When someone you care about is addicted to drugs or alcohol, you worry continuously about the long-term risks to their health. You know that alcohol can fatally damage the liver, and that many drug abusers end up with brain damage. You also know that a moment of intoxication can cause your loved one to fall victim to accidents, robbery, rape, or murder.
But the most serious concern we have is about an overdose. People who abuse substances are not at all scientific in determining how much they will consume. Usually they have a good idea of how much it will take to get the desired effect, but with an increasing tolerance for the drug, that figure is continually rising. The experimentation associated with determining just how much additional drug is needed can be dangerous or deadly.
So for loved ones, it is very important to know the signs that an addict is taking or has taken too much of their particular vice. Knowing that it has happened is the only way that you can give the addict a good chance to survive. Let’s consider some of the ways to recognize an overdose as it develops.
Probably the best way to recognize an overdose is to see signs that it is coming. Most addicts have a fairly predictable consumption routine, and when those around them notice that there is more of the drug or alcohol available than normal, it can be time to watch out for an impending overdose.
This can also be coupled with behavioral indications that an intentional overdose may be ahead. When we see emotional situations that typically precipitate suicide attempts or the desire for escapist behavior, we need to monitor the addict for an attempt to take a larger-than-normal dose. Often this may come after traditional means of handling emotional stressors have failed or been circumvented.
Oftentimes, an addict realizes quickly when he or she has taken too much of a drug. During the moments after the dose and before its full impact, the user may show signs of fear or panic, and may even say that he or she took too much.
In the struggle to handle life with an addict, we can begin to think they are crying wolf each time that they claim to have done something drastic. In this case, we must always take them seriously. Again, we often know what is normal behavior for their typical use rates. We must be aware of any deviation from this routine and be prepared to seek medical help when we see it. That is the only way that medical interventions can be given in a timely fashion.
After an overdose, we can expect to see more acute signs in the addict. We know how they normally react to their normal dose; when we see behavior that is inconsistent with that standard, we should be seeking medical care immediately.
For example, we know that alcoholics often drink enough to pass out. But when they appear to have done more than simply lose consciousness, we should be concerned. If the addict’s breathing is slower than normal, or if the heart rate is low or weak, we know that the depressant effects of the alcohol are having an unusually strong impact.
There may also be complications that are as dangerous as an overdose. Excessive alcohol consumption can cause vomiting, and if the addict is too weak to react, the vomit can be pulled into the lungs, drowning the person.
The standard is to watch for abnormal behavior after the drug or alcohol is consumed, and if it’s seen, to react immediately.
Life with an addict is incredibly challenging. It is full of false alarms, needless panics, and overreactions, on everyone’s part. But an overdose is typically easy to recognize, and we must take it seriously. If our loved ones are to survive long enough to recover from their addiction, they will have to get help in their worst moments. Learn basic first aid, and at the first sign of an overdose, call 911 or the appropriate local number and get help on the way.