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Page medically reviewed by Dee Johnson (Mbacp, MNCS), Addiction Therapist at Priory Hospital Chelmsford.

Cocaine, a powerful stimulant drug, can have devastating consequences when it’s misused. One of the most severe outcomes is a cocaine overdose, a life-threatening situation that needs urgent medical attention. Understanding the warning signs of an overdose, the symptoms to look out for, and what to do in the event of a cocaine overdose is crucial in order to save lives.

Can you overdose on cocaine?

Yes, it is absolutely possible to overdose when using cocaine. A cocaine overdose is a potentially lethal condition that happens when someone takes so much cocaine that it overwhelms their body’s natural processes. This places immense strain on the cardiovascular system and can be fatal.

The risk of overdose is heightened when cocaine is mixed with other substances or when it’s taken in its more potent form, crack cocaine. 

Signs of a cocaine overdose

Recognising the warning signs leading up to a cocaine overdose is crucial for intervention and prevention. As the effects of cocaine on the body become more intense, certain warning signs may appear.

The early signs of a cocaine overdose can include:

  • A rapid heart rate, which may be accompanied by palpitations or an irregular heart rhythm
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Dilated pupils
  • Excessive sweating
  • Severe headache
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing

For more information on some of the signs to be aware of, please visit our cocaine addiction symptoms page.

It’s important to remain vigilant and act quickly if you see any of these warning signs in someone who has taken cocaine. Timely intervention is crucial is order to prevent a life-threatening overdose.

Cocaine overdose symptoms

When a cocaine overdose occurs, the body experiences a cascade of serious symptoms that need immediate attention. The effects of an overdose can manifest in lots of different ways and can impact on multiple systems within the body.

Physical symptoms of a cocaine overdose may include:

  • Extremely high body temperature
  • Profuse sweating
  • Flushed skin
  • Racing and irregular heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Tremors and muscle twitches
  • Rapid or shallow breathing
  • Chest pain

Psychological and emotional symptoms of a cocaine overdose may include:

  • Extreme agitation and aggression
  • Confusion
  • Paranoia, which can lead to acute anger or fear responses
  • Visual and auditory hallucinations

These symptoms signal a medical emergency and need immediate professional help.

How much cocaine does it take to overdose?

Identifying the amount of cocaine that can lead to an overdose is difficult due to a range of factors. These can include:

  • Individual tolerance levels – higher tolerance levels may mean that someone needs to consume a higher amount of cocaine to put them at risk of an overdose. However, it’s important to understand that tolerance levels may change over time, so this is no guarantee
  • The strength and purity of the cocaine – purer cocaine is more likely to lead to overdose because it’s stronger, more concentrated and more potent. Therefore, it has a stronger effect on the body
  • How the cocaine has been taken – injecting and smoking cocaine carry the highest risk of overdose because the cocaine is delivered straight to the bloodstream, leading to immediate and intense effects. On the other hand, snorting cocaine has a slower onset and less immediate impact, which may give people more time to recognise the signs of an overdose. However, it’s important to understand that using cocaine always carries risks, no matter how you have taken it
  • The person’s overall health – someone with reduced cardiovascular health, and problems with their kidney and liver function, are at higher risk of overdose because of how cocaine impacts on these bodily systems. Also, if someone struggles with mental health problems, such as depression, this can put them at increased risk of cocaine overdose. This is because they may be more likely to engage in risky behaviours and consume higher quantities of the drug in order to self-medicate
  • Whether the person has other drugs in their system – using other drugs alongside cocaine can increase the risk of an overdose because of how the drugs interact with each other. There is also the risk of not knowing what other harmful chemical have been added to the cocaine

While the above can all have an impact, the consequences of using cocaine can be unpredictable. Ultimately, the only thing that will protect you against overdose is to avoid using cocaine altogether.

What to do if someone is overdosing on cocaine

If you’re with someone who has overdosed on cocaine, it’s important to act quickly. They need to be seen by a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

The first step is to immediately call the emergency services by dialling 999. Inform the operator you suspect the person you are with has had a cocaine overdose, and provide as many details as you can about the situation.

If you’re at an event, such as a festival or concert, it’s important to locate the nearest medical tent or seek help from event staff, as they will be equipped to handle medical emergencies.

While you’re waiting for professionals to arrive, there are some things you can do to help the person.

  1. Gently turn the person onto their side in order to keep their airways open and stop them choking on their vomit
  2. Stay with them, offering them reassurance, and try to keep them as calm and comfortable as possible
  3. Avoid giving them any other substances or trying to make them sick

Treatment for cocaine addiction

Cocaine overdose is a very real possibility for someone struggling with cocaine addiction. That’s why it’s so important to get professional support in order to address the underlying reasons for the addiction and prevent a potentially fatal outcome.

We offer comprehensive cocaine addiction treatment at Priory, helping you to get back on track. Our addiction treatment programmes offer a medically assisted detox, as well as group and individual therapy. We can support you to develop coping mechanisms and change your unhealthy behaviours.

We use evidence-based techniques, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and also provide access to relevant support groups such as Cocaine Anonymous (CA), where you can receive support and encouragement from people going through the same challenges as you. We also provide peer counselling, family therapy and free aftercare, helping you to navigate the challenges of recovery.

Seeking help from qualified addiction specialists means you’ll get the support and guidance you need. This will help you to break free from the cycle of addiction and reduce the risk of cocaine overdose.

Start Your Journey to Recovery

For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding addiction treatment and rehabilitation, please call 0330 056 6023 or book a FREE ADDICTION ASSESSMENT.

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