What Is an Overdose?

Signs of an overdose can include coma and loss of consciousness.
A drug overdose could lead to a coma.
Drinking shots is more likely to cause an alcohol overdose than other cocktail drinks.
A heroin overdose can cause a coma, low heart rate and death.
Overdoses of certain substances can be fatal.
An aspirin overdose can cause nausea and vomiting.
Kidney dialysis may be used to remove toxins from the blood following an overdose.
Article Details
  • Written By: Greer Hed
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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In the case of prescription or over-the-counter drugs, a drug overdose occurs when an individual takes more than the recommended therapeutic dosage of a drug. With illegal drugs taken to become intoxicated, a drug overdose occurs when the body's metabolism is unable to prevent the drug from building to toxic levels. Overdoses may be intentional or accidental. In both cases, they can lead to side effects that are harmful or even fatal. The symptoms and treatment of overdoses vary depending on what drug or drugs have been ingested.

Drug overdoses can involve any type of drug, although overdoses of illicit drugs tend to be more common because there is no recommended safe dosage. Often, overdoses involve the ingestion of multiple drugs that counter-indicate each other. Some individuals may have a lower tolerance for certain types of drugs, which can lead to overdoses even if the recommended dosage is taken.

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Accidental overdose occurs most often in young children between the ages of two and five, but it can affect individuals of any age group. Children may unknowingly take drugs that are not intended for them, or may ingest too many vitamins or supplements by accident. In older children and adults, accidental overdoses may occur when drugs have been over-prescribed by a physician, or when the adult is not aware of the active ingredients in a particular medication. With illicit drugs, accidental overdoses may occur because the drugs are more potent than expected. Intentional overdose is most prevalent among young adults in their teens to early 30s, but it may be attempted by any individual wishing to self-harm or commit suicide.

Generally, drug overdoses cause changes in the vital signs, increasing or decreasing body temperature, pulse rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure. The specific symptoms of an overdose vary depending on the drug ingested, however. For instance, an amphetamine overdose can cause chest pain, elevated blood pressure, and amphetamine psychosis, a temporary condition that usually only occurs with extremely high doses. Overdoses caused by opioids, such as heroin or morphine, may cause coma, dilated pupils, and a depressed respiratory rate, as well as confusion, shock, fluid in the lungs, and abnormally low blood pressure and heart rate. Symptoms of aspirin overdose can include nausea and vomiting, pain in the abdomen, increased body temperature and respiratory rate, hallucinations, seizure, swelling of the brain, and coma.

Medical professionals need to know which drugs were taken in order to effectively treat drug overdoses. Common courses of treatment include pumping the stomach to remove drugs that have not yet been absorbed by the digestive system, or the administration of activated charcoal, a porous substance that absorbs the drugs, allowing them to be harmlessly excreted. Some types of overdose may require a specific antidote to counteract the effects of the drug. Kidney dialysis or chelation may be necessary in some cases to remove the toxins from the patient's system.

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SteamLouis
Post 6

@Ruggercat68-- I agree with you.

My neighbor's son attempted suicide with an NSAID pain reliever (same group as aspirin). He didn't die but he lost his liver! His liver failed because it could not deal with all the drugs. He had to get a liver transplant. He caused a lot of pain and worry for himself and his family and friends.

You are right, I wish more people knew that overdosing will not cause death. It will damage organs and cause the person to suffer. I don't think that's the intention of anyone who wants to end their life. This is not right.

SarahGen
Post 5

@turquoise-- Good question. I'm not a doctor so you might want to ask your doctor or perhaps a pharmacist.

As far as I know, there are different opinions on whether it's possible to overdose on vitamins and minerals. It mostly depends on whether these vitamins are water soluble or not.

Water soluble vitamins and minerals are not stored in the body. The body uses what it needs and then excretes the excess through urine. So technically, it should not be possible to overdose on water soluble vitamins and vitamin C is water soluble. I say "should" because I believe that even water soluble vitamins and minerals can become toxic for the body in very high doses. This type of overdose won't be as dangerous as overdose on fat soluble vitamins. But it can still cause negative side effects for a while.

I too have experienced this type of toxicity, from magnesium. I took too much of a magnesium supplement and became ill like you. I had a headache, nausea, vomiting and confusion. It certainly was not normal.

So regardless of what type of supplement or medication you're taking, never take more than directed. Remember that the foods we eat contain vitamins and minerals as well.

turquoise
Post 4

Is it possible to experience overdose from vitamin or mineral supplements?

I'm taking a vitamin C supplement and today after taking it, I developed nausea and vomiting. Does this mean that I overdosed?

Ruggercat68
Post 3

I think it's a good idea for the medical community to keep overdose levels for common medications as secret as possible. Sometimes people will deliberately try to overdose on OTC medications like aspirin or cold medicines and get very sick, but not die. Fortunately, few people know exactly how many aspirin tablets to take in order to reach a point of no return medically. It's not easy to overdose on many OTC drugs, since manufacturers deliberately keep the dosages weak. I get more concerned when a depressed teen has access to his or her parent's prescription medications.

Buster29
Post 2

When I was a child, my mother accidentally gave me an overdose of liquid cold medicine, and I was unconscious for nearly 18 hours. All she could do was wait for the medication to wear off. An adult may have been able to handle that much medication, but it was a toxic dose for a 5 year old. I think that's an important lesson to learn. What might be a safe dose for one person can be an overdose to someone else.

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