Surviving a Drug Overdose: Is There a Downside?

February 27, 2020

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Surviving a Drug Overdose

We’ve always heard that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  In some cases, that adage holds true. For instance, when a person goes through a relationship breakup, they learn from the experience and move on.  Likewise, a close call with a health issue will make us reevaluate our diet and lifestyle choices. But, what can be learned by surviving a drug overdose?   

In the United States today, overdoses are the leading cause of preventable deaths.  Opioids cause about 69% of these fatal overdoses. Also, drug overdoses cause more deaths than vehicle accidents for people aged 25 to 64.  Of course, opioids are not the only substance involved in drug overdoses. Non-opioid drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines, and alcohol are deadly as well.  We often hear about addicts who repeatedly overdose.  The fact that they survived is good news, but, on the other hand, are there any long-term effects of surviving repeated overdoses?  Can a person survive one or more overdoses and still have the ability to move forward and lead a happy life?  

The Downside of Surviving a Drug Overdose

Technically, it is possible to overdose on almost any recreational or medicinal substance.  But, regardless of which drug a person is abusing, continued use and repeated overdoses can have long-term and life-altering effects.  

Although a person may come out on the winning side of an overdose, there’s still a downside.  For instance, the individual may face a lifetime of adverse mental and physical effects that will interfere with their quality of life.  

To understand the downside of surviving a drug overdose, we need to look at what happens to the brain and body during an overdose.

How Drug Abuse or Overdose Affects the Body and Brain

A person who has taken a lethal amount of a substance is unable to realize what is happening and seek help.  Their body is filled with poison and is out of their control.   How does this happen?  When a drug is ingested or injected it goes straight to the heart and into the lungs. 

In the lungs, the substance receives a dose of oxygen. This oxygen-rich blood is pumped throughout the rest of the body.  In the brain, the substance ramps up the production of dopamine which results in feelings of euphoria. After repeated use of the drug, a person needs larger doses to get the same effect, and an overdose is highly possible at this stage.

During an overdose, the brain’s system that controls breathing is affected and a person’s respiration can slow dramatically, or stop entirely.  Also, the heart rate can slow and the person will experience irregular heart rhythms that can lead to cardiac arrest.

Further effects appear in the areas of the brain that are more sensitive to the immediate effects of oxygen deprivation.  Damage in this area can result in problems with memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control.  

Chronic Overdose-Related Health Problems 

Toxic brain injury is one of the most common effects that occur after an overdose, especially with opioid abuse.  These acquired brain injuries are more likely after a person experiences multiple non-fatal overdoses. According to researchers, the specific areas of the brain affected can lead to severe disability.  Some of the physical and mental problems can include:

  • Poor coordination
  • Nerve damage
  • Loss of control over bodily functions
  • Partial paralysis
  • Slowed reaction times
  • Memory loss
  • Disorientation
  • Acute amnesia

Of course, this isn’t to say that everyone surviving a drug overdose will experience these problems.  It does indicate, however, that people receiving treatment for addiction should be screened for a brain injury to ensure they get the proper treatment for any behavioral, cognitive or physical disabilities.  In addition to these steps, expanding harm reduction strategies can play a significant role in overdose prevention.

How Harm Reduction Strategies Help Prevent Overdoses

Studies show that once a person has one overdose, they are more likely to have another.  Unfortunately, there is no single approach to overdose prevention that works for everyone.  With overdoses as the leading cause of preventable deaths in the US today, there is much work to be done.  With this in mind, many politicians and policymakers now recognize the importance of naloxone use. Also, continuing efforts are underway to address prescription drug misuse and changing the ways in which painkillers are prescribed such as the Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs).  

Learn more about the effects of surviving a drug overdose by contacting us at New Beginnings Drug Rehab today.  Also, we can help you or a loved one find the best addiction treatment program for your needs. With our help, you can overcome addiction and eliminate the possibility of overdose entirely.

Resources:

ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Long-Term Outcomes After Severe Drug Overdose

cdc.gov – PDMP Overview for Providers: What is a PDMP?

 

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