How to Recognize and Treat Cocaine Overdose
We present the information on this page as a generalized, educational overview. Specific details below regarding treatment protocols may not reflect the protocols utilized by Compass Recovery.
Please do not hesitate to reach out if you would like to learn more about Compass Recovery and our individualized programs for those struggling with substance use and co-occurring mental health disorders.
Sometimes, people believe because cocaine is made from natural substances that it is “safe.” Cocaine is anything but safe. It is possible to use too much cocaine too often, resulting in cocaine overdose. Cocaine can be addictive and can be dangerous, especially when combined with other drugs. Let’s look at the signs of a cocaine overdose and how you can help when an overdose happens.
Cocaine: A Natural Stimulant
Can You Overdose on Cocaine?
So how much cocaine does it take to cause an overdose? There is no concrete number or amount to answer this question. Factors like the size of the person, their metabolism, and their history of drug use will affect the amount of cocaine needed that causes an overdose. Also, while a cocaine overdose can occur no matter how the drug is being used, the amount of cocaine it takes to overdose usually depends on its method of use. Injecting cocaine creates the most significant risk of overdose. This risk is due to the large amount of cocaine entering the bloodstream quickly, affecting the body’s systems very rapidly. Smoking holds the second-highest risk while snorting cocaine into the nasal passages is third.1
Signs and Symptoms of Cocaine Overdose
- Anxiety/Agitation - nervousness, sometimes in an excited state
- Hallucinations - sensory experiences that are not real, such as hearing voices or seeing things that are not there
- Panic - intense fear or discomfort
- Paranoia - feeling threatened by others
- Delirium - decreased awareness of surroundings, confusion
There are also physical symptoms that signal a possible cocaine overdose. Physical cocaine overdose symptoms include:1
- Nausea and vomiting
- Chest pain
- Increased body temperature or sweating
- Elevated heart rate
- Irregular breathing
Since the half-life of cocaine is short, these signs of cocaine overdose may not last long if emergency medical treatment is received as quickly as possible.1
What to Do for a Cocaine Overdose
- Keep the person calm. The symptoms of cocaine overdose include rapid heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, and anxiety/agitation. Keeping the person calm will help keep these symptoms from elevating more due to their excited or agitated behavior.
- Use ice packs or cold towels to help lower the person's body temperature. The fever that develops as a sign of cocaine overdose can speed up other overdose symptoms. Lowering body temperature helps to control the onset of severe symptoms.
- Coach the person in relaxation breathing. Slowing the person's breathing rate can lower blood pressure and heart rate while waiting for additional help to arrive.
Stages of Cocaine Overdose
- Psychological symptoms are apparent, including agitation, confusion, paranoia, emotional lability, restlessness, hallucinations
- Headache, nausea, vomiting, and muscle twitching may be present. Vertigo is also possible
- Increased body temperature
- Rapid breathing
- Elevated blood pressure
- Symptoms may include swelling of the brain, seizures, incontinence, and increased tendon reflexes
- Continued elevated body temperature
- Continued high blood pressure may be present, along with irregular heartbeat
- Rapid or irregular breathing may occur. Gasping for air may also present along with fingers and toes turning a bluish color
- Coma. Pupils become fixed and dilated. Reflexes disappear
- Blood pressure drops rapidly. This is when ventricular fibrillation and cardiac arrest may occur
- The person turns blue and may stop breathing
Medical Treatment for a Cocaine Overdose
Techniques to Stabilize Cocaine Overdose
Non-Dihydropyridine Calcium Channel Blockers
Nitroglycerin and Nitroprusside
Lidocaine and Lipid Emulsion
External Body Cooling Methods
Treating Overdose Must Be Done By a Trained Medical Professional
It is important to note that the above medications should be prescribed by trained medical personnel. Do not try to administer medicines to the person with symptoms of cocaine overdose yourself. Even if the person has a prescription for benzodiazepines, antipsychotics, or blood pressure medications, the use of these medications to treat the cocaine overdose should be at the discretion of the emergency medical doctor in charge of the person’s care. Do not try to treat a cocaine overdose yourself at home. Always call for emergency medical help.
Beginning Addiction Treatment
Once the symptoms of cocaine overdose are under control and the medical condition is stabilized, it’s possible to begin treating cocaine abuse and addiction. If you know someone struggling with abuse of cocaine, don’t wait until they experience a cocaine overdose. Help to address cocaine issues is within reach.