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What Is A Drug Overdose?

A drug overdose happens when one takes more than the recommended dose of a drug that their body can handle. An overdose can be accidental or even intentional, as some people may not know how they react to certain medications. Drug overdose symptoms may range from the shaking so commonly linked to crack cocaine or meth, to the nodding that is associated with heroin. Ultimately, a drug overdose can potentially cause death. People who abuse drugs always walk on thin ice as they at risk of getting serious injuries or dying from overdose.

What causes drug overdose?

A drug overdose is caused either by accidental overuse of a drug or by intentional misuse of a drug. An accidental overdose can occur when a young child or even an adult with a mental disability swallows a drug left within their reach. An adult, especially someone taking many medications or an elderly person, can ingest the wrong medication by mistake or take the wrong dose. Intentional overdoses are taken in order to bring a desired effect, such as to harm oneself or to get high.

Young children may ingest drugs accidentally as they are curious about anything they come across. Children who are below 5 years, especially those aged between 6 months and 3 years seem to put anything they come across in their mouths. In this age bracket, drug overdoses are usually caused when one unintentionally leaves some medication within the reach of children. When they lay their hands on medications, toddlers have a tendency to share them with their peers. Thus, if you suspect a case of an overdose in your child while there are other children around, they may have ingested the medication as well.

Teenagers and adults are often more likely to take an overdose of a drug so as to harm themselves. One may attempt to harm himself/herself in a suicide attempt. Individuals who intentionally overdose on drugs are usually those with chronic mental health disorders.

Symptoms of drug overdose

An accidental overdose, as earlier mentioned, may be caused by misuse of prescription medications or over the counter medications such as cold remedies or pain relievers. Symptoms vary depending on the medication taken. Below are some of the medications commonly associated with overdoses as well as their symptoms and outcomes:

An overdose of acetaminophen, commonly known as Tylenol, causes damage to the liver with symptoms such as tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, sweating, and paleness. The second stage of symptoms will indicate liver failure, with symptoms like abdominal pain or tenderness, swelling in the liver, as well as abnormal blood tests on liver enzymes. Kidney failure, swelling of brain (encephalopathy), bleeding disorders, advanced liver failure, and jaundice will appear in the final stage of the overdose.

Anticholinergic medications (medications that block a neurotransmitter such as actelycholine) such as scopolamine, atropine, antihistamines, belladonna, and antipsychotic agents make the skin as well as moist nose and mouth tissues to become flushed or dry. Inability to urinate, dilated pupils, and mental disorders are symptoms as well. Severe toxicity may cause abnormal heart rhythms, seizures, coma, and severe hypertension.

Antidepressant drugs such as desipramine, amitriptyline, and nortriptyline can lead to irregular heart rate, low blood pressure, vomiting, seizures, and confusion. An overdose of antidepressant drugs also causes symptoms like those of anticholinergic drugs.

Overdoses of cholinergic drugs such as pilocarpine and carbamate cause diarrhea, nausea, increase in tears, saliva, sweat and urine, muscle weakness, and fatigue. Convulsions may also occur. Death may occur as result of heart or respiratory failure.

Cocaine as well as crack cocaine overdoses lead to high blood pressure, seizures, paranoia, increased heart rate, and other behavioral changes. Serious risks such as stroke or heart attack can occur within 72 hours after a cocaine overdose.

Depressant drugs such as sleeping pills, tranquilizers, and anti-anxiety drugs cause slurred/slowed speech, sleepiness, difficulty standing or walking, disorientation, inability to think straight, blurred vision, and mood changes. Symptoms of overdose may include stupor, severe low blood pressure, coma, slow breathing, and shock that may lead to death.

An overdose of digoxin, a medication used for regulation of the heart, may cause nausea, irregular heartbeats, blurred vision, loss of appetite, and confusion.

Opiates or narcotics are drugs such as heroin, codeine, and morphine. Overdose with narcotics causes sleepiness (sedation), slowed heart rate, low blood pressure, and slowed breathing. A narcotic overdose also causes pinpoint pupils, where the pupils of the eyes become so small.

Salicylates are present in aspirin as well as some ointments or creams used for joint and muscle pain, and a skin condition called psoriasis. Initial symptoms include fever, gastrointestinal irritation, and vomiting, sometimes with blood. An overdose will cause respiratory alkalosis and metabolic acidosis, conditions in which the acid/base balance in the body is not working. Symptoms will include fast breathing and rapid heart rate. Symptoms in the nervous system include hallucinations, confusion, ringing in the ears, and tiredness. Another common symptom is increased cases of bleeding. Serious complications are renal failure, heart failure, and coma. Acute poisoning from salicylate use may cause death.

How to prevent drug overdoses

In order to prevent accidental drug overdoses in kids, all medications must be stored in a safe and secure place. It is not easy to prevent intentional overdoses, especially if the underlying problems aren't dealt with. Unintentional, illegal overdose of a drug is potentially serious but can best be solved by making sure the person does not get access to the illegal drug.

Individuals with certain mental disorders need help from their loved ones. Drug addicts also need similar support so that they stay safe and clean.

Parents, grandparents or whoever takes care of small kids should make sure that the children stay away from drugs that can cause injuries or poisoning. All medications should be kept out of the reach of children under 5 as accidental poisoning can cause death. It is also important that the elderly are taught how to take their medications properly so that overdoses are avoided. It's better if they are supervised when taking their medications.