Coma Due to Drug Overdose

A coma from drug overdose is dangerous and potentially life-threatening. Read on to learn the symptoms and signs of going into a coma.

Overview

When someone is in a coma due to a drug overdose, it can be an incredibly frightening experience for everyone involved. The person in the coma may have taken too much prescription medication, or also might have overdosed on an illegal drug. No matter what the cause, there are some things that you and your loved ones need to know about how comas from drug overdoses happen. This article will provide an overview of comas due to drug overdose and explore treatment options for coma recovery.

Coma from drug overdose
Coma from drug overdose is a growing and significant public health problem in the United States. In 2021 alone, over one hundred thousand deaths were attributed to drug overdose.1

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What is a Drug Overdose?

A drug overdose can occur when a person takes more than the recommended amount of a substance. Drug overdoses can either be accidental or intentional.2

A coma resulting from a drug overdose is a state of unconsciousness where a person is unresponsive and cannot be woken. Beyond comas resulting from drug overdoses, they can also be caused by brain injuries, strokes, alcohol poisoning, diabetes, and brain infection.3

Coma from drug overdose or brain death happens when a person’s brain injury is irreversible, and no brain function is present. When a person overdoses on substances, including depressants, stimulants, or other drugs, they may experience a drug overdose coma.4

What Drugs Cause a Coma?

A come from a drug overdose can be caused by various substances, including opioids, depressants, stimulants, and other addictive drugs. Read on to learn more about these classes of drugs and how they can result in an overdose.

Stimulants

Stimulants include cocaine, amphetamines, nicotine, and synthetic cathinones (bath salts). Poisoning from these drugs can result in a coma from drug overdose.5

Depressants

Commonly used depressants include benzodiazepines and alcohol. Taking high doses of depressants can increase the likelihood of a coma from drug overdose. Depressants are especially dangerous when combined or mixed with opiates.6

Opioids

Opiates, including heroin, codeine, and morphine, also belong to the depressant family of drugs. Opioids can cause decreased breathing, lowered heart rate, loss of consciousness, and possible eventual coma from a drug overdose.7

Other Drugs

Barbiturates, which are classified as depressants and belong in the sedative-hypnotic class of drugs, can also cause a coma from an overdose. When high doses are consumed, nearly all prescription and illicit street drugs have the potential to result in drug overdose coma.8

Causes and Risks of Coma from Drug Overdose

About 25% of all people participating in brain injury rehabilitation are in treatment due to alcohol or drugs. The following sections will explore brain damage from drugs, along with the risks and side effects of coma due to a drug overdose.

What Causes a Coma?

Comas after a drug overdose are often caused by a lack of oxygen in the brain. A lack of oxygen in the brain can lead to toxic brain injury and eventually to a coma. Brain injury and coma severity depend on how long the brain is without oxygen and what substance was taken that resulted in the coma.

Risks and Side Effects of a Drug-Induced Coma

A drug-induced coma can cause brain cells to either get damaged or even die, which changes a person’s brain chemical concentrations. The severity of brain damage from overdose depends on the drug used, the amount ingested, and substance use duration. People who used drugs over a longer period of time often need more of that drug in order to produce the same effect, meaning more damage might be done to the brain.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of a Coma from Drug Overdose

Comas due to drug intoxication can result from anesthetic medications, therapeutic drugs, recreational drugs, and substance abuse. Read on to learn more about coma symptoms and how comas are diagnosed in substance abuse patients.

Coma Symptoms

Symptoms of a coma after drug overdose often include the person being unable to keep their eyes open, being unresponsive to sound, an inability to communicate or move, and a lack of basic reflexes. If someone is experiencing brain damage from an overdose, they may or may not be able to breathe on their own either.

How Is a Coma Diagnosed?

Before administering coma treatment, a medical professional must determine whether it’s a drug-induced coma or metabolic encephalopathy. If the causes of a coma are drug-related, the patient will generally exhibit abnormal movements, maintain reflex eye movements, and have pupil reactivity. If you or someone you care about is in drug overdose coma recovery, speak with their medical professional for more information about the criteria they’re using.9

Brain Scans of Drug Addicts

In recent years, modern imaging and brain scans have given researchers a unique window into human brains that have substance abuse problems. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), positron emission tomography (PET), and single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) are various brain imaging techniques that can be used to examine the structure of the brain of a patient that struggles with substance abuse. For instance, clinicians can use brain scans to determine whether a medically induced coma after drug overdose will be helpful.10

When To Call a Doctor

If a person is displaying coma symptoms or signs of a drug overdose, it’s crucial to contact emergency medical services immediately for assistance. When in doubt, it’s best practice to call a medical provider for expert guidance just in case.

Treatment for Comas from a Drug Overdose

Various treatment approaches are necessary depending on the type of drug intoxication a patient is experiencing. If a medical provider suspects a coma due to drug overdose, they may reach out to relatives or family members for relevant information regarding substance use and history of illnesses. Additionally, treatment can include blood and urine sampling, administration of medications, and neuroimaging.
Coma from drug overdose

First Aid

If you or someone you care about is showing signs of coma from drug overdose, call 911 or emergency medical services immediately. Next, you can check to see if the person is breathing and begin CPR if needed. If the person is breathing but unconscious, roll the person onto their side and tilt their head back to keep their airway open. If possible, try to document what drugs were taken and how much.
Emergency medical personnel may treat an individual’s drug-induced coma using medications.

Contact A Drug Addiction Expert at Concise Recovery

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, call Concise Recovery today for a free consultation. Concise Recovery can help individuals who have experienced coma from drug overdose or can also help prevent overdose with individualized, patient-centered substance use treatment. In Los Angeles, Concise Recovery is the leading provider for detoxification, along with residential inpatient and outpatient programs. It’s never too late to begin a journey towards healing and recovery!