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Cocaine Overdose Effects and Symptoms

Symptoms of a cocaine overdose may include aggressive behavior, changes in mood, chest pain, and seizures. An overdose can damage the brain, heart, kidneys, and liver. Professional treatment can help a person recover from cocaine addiction and prevent future overdoses.

Many who suffer from addiction convince themselves that nothing bad will happen to them. This type of self-deception can be especially problematic with cocaine use; the reality is that cocaine is one of the most dangerous drugs in the world because even a first-time user can overdose.

Second only to alcohol, cocaine accounts for the most frequent reason for drug-related visits to emergency rooms across the U.S.1 A person who injects, smokes, or snorts too much cocaine can suffer from an overdose. To live through a cocaine overdose can be traumatic but can also serve as the motivation some users need to commit to treatment for cocaine addiction.

What Are the Symptoms of a Cocaine Overdose?

The euphoric effects of cocaine are short-lived, lasting around 15 to 30 minutes when snorted and just 5 to 10 minutes when smoked.2 The effects on the body, however, can last for several hours.2 Many overdoses occur because individuals continue to use more cocaine even though the initial bodily effects are still present, essentially stacking the deadly pharmacologic impact on their cardiovascular and other organ systems. Some may place themselves at further risk of overdose because they attempt to use a large amount of cocaine once the initial high has subsided. As users pursue the euphoric feeling they felt at the beginning of their cocaine use, they often do not realize how much of the drug they have taken.

A cocaine overdose requires immediate medical attention because it can be deadly. Common symptoms that indicate a person has used an excessive amount of cocaine include:2

  • Agitation.
  • Anxiety.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Heart attack.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Increased body temperature.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Seizure.
  • Stroke.

How an Overdose Affects Your Body

Cocaine effects arise from the drug’s interaction with a range of bodily processes. Cocaine’s immediate physical harm (and eventually its deadly impact) can originate from several affected organ systems throughout the body. There are four primary ways that cocaine affects the body:

  • Constriction of blood vessels.
  • Increasing “fight or flight” responses (e.g., blood pressure, breathing rate, heart rate).
  • Increasing metabolism.
  • Nervous system overactivity.

Each of the following effects of cocaine on organ systems is a direct consequence of one of the above mechanisms.

Heart Problems

A cocaine overdose has a massive effect on the heart. The user may have severe chest pain or chest pressure as the coronary arteries that feed blood to the heart constrict.3 With inadequate flow from the coronary arteries, the heart is starved of blood and oxygen. As the heart reaches a crisis state, it begins to pump harder and faster to deliver more blood and compensate for its own poor supply, but it does so in vain due to the constricted arteries. The result is a deadly cycle that can ultimately lead to a heart attack or stroke, even if the person is healthy.

Blood pressure and heart rate will also dangerously spike during an overdose, which can cause the heart to fail.4 If the user has high blood pressure or heart problems without the use of stimulants, the risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke is much greater when stimulants are used. Additionally, irregular heart rhythms can occur with stimulant use, also leading to possible death.5

Lung Problems

A cocaine overdose can also result in acute bronchospasm as well as several other more serious lung problems, such as pneumothorax (collapsed lung). Some users, particularly those who inject cocaine, are also at increased risk of thrombus (blood clot) development in the lungs.6

Problems in Other Organs

Other organs that incur damage from a cocaine overdose may include:7,8,9

  • Eyes: Pupil dilation and resultant changes in visual acuity, retinal vessel spasms, and/or microvascular infarcts that may lead to vision loss.
  • Intestines and kidneys: Insufficient blood supply, perforated ulcers, and metabolic acidosis from too much acid production.
  • Muscle and bones: Life-threatening metabolic imbalances.
  • Brain and central nervous system (CNS): Coma, headaches, intracranial bleeding, and seizures.

How a Cocaine Overdose Affects Your Brain and Central Nervous System

Convulsions and seizures are common during a cocaine overdose, as the brain is acutely sensitive to toxic levels of the drug. As more systemic cardiovascular consequences play out within the skull, blood vessels in the brain may rupture, and the user may suffer a deadly aneurysm or hemorrhagic stroke. In addition, dangerously increased transmission of catecholamines (hormones that put the body into “fight or flight” mode) results in nerve cell “miscommunication” during which the user may experience uncontrollable muscle movements such as jaw grinding, shaking, or teeth chattering.10

The legs and arms may feel shaky and weak. An increase in muscular activity can lead to a dangerously elevated body temperature. Eventually, the overtaxed muscles may seize up, to the point where the user may not even be able to call for help.

Long-Term Effects of a Cocaine Overdose

When individuals survive a cocaine overdose, both their physical and mental health may be affected forever. They may experience severe damage to major organs such as the brain, heart, kidneys, liver, and lungs. Extensive damage can also occur to the intestines and reproductive organs as well as to a developing fetus in pregnant women who use cocaine.5

The mental trauma of a cocaine overdose can also change the way that the user thinks and feels even if they successfully quit using the drug. They may suffer delusions, panic attacks, paranoia, psychosis, and tremors.11,12

Finding Treatment for Cocaine Addiction

When it comes to addiction treatment, you have options. You can attend treatment in an inpatient setting where you live in a clean, safe facility with around-the-clock support. Or you can attend treatment in an outpatient program where you live at home and go to treatment during the day. Other programs are also available such as executive rehab and luxury rehab.

Finding a treatment program for cocaine addiction is the first step towards recovery. American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of inpatient and outpatient rehab treatment services and is committed to supporting those struggling with addiction on their journey to recovery. If you are looking for information on addiction treatment, you can contact us 24/7 at to learn more or fill out the form below to see if your insurance will cover treatment.


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