If you or a loved one is abusing substances, the concern of an overdose happening is constant. An overdose can be accidental or intentional. Individuals can overdose on various substances, including illicit drugs, prescription medications, alcohol and more. While the risk of an overdose can be constant, it carries many unknowns with it, too. For example, you might be wondering, “How long will an overdose affect you?” or “How long does an overdose last?” This blog post looks to break down exactly what an overdose is, some of the misconceptions and answers about overdoses, including when an overdose is fatal.
What Is an Overdose?
First, it’s essential to point out that the criteria for an overdose aren’t necessarily straightforward, so it can be challenging to explain it. An overdose is when a toxic amount of substances, or a combination of different substances, overwhelms the body. People can overdose on a variety of substances, including alcohol, Tylenol, opioids and more.
All drugs, including prescription drugs prescribed by a doctor, can cause an overdose because there’s a limit to how much our bodies can handle.
It’s challenging to identify what the limit of a substance is because it varies for each individual. The amount of a substance your body can handle can depend on factors such as your body weight, your previous use and built-up tolerance and your current state of health.
Additionally, the combination of different substances can cause an overdose. For example, a person may have taken only a small amount of two different substances, but they prove to be toxic in conjunction. This is why it’s crucial individuals never mix substances, even if they think they’re in control of their substance abuse.
What Are the Symptoms of an Overdose?
Overdoses look different for everyone. First, different drugs will present different kinds of overdose symptoms. And second, people can have overdose symptoms that differ from those of others. That’s why it’s imperative to understand all the possible signs of an overdose so you can recognize when it’s happening.
The common symptoms of an overdose from a downer include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Seizures or tremors
- Blue or pale skin
- Low body temperature
- Loss of consciousness
- Blurred vision
Other substances, such as cocaine, speed and ecstasy, are stimulants or “uppers” and are known for speeding up the central nervous system.
The common symptoms of an overdose from an upper include:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Extreme anxiety or confusion
- Raised heartbeat, blood pressure or breathing pattern
- Heart attack
Is an Overdose Always Fatal?
In 2018, 67,367 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States. Overdoses are often fatal but can be treated if the person receives medical attention in time. Wondering how soon will an overdose become deadly? The answer truly depends on both the substance being used and who’s taking it.
Overdoses are highly unpredictable and can progress at a minute’s notice. Someone who regularly uses a drug starts to develop a tolerance to it. This means they require more and more of the drug to get the same effect.
While a person can build up their tolerance, they can lose it too. If someone stops taking a drug for a while, they won’t be able to handle the same amounts they previously consumed. That is why periods of absence from drug use, such as rehab, sobriety living or prison sentences, can increase the risk of an overdose.
Another essential term to understand is the half-life of drugs. The half-life of a drug refers to the amount of time it takes to decrease to half the original dose’s strength.
Certain drugs, like benzodiazepines, have a longer half-life. This means that a person who has taken some drugs might have enough in their system the next day to risk an overdose if they take more.
For example, the half-life of Valium is about 24 hours. So let’s say you’re used to taking 20 milligrams of Valium. If you take it one afternoon, you might still have 10 milligrams left in your body the next morning. So if you take another 20-milligram dosage in the morning, you unknowingly have 30 milligrams in your body.
If a person gets medical attention quickly, there is a higher potential their overdose won’t be fatal.
How Long Does an Overdose Last?
The framing of the question “How long does an overdose last?” shows that some people are a bit misinformed on what an overdose is. The length of an overdose can vary greatly depending on the person, what was taken and how quickly they received medical attention. For example, a person may overdose on alcohol and have to get their stomach pumped. In this situation, they may be back at home within one day and their overdose is over.
However, if a person takes a bad batch of drugs and falls into a coma, their overdose can last days, weeks, months, years or even a lifetime (if they never wake up).
In terms of long-term effects, overdoses are different for many different substances. Some recoveries are quick, while some can cause permanent damage. All drug use risks the chance that a brain injury might occur. When there is a lack of oxygen to the brain, hypoxic brain injury can occur. This is often an under-reported consequence of overdose but can lead to seizures, coma or death.
So, how long do overdose symptoms last? Well, the longer a person isn’t breathing, the more damage is done to the brain. A brain injury can result in mild to severe impairment of:
- Balance, movement and coordination
- Hearing or vision
- Spoken and written communication
- Thinking, concentration and memory
or even coma and a permanent vegetative state.
Additionally, an overdose can have emotional and mental health consequences for a person. If an individual almost died from a drug overdose, the experience could have been traumatic and lead to anxiety, depression, PTSD or other mental health conditions.
Seeking Help Immediately
Many overdose deaths could have been prevented with speedier assistance. If you suspect you or someone you know is showing signs of an overdose, call for an ambulance right away. A medical professional will be able to take action to reduce the health risks associated with overdose.
Now that you know the answer to how long an overdose will affect you, it’s time to take preventive action. People who are addicted to substances are always at a risk of an overdose. As outlined here, an overdose can have devastating effects, including causing death. Seeking professional treatment can help you overcome your addiction and lead a happy, sober life.
FHE Health Can Help With Your Recovery Journey
If you or a family member are ready to take the first step in your recovery process, book a consultation with FHE Health. Our staff will walk you through the programs we offer so you can find the solution that’s right for you. Book today by calling (833) 596-3502.