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Cocaine Overdose Symptoms

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

February 20, 2019

Cocaine is one of the more harmful and potent drugs because of its potential for addiction, tolerance, and risk of overdose. In fact, for some, it may take only a small amount of cocaine to produce an overdose—even one dose.

Cocaine interrupts the brain’s communication system, causing an excess of dopamine, and producing the feeling of euphoria experienced by those who abuse the drug. However, the effects of cocaine last only a short time and may leave the person who abused it feeling depressed, with a craving to use the drug again. Overdose may be caused by a buildup of toxins and harsh chemicals. This excess can occur over time or from too many frequent doses in a short period of time. For this reason, it is important to know what cocaine is, how it affects the body, and the signs of cocaine overdose in order to seek appropriate treatment for those affected.

Cocaine Defined

As mentioned, cocaine is a stimulant drug that produces a pleasurable “rush” effect for those who use or abuse it. Unfortunately, it is also highly addictive, to the extent it may cause a person to become addicted after even just one use. Cocaine can be taken orally, injected, snorted, or smoked. As the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains, “cocaine use ranges from occasional to repeated or compulsive use, with a variety of patterns between these extremes. Any route of administration can potentially lead to absorption of toxic amounts of cocaine, causing heart attacks, strokes, or seizures—all of which can result in sudden death.”

Though cocaine is classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a schedule II drug, meaning it can be utilized by physicians for treatment of some extreme physical ailments, albeit very rarely, it is illegal otherwise. In illicit, recreational use, cocaine is often “cut” or mixed with other drugs or substances. This is part of what makes it such a dangerous substance. People affected by cocaine abuse may not be guaranteed the potency of the substance, because of the potential for sellers to mix it with other drugs. In addition, some of these substances may also increase the risk of overdose, including that which is fatal.

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How Does Cocaine Affect The Body?

Cocaine works in the body by affecting the brain’s communication system and producing an increase of dopamine. This results in a number of immediate effects, including euphoria, energy surges, being talkative, and a feeling of alertness. It may also make a person very sensitive to sight and sound, or result in a lack of appetite or inability to sleep. But cocaine also affects the body, especially after the immediate effects of the “high” wear off. Some short-term effects are:

  • Anxiety
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Feeling of restlessness
  • Hyperthermia (increased body temperature)
  • Impotence
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia
  • Pupil dilation
  • Rapid heart rate

With prolonged abuse, these symptoms may increase, and other adverse health effects may follow. Some of these symptoms can lead to overdose.

What Are The Overdose Symptoms?

Because overdose can happen over time or all at once, it is important to watch for the signs. These can range from moderate to severe and may include the following:

  • Convulsions or seizures—perhaps the most dangerous symptoms, as these may signal a severe overdose. When people experience seizures, they may drool, gag, vomit, clench their teeth, faint, or lose control of bodily functions
  • Feeling of dehydration
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations—these can seem very real and may cause a person to engage in risky behavior he or she may not try otherwise
  • Headaches
  • Increased heart rate—cocaine increases body functions such as the heart rate, which could lead to cardiac arrest
  • Paranoia—this may cause an inability to reason and likely will be very intense

Some people who have experienced overdose have described having a feeling like their head may “explode” or like their heart may beat right out of their chest. Even worse, when overdose is not treated, it can lead to a number of health complications, some of which can be fatal. These include cardiac arrest, cerebral hemorrhage, heart failure, respiratory failure, or stroke.

Can Cocaine Abuse Be Treated?

Recovering from cocaine abuse is a harsh process, but recovery is possible with dedication, support, and the right treatment methods. First, a recovering individual will likely experience withdrawal and may, in some cases, require a medically-supported detoxification. According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR), “these symptoms will be more severe the more heavily someone has been using cocaine.” Some withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, depression, fatigue, irritability, and severe cravings.

After the body detoxes and the initial withdrawal process, a person may begin treatment. Rehabilitation centers vary on which treatment methods are offered, but many centers offer different types of counseling, forms of therapy, and medication as needed. Dual diagnosis treatment may also be necessary for any co-occurring substance abuse (i.e. alcohol abuse) or mental health disorders. Many forms of treatment focus on abstinence with professional support in a residential, inpatient setting.

Finding Help For Cocaine Abuse Treatment

Cocaine is a substance that, while not deemed the most harmful by the DEA, is dangerous enough to cause severe health conditions or fatal overdose. Maybe you are reading this because someone close to you is struggling and you are looking for answers. By contacting us today at, you will be able to speak freely about your concerns and be directed to information about various rehab centers and treatment options.

Center For Substance Abuse Research - Cocaine

Drug Enforcement Administration - Drugs Of Abuse: Cocaine

National Institute On Drug Abuse - What Is Cocaine?

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