Cocaine Overdose

Cocaine overdoses can be fatal. The risk of overdose is highest for people who inject cocaine or use more cocaine than they’re used to. First responders can provide medical treatment to save a person’s life if they overdose on cocaine.
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If you believe someone has overdosed on cocaine, call 911 immediately.

Most people want to feel energetic, happy and focused when they use cocaine. A cocaine overdose is characterized by uncomfortable effects, such as irritability, anxiety or tremors.

Depending on the severity of the overdose, the long-term effects can range from minimal to life-threatening. A minor cocaine overdose may cause lightheadedness, agitation and sweating for 10 to 20 minutes. A severe cocaine overdose can last for an hour or longer and cause seizures, a heart attack or a stroke.

Signs and symptoms of a cocaine overdose include:

  • Chest pain
  • High body temperature
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Breathing problems
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations

Treatment for a cocaine overdose usually involves breathing support, IV fluids and medications. If the overdose causes a heart attack, stroke or other types of internal injury, long-term medical care may be required.

Cocaine addiction puts a person at a high risk of future cocaine overdoses. Finding rehab for cocaine addiction is a vital part of preventing future overdoses.

How Much Cocaine Causes an Overdose?

The amount of cocaine that can cause an overdose fluctuates based on several factors. Depending on a person’s tolerance and the purity of the cocaine, less than a gram can cause a fatal overdose. But someone with a high tolerance can consume multiple grams of cocaine, according to the University of Arizona.

The method of administration also affects the risk of overdose. For example, someone may be able to snort a higher dose of cocaine than they can inject. Injecting or shooting cocaine is associated with the highest risk of overdose and the highest risk of a fatal overdose. Smoking and snorting, respectively, have the next highest overdose risk.

Mixing cocaine with alcohol or other drugs also increases the risk of overdose. Speedballing, or mixing heroin and cocaine, is more likely to cause an overdose than using either of the drugs exclusively.

What Does a Cocaine Overdose Feel Like?

People who have overdosed on cocaine say their heartbeat was even faster than the elevated rate they normally experienced while on the drug. A rush of energy and increased alertness are normal signs of cocaine use. People who overdose report feeling like they were trembling or shaking. Other symptoms of a cocaine overdose include blurry vision, chest pain or tightness, extreme anxiety, confusion and hallucinations.

“I couldn’t see, but I could almost hear what was going on. It was awful. I laid [on a bed] overdosing for 45 minutes.”

Madeleine Ludwig, of her cocaine overdose

Madeleine Ludwig overdosed on cocaine as a teenager. Although she had injected cocaine in the past, her tolerance may have been lower when she overdosed because she had just been released from jail. She injected a gram and a half of what she called the purest cocaine she’d ever seen.

“It was the scariest thing that I ever felt in my life,” Ludwig told “I couldn’t see, but I could almost hear what was going on. It was awful. I laid [on a bed] overdosing for 45 minutes. Eventually, I came out of it. I didn’t know what to think. I could barely speak.”

Madeleine didn’t get treatment for the overdose. The person she was with was too scared to call 911. That mistake could have cost Madeleine her life. Emergency responders can help save the life of a person who is overdosing on cocaine.

Health Effects of a Cocaine Overdose

The heart and brain are the organs most vulnerable to a cocaine overdose. Too much cocaine can cause death by heart attack or stroke. The drug can also cause respiratory failure, which means the body doesn’t get the amount of oxygen it needs.

Other life-threatening symptoms of a cocaine overdose include seizure, kidney failure and blood pressure problems.

If a person survives the short-term effects of a cocaine overdose, they may also experience long-term health problems from the event.

Signs and symptoms of a cocaine overdose include:

  • Heart problems
  • Kidney problems
  • Muscle deterioration
  • Chronic anxiety
  • Psychosis
  • Paralysis

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine

Some long-term health problems can be avoided or reduced if a person receives medical treatment. A cocaine overdose is also a warning sign for addiction. If you’ve overdosed on coke, you should consider seeking cocaine rehab. Addiction treatment can help you avoid a future overdose.

Suffering from cocaine addiction?

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How to Treat a Cocaine Overdose

Doctors don’t have medicine that can reverse the effects of a cocaine overdose. A cocaine antidote has been studied in mice, according to a 2016 article published in the journal Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters. But its safety hasn’t been studied in humans.

When faced with a cocaine overdose, health professionals treat or try to prevent health complications such as stroke, respiratory failure or heart attack. To determine the effects of a cocaine overdose, they may run a chest X-ray or an electrocardiogram to detect heart damage. They may also perform a CT scan to determine whether the brain has been injured.

Depending on the person’s symptoms and test results, doctors can provide the following treatments:

  • Breathing support
  • IV fluids
  • Medications

Doctors and nurses provide these forms of life support until cocaine leaves the person’s system. In general, cocaine has a short half-life. That means it doesn’t stay in the body for a long period of time. Most cocaine overdoses last less than an hour. The time may be shorter, depending on the method of administration.

A variety of medications can be administered to treat anxiety, agitation, nausea, seizure or blood pressure problems. Other prescription drugs may reduce the effects of heart, brain or kidney complications.

These medications are only available in health care settings. It’s impossible to properly treat a cocaine overdose at home . Calling 911 is the only way to make sure you can save a person’s life.

Many health care providers also refer people to rehab for cocaine addiction after a cocaine overdose. You can find help for cocaine addiction by calling a cocaine hotline. These toll-free help lines can help you determine whether you’re addicted to cocaine and where to find treatment.

Medical Disclaimer: aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

Chris Elkins, MA
Senior Content Writer,
Chris Elkins worked as a journalist for three years and was published by multiple newspapers and online publications. Since 2015, he’s written about health-related topics, interviewed addiction experts and authored stories of recovery. Chris has a master’s degree in strategic communication and a graduate certificate in health communication.

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