Cocaine Overdose Signs & Symptoms
Can you overdose on cocaine? Yes, a cocaine overdose can occur when a person has taken enough cocaine to cause serious and even lethal effects. An overdose can be unintentional, meaning the person didn’t intend to cause self-harm, or intentional, meaning the person took too much cocaine because they purposely wanted to harm themselves. 1 can a person overdose
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cocaine was involved in 1 out of 5 drug overdose deaths across the nation in 2017, accounting for 14,000 deaths.2 The most recent statistics provided by the CDC for Nevada reported an estimated 40 cocaine overdose deaths per 100,000 people in 2015 in the state, compared to 37 per 100,000 in 2016.3
This article will help you understand and recognize cocaine addiction symptoms and learn how to help someone with a cocaine addiction. It will also tell you what you can do if you or someone you know is overdosing or has overdosed, help you understand what steps to take to prevent overdose, offer information on how long is rehab for cocaine, and provide information on how to get the best addiction treatment so you can take back control of your life.
Symptoms of Cocaine Overdose
Cocaine is a dangerous stimulant drug that can be extremely addictive because of the ways it affects and changes the brain. When a person takes cocaine, their brain is flooded with abnormally high levels of dopamine, the natural “reward” chemical that is responsible for feelings of pleasure and euphoria. These sensations can fuel the cycle of abuse; once the high subsides, the person may keep using in an attempt to experience those same feelings again.
With repeated administration, a person can develop tolerance: they become desensitized to the effects of cocaine and need to take increasingly higher doses to experience previous effects. They can also become dependent, which means they need the drug to feel normal.
Does cocaine have withdrawal symptoms? Yes, people who are dependent can develop withdrawal symptoms, so they may continue to abuse the drug to prevent these often uncomfortable and unpleasant symptoms. With repeated use, people can also develop addiction.1
According to the American Psychiatric Association, people can develop an addiction to cocaine within as little as one week of repeated exposure.4 One of the diagnostic criteria of this disorder — known by the term stimulant use disorder —is the development of withdrawal symptoms when the person tries to stop using. These symptoms can include depression, fatigue, increased appetite, unpleasant dreams, insomnia, and slowed thinking, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).1
As previously mentioned, cocaine overdose may occur when a person takes too much of the substance in an attempt to get high. But an overdose can happen to anyone who uses cocaine, even regular users whose bodies are accustomed to the presence of the drug. Furthermore, while many people overdose because they took too much cocaine, an overdose isn’t necessarily dose-specific all of the time. Some people may “become more sensitive to cocaine’s anesthetic and convulsant effects without increasing the dosage,” according to the University of Arizona’s Methamphetamine and Other Illicit Drug Education (MethOIDE) program.
In other words, you can overdose on even a small amount of cocaine. This can make cocaine use particularly dangerous, because you can’t know how sensitive you might be to the drug until you use it, and by then, it could be too late.5
The different physical and psychological symptoms of overdose can vary from person to person. Some of the common physical signs of cocaine overdose include:1
- Chest pain.
- Difficulty breathing.
- High blood pressure.
- High body temperature.
According to tMethOIDE, some of the common psychological signs of cocaine overdose may include:4
- Extreme anxiety.
- Extreme agitation.
- Extreme paranoia.
- Hallucinations (when you see, feel, hear, or smell things that aren’t there; cocaine overdose hallucinations tend to be auditory — you hear things that are not there).
- Excited delirium (meaning you experience a combination of symptoms that can cause violent behavior, acute distress, and even death).
Dangers of Overdosing on Cocaine
Can you die from cocaine overdose? Yes. People can experience some dangerous and potentially lethal symptoms such as:1
- Irregular heart rhythms.
- Heart attack.
How long does a cocaine overdose last? There’s no exact length of time that a person will experience overdose symptoms. With treatment and immediate medical attention, most cocaine overdoses are relatively short, because cocaine has a short half-life (meaning how quickly it takes your body to process and reduce the amount of cocaine by half). One study indicates that cocaine has an elimination half-life of 80 minutes.5
Overdose is also one of the most serious dangers of polysubstance use, meaning the use of more than one substance at a time. According to the results of a study that examined non-lethal cocaine overdoses, 64% of the 200 participants also used other substances — most commonly opioids (40%), alcohol (24%), and cannabis (24%).8
While overdose can occur regardless of how you use cocaine, the way you use it can affect the likelihood of overdose. According to the MethOIDE program, you’re more at risk of an overdose and more likely to die when cocaine is injected. Smoking followed by snorting cocaine appears to be the next riskiest method of administration.5
What to Do in the Event of an Overdose
If you suspect that you or someone you know may be overdosing or has overdosed, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention. There is no specific medical treatment, but supportive measures can help treat the symptoms associated with cocaine overdose. Contact 911 or go to the nearest emergency room right away. First responders and emergency room doctors can take measures to try to restore blood flow to the heart in case of heart attack, return oxygen-rich blood to the brain in the case of stroke, and stop seizures. 1
While waiting for first responders to arrive, it’s important that you stay with the person and monitor their vital signs. Make sure they keep breathing and check their heart rate if you can. Administer CPR if needed (911 can guide you through the process if necessary). Loosen any tight clothing and put them in the recovery position to ensure that they can breathe — roll them onto their left side and bend their top leg so that their hip and knee are at right angles. Offer reassurance if they are conscious; let them know that help is on the way and do not allow them to take any more substances.9
Preventing Cocaine Overdose
The best way to prevent overdose is to stop using cocaine. Identifying the signs of addiction can help you stop using cocaine and help you recognize the need to seek treatment. Remember that there is no safe level of cocaine use. Overdose can occur with even small amounts of the substance.
However, if you feel that you must continue to use cocaine, you can take steps to minimize your risk of overdose. Be sure to use the drug in the presence of other people who can reach out for help if you do overdose. Avoid using in high-risk situations (such as where you may be tempted to use higher amounts of the drug). Limit your use of the drug and avoid using any other substances.
If you want to quit cocaine without rehab, you should know that it’s possible but highly inadvisable. Quitting cocaine cold turkey puts you at risk of relapse and serious psychiatric symptoms such as profound depression, which could lead to suicidal ideation or actions.10
Many people wonder, “does rehab work for cocaine addicts?” The answer is yes — rehab can help people stop cocaine abuse. Addiction treatment can reduce the risk of overdose and help people learn the skills they need to stay clean and sober. According to the NIDA, some effective treatments for cocaine addiction include:1 how is cocaine addiction treated
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps you make positive changes to your thoughts and behaviors.
- Contingency management or other motivational incentives, which involves providing rewards to people who avoid substance use.
- Therapeutic communities, which are drug-free residences that help people focus on recovery while they transition back to home life.
- Community-based recovery groups, such as 12-step groups like Narcotics Anonymous, to obtain ongoing peer support.
- Medications, which may help minimize withdrawal symptoms. Although there are no government-approved medications for cocaine addiction, researchers are examining the potential benefits of certain medications that are used to treat other addictions; these include disulfiram, which is used to treat alcoholism, or buprenorphine, which is used to treat opioid addiction.
Cocaine Addiction Help
If you are concerned about your level of cocaine use, or if you suspect that you or someone you care about is struggling with cocaine addiction, it’s crucial to seek help. American Addiction Centers a leading provider of addiction treatment and rehab in Nevada and nationwide. We offer personalized treatment plans that take into account your specific needs, such as whether you have other medical or psychiatric conditions. Our compassionate staff understands what you are going through and they are qualified and trained to provide the best care possible so you can focus on your recovery.
When you’re ready to seek help, please call our free, confidential, 24/7 helpline today to speak to a Treatment Advisor who can answer any questions you may have. We can help get you started on the road to recovery so you can lead a happier, healthier, and substance-free life.
We can be reached at 702-800-2682.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Cocaine drugfacts.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Opioid overdose: Other drugs.
- Seth, P., Scholl, L., Rudd, R. & Bacon, S. (2018). Overdose deaths involving opioids, cocaine, and psychostimulants — United States, 2015–2016. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), 67, 349–358.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- University of Arizona MethOIDE. Cocaine overdose.
- Takeuchi, A., Ahern, T. L., & Henderson, S. O. (2011). Excited delirium. The Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, 12(1), 77–83.
- Heard, K., Palmer, R., & Zahniser, N. R. (2008). Mechanisms of acute cocaine toxicity. The Open Pharmacology Journal, 2(9), 70–78.
- Kaye, S & Darke, S. (2004). Non-fatal cocaine overdose among injecting and non-injecting cocaine users in Sydney, Australia. 99(10):1315-22.
- (2018). Drug use first aid.
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2006). Detoxification and substance abuse treatment. (treatment improvement protocol (TIP) series, no. 45.) 4. Physical detoxification services for withdrawal from specific substances. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
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