a faster rate than the user’s body can detoxify, per WebMD. This can occur with illicit substances, regulated prescription drugs, and even over-the-counter substances. Overdose can also be purposeful or accidental.

Overdose Deaths

According to NIDA, there were 4.6 million drug-related visits to the emergency room in 2009, and nearly half were due to unexpected reactions to pharmaceutical drugs while another 45 percent were due to drug abuse. What is more disheartening is the number of addicts and substance abusers who will never be able to make the choice to turn their lives around because they’ve lost them to drugs and alcohol. In 2010, an alarming 38,329 people in America died due to drug-related overdoses, as reported by the Huffington Post.

Among the most common substances for this cause of death year after year are prescription drugs, accounting for 55 percent of them, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also notes that of all prescription drug overdose fatalities, 74 percent are due to opioid painkillers, such as OxyContin, and 30 percent were due to benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium.

If you’re present when someone has overdosed, take the following actions:

  • Try to keep them calm and do not leave their side.
  • Attempt to get a response from unconscious sufferers.
  • Call an ambulance for those who don’t respond.
  • Perform CPR; emergency operators can guide you through this process.
  • Stay vigilant over an unconscious patient, as some may return to consciousness.
  • Attempt to alleviate any discomfort the patient is experiencing.

The Mechanics of an Overdose

When someone ingests too much of a toxic substance, the body starts to shut down. For example, when too much heroin is used, the user’s body essentially stops breathing. When the drug is consumed, it converts to morphine, which binds to opioid receptors, thereby inflicting the user with a high sensation. The drug commonly lulls users to sleep, and while asleep, their respiratory systems can shut down, reports CNN News, also noting heroin’s ability to cause heart failure via low blood pressure, infections of the heart, arrhythmia, and pulmonary edema.

Sometimes the drug alone isn’t cause for concern, but when mixed with other substances — like alcohol — the threat of overdose increases exponentially. Of the many substance-related hospitalizations among individuals between the ages of 18 and 24 from 1999 to 2008, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. reports a staggering 29,202 hospitalizations for combined drug and alcohol overdoses in 2008.


Aside from the threat of fatality, substance abusers who overdose risk other side effects too. Long-term abuse of stimulants like cocaine can deplete a user’s supply of dopamine receptors, making for lasting depression post-withdrawal. These users also require a bit more time to bounce back to their normal selves and might exhibit severe mood swings, accompanied by angry outbursts and more.

Additionally, heart damage is more common among users of stimulants and opiates. While all who survive overdose are fortunate, many will still suffer medical consequences, such as oxygen deprivation that can cause brain damage, which can not only impair cognitive function but cause hearing and vision disabilities as well. Though more rare, some overdose sufferers fall into a coma that they never come back from.

Undoing Overdose

Many individuals escape the consequences of overdose via medications that specialize in overturning the effects of illicit and prescription drugs. One of the most effective methods in treating overdose is the administration of drugs like Narcan. Also known by its generic name naloxone, Narcan delivers all the strength of an opioid antagonist to the overdosing patient and essentially reverses the effects of the drug they overdosed on. A reported 10,171 lives were saved due solely to this one drug between 1996 and 2012, per the Reason Foundation.

Recovering from an overdose takes time, and despite the guilt and self-loathing some feel post-overdose, it is highly advisable that patients take time to care for themselves. Therapy and drug addiction treatment are the best recourse to preventing similar events from occurring in the future.

When we hear the term “overdose,” many think of intentional acts that occur in an attempt to take one’s own life, but that picture isn’t often reality. More often than not, overdose occurs in an accidental manner. This can stem from inconsistent supplies from dealers who can’t ensure potency from batch to batch, impaired cognition that leads the user to pay little attention to how much or how often they’re using, or even from mixing different drugs or using a drug in conjunction with alcohol.

That being said, many suicide attempts are carried out via a drug overdose, with a consistent number of those attempting to take their own lives suffering from symptoms of mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness notes that more than 90 percent of successful suicides are carried out by someone who has a diagnosed mental health disorder. Likewise, about half of the severely mentally ill population engages in substance abuse, per Helpguide.

Help is available regardless of what your reason is for using or abusing drugs. Call us here at Orlando Recovery Center. Spare yourself the untold possibilities that lay ahead on the path you’re on right now. Let’s change the way you’ve been dealing with your life and find out just how much you’re capable of with the right direction and support. Call now.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.