Recovery After Overdose: what to Expect

An overdose occurs when a person takes too much of a drug, whether it’s an over- the-counter, prescription, or illegal substance. The size of a toxic dose can vary from person to person depending on their sensitivity to the drug, and can lead to severe symptoms or even death.

In 2018, more than 67,000 people died from drug overdoses in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health. But non-fatal overdoses are even more frequent. Here’s what to expect after an overdose.

Address Immediate Medical Needs

After an overdose, it’s important to treat urgent medical issues. Individuals may have abnormal vital signs, memory loss, and experience cardiac, respiratory, or gastrointestinal problems that require ongoing medical care.

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If the overdose was intentional, the person will be given a mental health evaluation and receive psychiatric care as needed. In some states, healthcare providers can request a civil commitment for people who are an imminent danger to themselves, including intentional self-harm by overdose. This court-mandated treatment might include hospitalization or a mandatory outpatient program.

Explore Substance Abuse Treatment Options

It’s possible to overdose on a drug the first time you use it, but for others, it’s part of a larger pattern of substance abuse and dependence.

The most effective substance abuse treatments combine medication and behavioral therapy and are tailored to a person’s needs. A trained professional can help you understand your options, including inpatient and outpatient programs.

Medication-assisted treatment is a clinically effective substance use treatment shown to decrease drug use and improve survival outcomes. Methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone are FDA-approved medications used to treat opioid addiction to prescription pain relievers or heroin. Disulfiram, naltrexone, and acamprosate are common medications used to treat alcohol use disorder.

Preventing Another Overdose

People who have had one drug overdose are at an increased risk of having a second, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition to getting treatment for a substance use disorder, there are several ways to reduce the chances of a second overdose.

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Explore alternative pain treatment. If you are taking prescription opioids, talk to your doctor about alternative pain management methods, including over- the-counter pain relievers, exercise therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, acupuncture, and massage.

Take medications as prescribed. Never take higher doses of opioids than prescribed or share prescription medications with others.

Keep prescriptions out of reach. Store opioids in a secure place where family members and children cannot access them.

Don’t mix medications. Taking opioids with alcohol, benzodiazepines, muscle relaxants, and hypnotics can increase your risk of an overdose.

Talk to your doctor about Naloxone. When a person is showing signs of an opioid overdose, Naloxone is an FDA-approved medication that can be administered to reverse its toxic effects. Doctors can prescribe Naloxone to people who are at high risk of an overdose, including those receiving medication-assisted treatment.

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