Signs of Overdose - Save a Life

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Overdoses are often fatal. It is crucial to recognize the signs of overdose so that you can seek medical help immediately. Some people are not even aware that they are experiencing an overdose because they are under such a heavy influence of drugs or alcohol. While symptoms of overdose can vary depending on the kind of substance involved, key signs of a drug overdose include the following:

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired coordination
  • Seizures
  • Severe chest pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dilated pupils
  • Slow heart rate
  • Shallow breathing
  • Respiratory arrest (stops breathing)
  • Respiratory depression (slow, ineffective breathing)
  • Bluish tint to the skin (cyanosis)
  • Loss of consciousness

Of the various signs and symptoms of an overdose, respiratory failure is the most common cause of death during any substance overdose. If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these signs and symptoms, it is crucial to seek medical attention immediately.


What is an Overdose?

An overdose is a type of poisoning that occurs when a person takes in too much of a substance or a dangerous mix of substances. The amount taken surpasses their tolerance, which overwhelms the body and causes harm that can be fatal. Overdoses often occur from the abuse of illegal drugs, but can even result from a toxic amount of prescription or OTC medications.

Statistically, overdose death rates are rising dangerously. According to the American Medical Association, overdose deaths in the United States topped 107,000 in 2022. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the risk factors, how to identify an overdose, and explore treatment options.

Overdoses are medical emergencies. Receiving immediate medical attention can prevent death or lasting health problems. Since drug overdose is one of the leading causes of preventable death, most states have instituted Good Samaritan laws to protect individuals from criminal charges if they seek emergency help for an overdose.

How Many Pills Does it Take to Overdose?

There isn’t one fixed answer to this question. Is the substance a legal medication or an illicit drug? How old is the user? Is there another substance laced into the drug? All of these factors will affect how much of a particular substance is needed to cause an overdose.

Overdoses can be accidental or intentional. Although most are accidental, intentional overdoses occur most frequently in teenagers to adults in their mid-30s, either while trying to get high or for self-harm.

Accidental drug overdoses can occur in small children if medications or drugs are left within their reach. Young children (usually between six months to 3 years of age) may find prescription medications and ingest them out of curiosity, and because they tend to put anything they find into their mouths.

Other examples of accidental overdose include:

  • Taking the wrong medication or too much of a prescription medication. This is especially common among seniors who may take multiple medications prescribed by different doctors.
  • Mixing alcohol with prescription medications or other drugs. Alcohol can amplify the effects of other drugs and lead to an overdose.
  • Taking a drug that has been laced with another, more potent drug. This is often seen with street drugs such as cocaine or heroin that may be cut with other substances such as fentanyl.
  • Not knowing the strength of a drug or how much to take.

It is crucial to seek medical help immediately if you suspect that you or someone you know has overdosed on any drug. Drug overdoses are often fatal, so it is best to err on the side of caution.

Overdose Risk Factors

Certain factors increase a person’s risk of overdosing on a substance. Some of these factors include:

  • Age – Children and seniors are more likely to accidentally overdose due to their curious nature or because they may take multiple medications prescribed by different doctors.
  • Mental health – People with mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety are more at risk for intentional overdoses.
  • Substance abuse – People who abuse drugs or alcohol are more likely to accidentally overdose due to their perceived tolerance level for the substances.
  • Polysubstance use – People who use multiple substances simultaneously are at an increased risk for overdose due to the combined effects of the drugs. An example is when opioid medications are combined with other drugs, such as alcohol or benzodiazepines.
  • Poor physical health – People who are physically unhealthy are also at risk. Poor nutrition, dehydration, and sleep deprivation can contribute to an increased risk of overdose

What Does an Overdose Feel Like?

A person experiencing an overdose is usually unaware of what is happening to them and the subsequent danger to their life. Instead of discussing what does an overdose feel like, it is more helpful to ask, what does an overdose look like? The first step in knowing what to do if someone overdoses is to recognize the danger signs.

Call 911 immediately if you witness an individual experiencing any of the following symptoms of overdose:

  • Limpness
  • Unresponsive
  • Extremely pale skin
  • Blue-tinged lips
  • Slowed breathing and pulse

What Pills Can Kill You?

There are many pills and substances that people can overdose on, both legal and illegal. Overdosing on any of these substances can be extremely dangerous and even fatal.

Some of the most common substances with a high risk for overdose include:

Prescription Medications

  • Amphetamines and Methamphetamines such as Adderall
  • Benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Valium
  • Painkillers and Opioids such as Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Fentanyl, and Kratom


  • Alcohol is a depressant and can be lethal in high doses. It is the leading cause of death from substance abuse.

Illicit Drugs

  • Cocaine and crack
  • Heroin
  • Illegally manufactured forms of prescription drugs

Over-the-counter Medications

  • Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, and other over-the-counter drugs can be harmful in large doses.

Hallucinogens and Psychedelics

  • Ketamine


  • Although marijuana is legal in several states, it is still possible to overdose on. However, there have been no reports of fatal overdoses on this drug.

How to Stop an Overdose

Many people ask how to treat an overdose at home. Don’t try! Treatment for an overdose usually requires hospitalization. In some cases, specific antidotes are administered. For example, Naloxone or Narcan is an antidote for opioid overdoses, and flumazenil is an antidote for benzodiazepine overdoses. If you think someone is overdosing on a substance, call 911 immediately.

Some common overdose treatments include:

  • Activated charcoal is administered to absorb the toxin in the body.
  • Gastric lavage - the stomach is pumped to remove the substance from the stomach.
  • Intravenous fluids to maintain hydration and blood pressure.
  • Oxygen therapy to help with breathing if the person has stopped breathing independently.
  • Medications – There are a variety of medications used to counter the effects of an overdose, such as Naloxone for opioid overdoses.

How Long Does it Take to Recover From an Overdose?

Recovery from an overdose can be a long and challenging process. It is therefore essential to seek professional help if you or someone you know has overdosed on a substance due to addiction.

There are many different types of treatment available for those struggling with addiction. Treatment should be tailored to the individual’s needs and may include drug detox treatment, counseling, and medication-assisted treatment.

Immediately following an overdose, it is crucial to do the following:

  • Address Immediate Medical Issues: A variety of medical issues can arise from an overdose, including abnormal vital signs, memory loss, and cardiac/respiratory/gastrointestinal problems. These issues may require continued care from a health provider.

    1. Address Mental Health Issues: In the case of an intentional overdose, a psychiatric evaluation will be given, and the patient will receive the appropriate psychiatric care. In addition, some states allow healthcare providers to request a court-mandated treatment that may involve hospitalization or an outpatient program. This mandatory treatment program can apply to those who are an imminent danger to themselves and are at risk of repeating an overdose.

  • Seek Out Treatment for Substance Abuse: Overcoming an addiction is difficult, but many resources are available to help those in recovery. A good first step is usually to check into a rehabilitation program like Avenues Recovery where a safe and supportive environment will be provided for those looking to recover from their addiction.

  • Stay Connected With Support Groups: A support system is crucial during recovery. Support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous can provide emotional support and helpful resources. Some groups meet in person, while others are available online.

Overdose Prevention

There are several ways to prevent an overdose. These include:

  • Talk to your healthcare provider about exploring other pain management methods if you are taking prescription opioids. Examples of alternative methods are acupuncture, massage, cognitive behavioral therapy, and physical therapy.
  • Take medications correctly as prescribed by a doctor and only use the amount specified. You can enlist the help of someone you trust to ensure that you are only taking the dosage prescribed.
  • Keep prescription medications in a safe place where children or pets cannot reach them.
  • Avoid mixing substances, especially alcohol and drugs.
  • Seek professional help for substance abuse problems.
  • Talk to your doctor about Naloxone, an FDA-approved medication to counter the effects of an opioid overdose. Doctors can prescribe this medication to patients at high risk of an overdose.

Help Is Available

If you are contemplating suicide through an overdose or any other means, know that help is available. If you feel suicidal or hopeless, please reach out for professional help. There are people who care about you and want to help you through this difficult time.

Please remember that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. If you are experiencing overwhelming challenges in your life, know that they can, and will, get better. There is hope.

Don’t hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-8255. In addition, there are many therapists or counselors out there whom you can reach out to for help. You are not alone.

Recover From Addiction With Avenues Recovery

Understanding what happens when you overdose on pills or other substances is the first step on the road to recovery. If you or a loved one are struggling with a substance use disorder, you can prevent the risk of an overdose by seeking help now. No one has to go through addiction alone. Contact Avenues Recovery, leaders in addiction rehabilitation, to find the treatment program that’s right for you. Get the help you deserve on your journey to recovery today!

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