What Are the Signs of an Overdose

What Are the Signs of an Overdose

May 6, 2021

An overdose is the body’s response to the ingestion of a substance in too high of an amount. The signs of an overdose can vary depending on the person and the specific substance being used. A person can overdose on a variety of different substances, including alcohol, drugs, and prescription medications. Overdoses are usually incredibly harmful and can often be fatal, whether done intentionally or by accident.

What is an Overdose?

An overdose occurs when a person ingests high amounts of a substance that can be toxic to their body. It is possible to overdose on a variety of substances. Even common medications, such as acetaminophen, which is the generic name for Tylenol, can be dangerous when taken in too large amounts.

While the effects of an overdose are commonly incredibly harmful, they can be especially destructive when involving illicit substances. Drugs such as heroin and oxycontin can cause lethal overdoses with a dose that may often not seem that large. Opioid overdoses are one the most common causes of death in the United States.

Tolerance can play a major role in how an overdose occurs. As a person becomes addicted to a substance, they will begin to build a tolerance, meaning that they will continuously need more of a substance in order to feel the desired effects. This can directly lead to a person taking a dose far larger than intended.

Additionally, if someone has been clean for an extended period and then relapses, they may take a dose based on what they previously were used to and accidentally overdose in the process as their body is no longer accustomed to drug use.

What Are the Signs of an Overdose?

The effects of an overdose can vary based on the type of substance involved. Some examples of substances that can cause an overdose are:


Consumption of an excessive amount of alcohol is commonly referred to as alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning occurs when the body takes in more alcohol than it can naturally process. On average, the body can process approximately one serving of alcohol per hour. If far more alcohol is taken in than the body can handle, the alcohol will begin to affect other areas of the body, such as the heart, respiratory system, and brain.

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include nausea and vomiting, confusion, loss of memory, irregular or shallow breathing, or seizures.


Opioids and opiates are some of the most common drugs to cause overdoses due to their high potency and strength. The chemical effects of opioids are also a significant component of this process—these drugs bind to opioid receptors in the brain and central nervous system. When taken in large doses, the receptors are overwhelmed the body fails to function properly.

Symptoms include a loss of consciousness, slowed heartbeat, inability to speak or communicate, loss of muscle function, and shallow breathing. An opioid overdose can often be lethal.

Depressant Drugs

Depressant drugs most commonly include opioids, anti-anxiety medication, and alcohol. When taken in large doses, these drugs can cause the body to slow down to the point that functions cease. This can cause a loss of consciousness, coma, seizures, and respiratory failure.

Stimulant Drugs

Stimulant drugs include methamphetamine, Adderall, and cocaine. The effects of these drugs are usually the opposite of depressant drugs such as opioids and alcohol, as they cause a drastic increase in bodily function.

A stimulant drug overdose symptoms include twitching, fever, rapid pulse and heartbeat, seizures, chest pain, sweating, headaches, and confusion. In severe cases, these drugs can cause a stroke, heart attack, or cardiac arrest.

What to Do During an Overdose?

If you or someone around you is experiencing symptoms related to a drug overdose, it is essential to seek medical help as soon as possible. Attempting to treat these symptoms at home is not a satisfactory replacement for professional medical assistance that can be found in a hospital.

Overdoses may not always be lethal, but they can cause long-term adverse effects on one’s mental and physical health even in those circumstances. While this can be an incredibly traumatic experience, recovery afterward is still possible. Reach out to us today at 855.508.0143 to learn more about possible treatment options and the first steps towards recovery.

Garrett Stanford
Garrett Stanford brings years of experience working with individuals and families struggling with substance abuse and behavioral health issues. He began working in the nonprofit treatment sector for 2 years before transitioning into the private sector. Garrett has been involved in treatment since 2010, with 10+ years of experience ranging from operations, administration, admissions and addiction research.
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