Cocaine Overdose: Signs & Treatment

If you think someone is experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately.

Cocaine was involved in nearly 1 in 5 overdose deaths in 2019, and the number of deaths involving cocaine rose almost 9% from 2018-2019. Despite being an illicit, addictive drug, in 2020, over 5 million Americans were estimated to have used cocaine in the past year.1

This article will cover the signs of a cocaine overdose, what causes a cocaine overdose, and how to get help for cocaine addiction.

What to Do if Someone Is Experiencing a Cocaine Overdose

A cocaine overdose requires professional medical assistance, as it can quickly become life-threatening. Unfortunately, there is no medication that can reverse a cocaine overdose.2

In today’s climate, however, it is common for cocaine and other illicit drugs to contain fentanyl and other opioids, even if the individual is unaware of it.3 Therefore, administering naloxone may help save a life if a person’s cocaine was combined with an opioid like fentanyl.4

There are some things you can do to help the person stay safe. Steps you can take include:5

  • Call 911 immediately and stay with the person. Stay calm and follow the instructions of the 911 operator. Make sure to answer all questions honestly and with as much detail as possible.
  • If the person is not responsive and you have checked but cannot find a pulse, perform rescue breathing and/or chest compressions to help support the person’s breathing and cardiovascular function. (The 911 operator/dispatcher can assist and support you with this over the telephone.)
  • If the person is having a seizure, make sure they are in an area and position where they can’t accidentally injure themselves.
  • If the person exhibits opioid overdose symptoms and you have access to naloxone, administer it as soon as possible. If you are not sure if the person took opioids but they are exhibiting the signs of the opioid overdose triad, it is better to administer naloxone than to not. Naloxone will have no effect on a cocaine overdose but will not harm anyone regardless of what type of substance they may be overdosing on.4
  • If the person is vomiting, lay them on their side to keep their airway clear and prevent them from choking.
  • Remain on the phone with the 911 operator and inform them of any changes in the condition of the person overdosing on cocaine while help is on the way.

How to Recognize a Cocaine Overdose

Knowing what to do if someone overdoses on cocaine starts with recognizing the signs and symptoms of an overdose. Although the signs of a cocaine overdose vary by person, there are certain things that may indicate a person is experiencing an overdose.

Cardiopulmonary complaints are the most frequently reported cocaine-related emergency. Chest pain is the single most frequent symptom and may or may not precede a cocaine-associated heart attack.6

In one study, approximately 57% of people who went to the ED with cocaine-associated chest pain were admitted to the hospital.7

Signs of a Cocaine Overdose

Signs and symptoms of a cocaine overdose include but are not limited to:2,8

  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Elevated body temperature.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Altered mental state.
  • Chest pain.
  • Headache.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • High body temperature.
  • Heart attacks.
  • Stroke.
  • Seizure.
  • Agitation.
  • Anxiety.
  • Excited delirium.
  • Hallucinations.

In 2020, nearly 20,000 people in the U.S. died from a cocaine-related overdose. Nearly three-quarters of these fatal overdoses involved fentanyl.9 Given the possible intentional or unintentional co-ingestion of cocaine and opioids, people should be wary of whether the overdose signs they’re picking up on might actually be those of an opioid overdose.

The three signs of an opioid overdose—referred to as the “opioid overdose triad”—include:10

  1. Loss of (or markedly lowered) level of consciousness.
  2. Pinpoint pupils.
  3. Slowed, shallow, or stopped breathing.

What Causes a Cocaine Overdose?

A cocaine overdose is caused by an individual using enough of the drug to result in serious negative effects, life-threatening symptoms, or even death. An overdose can occur the first time someone experiments with cocaine use or unexpectedly after the person has used cocaine multiple times.2

Mixing cocaine with other drugs, whether intentionally or not, can lead to overdose. Street dealers often mix cocaine with drugs like fentanyl, synthetic opioids, and the stimulant amphetamine. Tampered cocaine is extremely risky, especially when people using the substance don’t realize it contains dangerous additives.2

In addition, combining cocaine with alcohol can result in a cocaine overdose.2 When cocaine is taken in combination with alcohol there is a higher risk of cardiac toxicity than when either drug is taken alone.11

Cocaine is known to adversely affect many organs in the body, especially the heart and cardiovascular system.12 Using cocaine increases a person’s risk of:12

  • Stroke.
  • Aortic ruptures.
  • Heart muscle inflammation.
  • Lessened ability of heart muscle to contract.
  • Other severe medical complications.

How Much Cocaine Causes an Overdose?

The amount of cocaine needed to cause an overdose varies for each individual; using any amount can be dangerous. Other factors such as whether the cocaine has dangerous additives or is paired with other drugs like heroin or alcohol can also affect the likelihood of an overdose.2

When a person uses cocaine regularly, over time they develop a tolerance for the drug. To achieve the same level of pleasure, they will need to use cocaine more frequently, at higher doses, or both. They may simultaneously develop sensitization, which means it takes less cocaine to result in toxic effects. Sensitization to the toxicity of cocaine and tolerance can both increase a person’s risk of overdosing on cocaine.12

Getting Help for Cocaine Addiction

Repeated cocaine use can cause various changes to the brain and behavior which can lead to negative long-term effects of cocaine, including cocaine addiction.2 Helping a loved one with cocaine addiction or getting help for yourself can be lifesaving.

Addiction treatment programs are available, and it is possible to treat cocaine use disorder. Currently, there are no FDA-approved medications for cocaine addiction.2 However, various behavioral therapies effectively treat cocaine addiction, including:2

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Patients learn to recognize thoughts and emotions that lead to substance use and then actively work to change their patterns of behavior. They also develop new coping skills to replace substance use and identify their triggers. The skills gained during this type of therapy promote long-term recovery.
  • Contingency management (CM): Another term for this type of therapy is motivational incentives. Patients are rewarded for remaining abstinent from drugs or alcohol. This reinforces positive behavior.13
  • Mutual help, peer support, and 12-Step programs: Recovery groups such as Cocaine Anonymous offer a support system made up of peers dealing with the same challenges and issues. These types of community-based groups can be helpful in maintaining abstinence from stimulants.

Cocaine Addiction Treatment at Desert Hope

Desert Hope Treatment Center—an inpatient rehab facility in Las Vegas, NV—offers a full continuum of care for drug and alcohol addiction including:

  • Medically supervised drug detox: During an inpatient medical detox, a clinical care team monitors each patient 24/7 to ensure they are safe and comfortable while they rid their body of psychoactive substances.
  • Inpatient treatment: Patients reside full-time at Desert Hope Treatment Center and participate in individual and group therapy as well as other organized activities throughout the day.
  • Outpatient treatment: Desert Hope offers multiple levels of outpatient care including intensive outpatient rehab and a partial hospitalization program. Patients live at home and visit the facility for therapeutic programming that ranges from 6 hours a week to over 20 hours a week.  
  • Sober living: Resolutions Las Vegas is a sober living community where people live independently but have the support of a recovery network.

Are you or your loved one ready for recovery? Get admitted today by calling a compassionate admissions navigator at . We make starting treatment at Desert Hope easy.

Our admissions navigators will walk you through the process and help you verify your insurance coverage. If using insurance to pay for rehab isn’t the best option for you, there are other ways to cover the cost of treatment.

To start the admissions process online, you can quickly now by completing a short confidential online form.

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