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Spotting the signs and symptoms of a cocaine overdose is key to saving a person’s life, especially if you or someone you know has a problem with cocaine.

Statistically, cocaine related deaths are at an all time high. The increase in deaths is mostly attributed to historically high purity levels, its potency, and the fact that is sometimes cut with other deadly substances such as the extremely powerful opioid fentanyl (1)

Over the past 7 years cocaine related deaths have risen each year in England and Wales, with 637 deaths being recorded in 2018. This is most recent drug data available from ONS (Office for National Statistics) (2)

Cocaine related deaths are commonly caused by...

  • Overdose
  • Mixing cocaine with other substances such as alcohol
  • Life threatening complications arising as a result of cocaine’s adverse effects
  • Committing suicide whilst intoxicated (in some cocaine users, cocaine leads to impulsive behaviour , severe depression and suicidal ideation)

Taking cocaine really is a game of ‘Russian roulette’, especially if you don’t know the source it came from, its strength, or what is in the drug.

If you or a loved one have a problem with this particularly volatile stimulant, we urge you to seek professional help without delay.

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What is a cocaine overdose?

A cocaine overdose happens when a person takes more cocaine than their body can cope with. Cocaine is extremely addictive and toxic. The instant euphoric high and strong drug cravings that cocaine produces, can often cause users to binge on the drug.

It is important to note that a binge isn’t always the cause of cocaine overdose. As cocaine purity is currently at an all time high, the likelihood of an overdose happening is incredibly difficult to predict. Even first time users can die from taking cocaine (3)

As a result of overdosing on cocaine, certain organs in the body are unable to cope, this can commonly lead to a heart attack, multiple organ failure and respiratory arrest.

Even those who do not have underlying health conditions are at risk of overdose.

Asian man with head in hands struggling with a cocaine addiction


Signs and symptoms of a cocaine overdose

Signs and symptoms of a cocaine overdose can manifest both physically and mentally. It is just as important to watch for the psychological signs as it is the physical signs.

Physical signs of a cocaine overdose...

  • Increased sweating
  • Increased body temperature
  • Increased heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Chest pain that can radiate up the shoulder and down the arm (symptom of a heart attack)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rapid or slow breathing
  • Bluish tinge to the skin
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Tremors
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Loss of consciousness (4)

Psychological signs of a cocaine overdose...

  • Confusion
  • Severe anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoia
  • Delirium (severe mental confusion causing reduced awareness and confused thinking)
  • Rambling communication that doesn’t make any sense
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there) (5)


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Treating a cocaine overdose at home

If you or someone you know shows the signs and symptoms of a cocaine overdose, immediate emergency medical treatment is required.

Whilst waiting for an ambulance the emergency services operator will advise you what to do to help you or the person suffering from the cocaine overdose.

For various reasons we cannot advise on medical treatment, as that should only be administered by medical professionals. However, in a crisis we suggest that you observe the ABC’s – Airway, Breathing and Circulation and intervene where necessary. The emergency services operator will talk you through what to do to best help yourself or the person suffering. (6)

Even if you or the person appears to partially recover – DO NOT CANCEL THE EMERGENCY MEDICAL HELP. By doing this without a full medical assessment first, further life threatening complications could easily arise.

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Who is at risk of a cocaine overdose

Anyone that takes cocaine is at risk of overdose. However, there are some influential factors that increase the risk.

Risk factors for a cocaine overdose include...

  • Mixing cocaine with other substances, such as alcohol, medications, amphetamines or opioids
  • Suffering from an underlying heart, lung or kidney problem
  • Suffering from a mental health illness
  • Prone to binging on cocaine
  • Suffering from cocaine addiction
  • Taking cocaine on your own (if you are taking cocaine on your own and you overdose you may not be able to ask for emergency help)


Preventing a cocaine overdose

The only guaranteed way to prevent a cocaine overdose is not to take cocaine in the first place.

If you do take cocaine and are not willing to stop, you should seek help and advice on harm reduction measures from your local drug and alcohol team.

If you want help to stop taking cocaine, a cocaine detox and rehabilitation programme is strongly recommended as first line treatment.

Call Delamere for free and confidential expert advice and find out how we can help you or your loved one to become cocaine free today.

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Further information & guides about cocaine

Struggling with a cocaine problem? Take action today…

Contact our admissions team for a confidential assessment. Immediate admissions available.

Need help?
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References:

  1. Cocaine deaths continue to rise for 7th consecutive year in England and Wales. ONS-2018
  2. The National Crime Agency 2019 report – National Crime Agency, 2019 (PDF, 6.17MB)
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2013).
  4. Zimmerman JL. Cocaine intoxication. Crit Care Clin. 2012 Oct;28(4):517-26. [PubMed][Reference list]
  5. Cocaine Toxicity – John R. Richards; Jacqueline K. Le.
  6. Cocaine toxicity treatment and management – Prehospital care – Author Lynn Barkley Burnett, MD, EdD, JD Medical Advisor,