An overdose can happen any time you take a drug. It can happen the first time you use a drug or the hundredth. No matter when an overdose occurs, it can have devastating and even deadly consequences. Learn how overdose happens and how you can prevent it. Protect yourself and your loved ones from the effects of overdose.

The Definition of Overdose

Any time you take too much of a drug, you have overdosed. MedlinePlus explains: “An overdose is when you take more than the normal or recommended amount of something, usually a drug. An overdose may result in serious, harmful symptoms or death.”1 No specific amount of a drug defines an overdose. Instead an overdose is determined by how and why you use a drug and how your body reacts to it. The amount of a drug that produces harmful overdose symptoms varies. Factors that influence overdose effects include the following:

  • Height
  • Weight
  • Age
  • Tolerance levels
  • Physical health
  • Mental health
  • Hydration

Overdose experiences vary from person to person. Symptoms can and do vary. There is no way to predict the exact amount of a drug that is “safe” versus dangerous. You cannot know how any one drug will affect you on any given day. An overdose can only be defined as too much of a substance. What constitutes “too much” depends on your unique situation.

Overdose man crouchingYou can take too much of any drug. However some drugs cause more damage and have more serious health consequences than others. This difference isn’t based on legal versus illegal or prescription versus recreational use. Depressants like opiates, alcohol, and benzodiazepines slow breath and heart rate. Stimulants like cocaine or amphetamines elevate these. Individuals may underreact or overreact to health emergencies or to stimuli around them. Individuals may experience dangerously slowed life processes or elevated ones.

Many drugs cause overdoses, and many of these overdoses are fatal. The Centers for Disease Control reports that “Opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) killed more than 33,000 people in 2015, more than any year on record. Nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid.” 2 Drugs don’t have to be illegal to be dangerous. Your prescription can be as deadly as a street drug. Even alcohol, openly available to anyone over age 21, causes overdose or alcohol poisoning when over-consumed.

Why Does Overdose Happen?

There are many reasons people take too much of a drug. An overdose can be accidental or intentional. It can stem from medical or recreational use. Some people who overdose first struggle with addiction. Many people who overdose first experience dependence and tolerance. When you take a drug regularly, your brain and body become used to its presence. They adjust how they function in an attempt to re-establish “normal.” As they do so, the medications or recreational drugs you take seem to become less effective. You have to take the drug more often or in larger quantities to experience its effects. If you stop taking the drug, you may feel pain, illness or other withdrawal symptoms. As you increase the amount of a drug you take, you increase your overdose risk. As you return to a drug to stave off negative mental or physical feelings, you also increase your risk. No matter the reason, drug use can cause overdose to happen.

How Do I Prevent Overdose?

Ending drug use is the only way to promise safety from overdose. If you have underlying mental or physical health issues that require treatment, talk with your health care providers about alternatives and safety measures. Make sure you only take medications in the frequency and dosage prescribed. Do not mix medications. Do not take someone else’s prescription drugs or purchase legal or illegal drugs from Internet sources or dealers. Reach out for help to address dependence, tolerance and addiction concerns.

How Do I Treat Overdose?

Overdose doesn’t have to be fatal. Quick medical attention can prevent tragedy. Medications can reverse overdose symptoms while professional attention can ensure other symptoms do not put life at risk. However an overdose cannot be ignored during or after the event. It requires emergency medical care. It requires follow-up to address any related health issues. It requires a thorough examination of your or a loved one’s relationship with drugs or alcohol. While the best time to address addiction is before overdose occurs, an overdose can provide the wakeup call changing mental, physical, and emotional health have not. Do not ignore this call.

Where Do I Find Help Ending Overdose Risk?

If you’d like to put an end to your or a loved one’s overdose risk, we’d like to help. At Black Bear Lodge, we provide integrated care for addictions. You will find personalized and professional individual therapy, support group work and holistic treatments. You can include family therapy and find coordinated mental and physical health care in addition to addiction treatment. Please call us to find out more about preventing overdose and finding complete health.


MedlinePlus. “Overdose.” U.S. National Library of Medicine. 26 Jan. 2015. Accessed 8 Jun. 2017.

2 Centers for Disease Control. “Opioid Overdose.” 16 Apr. 2017. Accessed 9 Jun 2017.