Cocaine is an illegal drug that stimulates the body and leads to increased energy levels and euphoria. It typically comes in a white powder that is snorted through the nose, but it can also be smoked or injected intravenously. Because of its euphoric high, cocaine is highly addictive, and most people require professional cocaine addiction treatment to quit using the drug. The drug itself can also lead to a variety of long-term damage to the body, but one of the biggest concerns of cocaine use is the risk of overdose.
Around 15,000 people a year in the United States will die from a drug overdose that involves cocaine.1 Whether or not you know someone who abuses this drug, knowing the signs and symptoms of cocaine overdose could save a life.
Common Signs of Cocaine Overdose
Symptoms of a cocaine overdose include both physical and psychological responses that if ignored could escalate and turn deadly. Depending on the person and the cocaine purity, a lethal dose of cocaine may only be less than a gram.
Common cocaine overdose symptoms include:
- High body temperature (hyperthermia)
- Extreme sweating
- Increased blood pressure
- Rapid heart rate or palpitations
- Chest pain or labored breathing
- Blurred vision or vision loss
- Nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting
- Seizures or convulsions
If someone is showing these cocaine overdose signs and symptoms, get them help immediately by calling 911.
What Happens if You Overdose on Cocaine?
As a stimulant, cocaine speeds up the body’s central nervous system, but cocaine toxicity can cause these common side effects of use to become more intense to the point that they become dangerous and life-threatening.
Stage one of acute cocaine toxicity generally includes symptoms such as:
- Spinning sensation
- Increased blood pressure and heart rate
- Rapid breathing
- Paranoia and confusion2
Along with the beginning of problematic physical effects from cocaine, the first cocaine overdose symptoms can include unusual changes in mood or behavior. A person who overdoses on cocaine may become delirious, paranoid, confused, and even violent. As a result, the person may become a danger to themselves as well as others.
During the second stage of a cocaine overdose, symptoms can escalate to include:
- Loss of bladder control
- Irregular heartbeat
- Irregular or temporary cessation of breathing
- Brain damage2
Some of the short-term physical effects of cocaine include increased body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate, but these same effects can lead to cardiac and respiratory problems as well as even seizures with an overdose.
Finally, during the third stage of cocaine toxicity, people may experience:
- Loss of vital functions
- Respiratory failure
- Cardiac arrest
The most serious cocaine overdose symptom effects include seizures, organ failure, and unresponsiveness. At this point, the person’s life is in danger, and they need immediate medical attention as the body is starting to shut down. If they receive the appropriate medical attention and survive, they may still have lasting effects.
When treating a cocaine overdose, time is of the essence. The immediate effects of cocaine can be felt after a few minutes, and the three stages of cocaine toxicity can escalate quickly, so it is important to act fast.2 Especially if there are other substances in a person’s system, it is important to get help at the first sign of a cocaine overdose.
Risk Factors for Cocaine Overdose
A cocaine overdose can occur regardless of whether someone is an experienced or first-time user.
While first-time users are at risk of cocaine overdose because they are not sure how much of the drug their bodies can handle, regular users may be overconfident and act recklessly. These users may overestimate their tolerance or mix cocaine with other drugs. The number of drug overdose deaths from a combination of cocaine and synthetic opioids has increased drastically in the last few years.1 People who are dependent on cocaine are also more likely to take the drug in binges that can dramatically increase their risk of a coke overdose.
Because the risk of cocaine overdose is high regardless of a person’s experience with the drug, it is important to get people into a residential rehab center at the first sign of drug abuse.
What to do if Someone Overdoses on Cocaine
If someone is showing signs of a cocaine overdose, it is important to act quickly. Being able to recognize cocaine overdose symptoms and knowing how to act when someone overdoses on cocaine could make all the difference for someone you care about.
1. Call 911
Seeking professional medical attention is the most effective way to treat a cocaine overdose and prevent life-threatening consequences.
2. Stay on the Phone
It is common when abusing an illegal drug like cocaine to be worried about seeking help, but the person you are with needs you. Stay on the phone with 911 until help arrives and do as the 911 operator instructs.
3. Turn Them on Their Side
If the person is throwing up or having a seizure, turn them on their side. This action can help keep their airways clear and keep them from choking on their own vomit.
4. Remove Immediate Dangers
If the person is having a seizure, try to remove any objects that are sharp or could fall on them from their immediate area. Do not put anything in their mouth.
5. Stay Calm
It is normal to feel panicked when someone is experiencing a cocaine overdose, but do your best to stay calm. Do as the 911 operator tells you. If the person 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.
When help arrives, the medics will tend to the person, check their vitals, and may take the person to the hospital. They will likely also ask you questions about their cocaine use. Answer these questions honestly and give them as many details as you can. This information could save their life.
For many people, overdosing is a wake-up call, but you should not wait until this point to get yourself or a loved one help. At Vertava Health Massachusetts, formerly Swift River rehab, our Massachusetts drug rehab provides a safe and structured environment for people to overcome their addiction and regain control of their lives.