Cocaine Overdose: Know the Signs to Save a Life

Read on to learn about cocaine addiction signs, symptoms, and how to prevent and treat an overdose.
Cocaine Overdose

Cocaine Addiction Causes

Cocaine addiction is a major problem in America. This article will review common cocaine addiction causes so you can get to the root of dependency issues. 

Table of Contents

What is Cocaine?

Made from the coca plant native to South America, cocaine was once known as a miracle drug in the Western world. It was used in the 1800s and early 1900s to treat a myriad of issues, from fatigue to cholera. Even today, cocaine serves a legitimate medical purpose in the form of a topical anesthetic and vasoconstrictor.

But there is a reason this drug is now illegal. In 2014, about 913,000 Americans met the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria for dependence or abuse of cocaine. Research from the 2011 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report showed that cocaine was involved in 505,224 of the nearly 1.3 million visits to emergency departments for drug misuse. This means that over one in three drug misuse or abuse-related emergency department visits — a whopping 40 percent — involved cocaine.

Cocaine Addiction Symptoms

If you suspect someone you know may be addicted to cocaine, a few cocaine addiction symptoms are to look out for. Symptoms of cocaine use include:
  • An upbeat and overly energetic attitude
  • Sensitivity to light, touch, or sound
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia
Other symptoms of cocaine use include physical signs like dilated pupils, erratic behavior, and loss of appetite. Some of the cocaine addiction effects can be difficult to spot, but increased energy and dilated pupils are the most common signs to look out for.

Common Signs of Cocaine Overdose

Considering how common cocaine use is and how many people end up needing medical treatment from using the drug, it’s crucial to recognize the signs of a cocaine overdose. If symptoms are not treated in time, overdose can be deadly.

Cocaine overdoses happen when a person takes too much of the drug, causing it to reach toxic levels in their system. Cocaine toxicity is highly dependent on the individual user and their susceptibility to the toxins in cocaine; research shows that overdose isn’t reliant on dosage, as two people can take the same dose and have entirely different reactions. Therefore, body size, gender, and history of a drug are more relevant in terms of overdose likelihood.
Someone may exhibit signs of cocaine toxicity through their behavior or physical symptoms. They may be highly agitated or angry and may experience hallucinations or psychosis. Physically, they may experience high blood pressure, high body temperature and sweating, trouble breathing, pale or bluish skin, and irregular heart rhythm. A cocaine overdose may lead to stroke, seizures, or heart attack in severe cases.

If you suspect you or someone you know has overdosed, the first thing to do is call 911. 

Why is Cocaine Overdose on the Rise?

Certain factors make cocaine overdose more likely. Drinking alcohol and using cocaine can raise the risk of a cocaine toxicity, as can pairing cocaine with other substances.
In 2018, more than 14,600 people died of a cocaine-related overdose in the United States, according to the National Center for Health and Statistics, and the rate of cocaine-related deaths has been rising since 2013.

Fentanyl-Laced Cocaine

A troubling new trend is a fentanyl-laced cocaine. Fentanyl is a highly addictive, powerful opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and up to 50 times more potent than heroin. In 2016, only 1% of cocaine samples tested by the FDA contained fentanyl, but by 2020, that number had gone up to 3.3%. From September 2019 to September 2020, the U.S. saw a drastic spike in fentanyl-related overdoses — the number of overdoses rose 55% in the twelve months.
People are using substances such as cocaine that are laced with fentanyl, unbeknownst to them. This can make it very easy for people to overdose since fentanyl is powerful. Additionally, cocaine users with little or no tolerance for opioids are at particular risk, as even a tiny amount of fentanyl could be fatal for them.

What is the Brain Reward System?

One reason it’s so difficult for people to stop using substances once they’ve started is because of how the drug affects the brain. Cocaine, for example, acts on the reward systems in the brain, which release dopamine when activated. Dopamine is responsible for feelings of pleasure and is released when using addictive drugs, eating tasty food, and doing other pleasurable activities.

When people who are addicted to a substance try to stop using the substance, the sudden lack of dopamine can be challenging to deal with, sometimes leading to severe cocaine withdrawal symptoms.

Cocaine Overdose Treatment

meth addiction signs
If you suspect you or someone else has overdosed on cocaine, the first action to take is calling 911. Check for the symptoms of cocaine overdose and try to gauge their severity. After that, it’s crucial to stay calm to avoid further elevating blood pressure or heart rate or worsening other symptoms of a cocaine overdose. A fever may develop due to cocaine toxicity, so ice packs should be used to cool the affected person’s body temperature and decrease the onset of severe symptoms.
Individuals presenting at the hospital with cocaine toxicity may be treated in various ways. They may require urgent treatment for heart problems or strokes, or they may need medication to control erratic behavior.

Medications for a Cocaine Overdose

Cocaine overdose treatment includes:
  • Benzodiazepines. These are anti-anxiety medicines, such as Lorazepam, used to manage the psychological signs of cocaine overdose like anxiety, agitation, and panic.
  • Non-Dihydropyridine Calcium Channel Blockers. These medications are given to lower blood pressure. An example of a non-dihydropyridine calcium channel blocker is Diltiazem.
  • Nitroglycerin and Nitroprusside. These medications can also help lower high blood pressure; however, they come with the risk of causing reflex tachycardia.
  • Antipsychotics. These medications can be used to treat symptoms like delirium and hallucinations. An example of an antipsychotic that may treat cocaine overdose is haloperidol, which is often used in conjunction with benzodiazepines to treat multiple psychological symptoms.

Detox, Therapy, and Inpatient/Outpatient Care

Unfortunately, there is no magic pill or medication for cocaine addiction, although some medications can be used to lessen cocaine withdrawal symptoms to make recovery easier.
Like other drug addictions, treating cocaine addiction usually involves a combination of detox, therapy, and inpatient and/or outpatient care. Medical professionals can monitor the withdrawal stage to ensure the person stays healthy and as comfortable as possible during detox. Individuals can choose inpatient or outpatient treatment depending on their specific needs and situation.
Therapists can be extremely helpful in assisting individuals in understanding their triggers and reasons behind their substance use. They can also help them create a plan for maintaining sobriety.

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