Can You Overdose on Cocaine?
A powerful stimulant derived from the leaves of the South American coca plant, cocaine’s history is a long and sordid tale. Once used as a medicinal “wonder drug” by the likes of Sigmund Freud and renowned physicians around the globe, cocaine is now one of the world’s most dangerous and abused drugs. In the 1980s, the use of a cheap and highly addictive form of cocaine called crack cocaine skyrocketed, hitting epidemic status in the United States.
Despite the shocking and sudden death of star college basketball player Len Bias in 1986 of a cocaine overdose — just two days after he was drafted second overall by the NBA’s Boston Celtics — cocaine use continued to rage on throughout the ‘80s, ‘90s, ‘00s, and into today. Over the years, celebrities like actors River Phoenix, Chris Farley, and Philip Seymour Hoffman have all succumbed to cocaine-related overdoses. Nevertheless, while those high-profile deaths and a litany of anti-drug campaigns brought awareness to the dangers of using cocaine, over 1.8 million Americans in 2021 reportedly had still done so within the past month.
Stats On Cocaine Overdoses
While cocaine overdoses involving Hollywood stars are most likely to grace the headlines, celebrities are far from the only people losing their lives to the drug. According to data released by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) in May 2022, reported overdoses of cocaine in 2021 were over 24,500. That’s nearly 5,000 more than the number of reported cocaine overdose deaths in 2020. If that seems like a sizable leap, just consider that cocaine overdoses in 2015 were just 6,784. Cocaine is also often used in tandem with other drugs, which may not reflect in these numbers.
How Much Cocaine Causes an Overdose?
By definition, an overdose is when a toxic amount of a drug (or a combination of drugs) overwhelms the body. Because the act of overdosing is subjective, it’s not possible to define exactly how much cocaine it takes to cause an overdose. That’s because factors like how much of the drug is used, the duration between uses, potency, the person’s history and tolerance to the drug, method of administration, and concurrent use of other substances can all influence one’s experience.
For example, a life-threatening reaction is more likely to occur with someone who injects cocaine while also drinking alcohol and using other drugs than someone who solely snorts cocaine, even if that cocaine is a stronger dose.
It’s also important to reiterate that cocaine overdoses can be intentional or unintentional. With intentional overdoses, the user’s goal is to harm themselves and end their life, while an unintentional overdose is usually caused by not recognizing how much cocaine the person has taken or taking cocaine mixed with another drug like heroin or fentanyl.
You should also know overdose can occur the first time someone uses cocaine or anytime after that.
Signs and Symptoms of a Cocaine Overdose
Now that we’ve answered the question “can you overdose on cocaine?”, let’s look at some of the most common signs and symptoms showing that one may have occurred. Someone overdosing on cocaine may experience pain and tightness in their chest, along with an achy stomach. Confusion, anxiety, paranoia, panic, hallucinations, heightened body temperature, and restlessness can also occur.
Besides those signs and symptoms, there are a variety of indicators that someone else may pick up on. For example, cocaine overdose is usually associated with rapid breathing, nausea or vomiting, twitching, blue-tinted skin, sweating, teeth chattering, and convulsions.
Death occurs in the most severe cases, but other serious ramifications of a cocaine overdose include heart attacks, strokes, seizures, and comas.
Risk Factors for a Cocaine Overdose
The most obvious risk factor for cocaine overdose is simply using the drug. As we mentioned earlier, it’s possible to overdose no matter how many times you’ve used it. But there are several other habits and behaviors that increase the chances of overdosing.
Combining cocaine with other substances, injecting cocaine, suffering from a psychiatric disorder, previously witnessing an overdose, and having a transient lifestyle are also often risk factors for a cocaine overdose.
What to Do When Cocaine Overdose Occurs
If someone you’re with is experiencing a cocaine overdose, it’s best to call 9-1-1 immediately. However, identifying a cocaine overdose may not be possible for someone who has never had one or been around someone who has — so even if you aren’t positive an overdose has taken place, you should still call rescue personnel if you suspect it.
While waiting for 9-1-1, monitor the person to ensure they remain breathing and awake. If the person has suffered a heart attack and is not responsive, lifesaving measures like CPR may be necessary. Also, because vomiting is a side effect of an overdose, it’s advised that you lay the person on their side to avoid choking. Last, never leave the person alone. Stay with them until emergency personnel arrive and administer treatment.
Treatment for a Cocaine Overdose
While drugs like opiates have medication that can be delivered to reverse the effects of an overdose quickly, there is no such treatment available for someone suffering from a cocaine overdose. What emergency personnel on scene and doctors at the hospital will do is attempt to treat the parts of the body most at risk following an overdose, which includes the heart, lungs, and brain. To do this, they may perform a series of tests to assess the severity of the damage, administer fluids to stave off dehydration and medication to correct high blood pressure and nausea, and incorporate a respirator to regulate breathing.
How to Avoid Cocaine Overdose
The only surefire way to avoid a cocaine overdose is to not use the drug. If you or someone you love is addicted to cocaine and struggling to quit, Midwest Recovery Centers can help. We have a residential detox facility where cocaine users can safely rid their body of the drug and navigate the hazards of withdrawal with the help of trained healthcare professionals. Once the person has completed detox, we create a tailored treatment plan to help them return to productive, healthy living, using recovery building blocks like 12-step meetings and cognitive behavioral therapy.
If you’d like to learn more about our cocaine addiction treatment program before it’s too late, contact us today.
Reviewed and Assessed by
Taylor Brown, B.A.Com., CADC
Tim Coleman, M. of Ed.