How Long Does It Take To Recover From an Overdose?

A drug overdose is one of the most dangerous side effects of abusing drugs. It can happen either accidentally or intentionally. Out of the two, the latter is far more dangerous as it signifies a much deeper problem. Luckily, you can always visit a rehab center in Pennsylvania to get help. However, no two people recover from an overdose at the exact same timeframe. The timeframe varies on the type of drug used, the dosage, and the person’s history of abuse. And, of course, on whether treatment was applied timely and correctly. In this article, we will explain what an overdose is, its symptoms, causes, and signs, as well as how long it takes to recover from it. We will also provide you with a few treatment options for both drug overdose and drug addiction.

What is an overdose, exactly?

Our bodies have a specific tolerance limit for almost every substance. Even if you take too much of something that is inherently healthy (e.g. water), you can get sick. A drug overdose happens when you take drugs over your tolerance limit. Overdose is not specific to illegal drugs, either, as you can overdose on prescription and even over-the-counter drugs. This is why most drug and alcohol treatment centers in Pennsylvania strictly forbid bringing your own drugs with you for the duration of your stay. The risk of an accidental overdose is simply too great.

syringe, medications, and pills
Substances with high overdose potential include even over-the-counter medications.

Another way to look at an overdose is that your body goes into a toxic shock. This shock can even be fatal in some cases. However, with proper medical attention, overdoses are seldom lethal. More often than not, they present the person with a certain “wake-up” call. It is quite unfortunate that so many people realize that they need help only after they fall victim to a drug overdose.

How long does it take to recover from an overdose?

There is no simple answer such as “Seven days” to this question. The time it takes for a person to recover from an overdose depends on several factors. The most important factor is the substance itself, or a combination of substances that caused the overdose. After that, age, health, medical history, and history of substance abuse all play a part. Lastly, if there was any severe damage to the brain or inner organs, recovering from an overdose may last significantly longer than usual.

Here are a few examples: Alcohol overdose normally lasts for up to 8 hours. However, if the internal organs were damaged, the recovery may last days, weeks, or even months. Many people that experience an alcohol overdose never wish to do so again, and they usually enroll in one of the alcohol rehab Pennsylvania programs. On the other hand, recovery from an acute heroin overdose takes anywhere between 24 to 48 hours on average. But, as you might already have guessed, other complications might extend this period quite significantly.

The most dangerous part of being a victim of a drug overdose is the fact that you can accrue lasting, even permanent damage. Therefore, it is always in your best intention to never allow this to happen, as you never know what may happen to you. Different people react to substances in different ways, after all. Just because you may know someone who recovered from a drug overdose within a day or two does not mean you will be that lucky.

Common overdose symptoms

Most of the time, an overdose can be prevented if you notice the common symptoms. Unfortunately, every substance comes with its own set of symptoms so it may be quite difficult to figure out what is happening. That being said, there are some universal symptoms that occur far more often than not. They include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Convulsions and tremors
  • Aggression, agitation, and violence
  • Occasional loss of consciousness
  • Constant drowsiness
  • Hallucinations
  • Difficulty with motor functions
person trying to recover from an overdose
Having trouble breathing is one of the most common signs of an overdose.

If you happen to notice that any of these are happening to you (or to a loved one) and your medical history does not provide an explanation for them, the best course of action is to immediately seek medical help. By contacting one of the dual diagnosis treatment centers Pennsylvania has to offer, you may save your own (or your loved one’s) life. The symptoms themselves can be relieved in a rapid manner, provided you have access to professional medical care.

For example, many of the worst symptoms of an opioid overdose can usually be relieved quite fast by a single Naloxone injection. However, some “after-symptoms” may persist for quite a while. The most common symptoms that occur in people who have survived a drug overdose are:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mental health problems
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Sub-optimal physical functioning

Overdose causes

As we’ve already mentioned, a person can overdose either intentionally or accidentally. Out of the two, an intentional overdose is far more dangerous as it implies underlying psychiatrical issues. A person who deliberately overdoses themselves on any substance requires specialized care and treatment in one of the inpatient rehab Pennsylvania programs. Life-threatening impulses are an extremely serious matter and they require professional assistance to deal with.

Accidental overdoses usually happen due to a loss of control. More often than not, the person will already be under the influence of a certain drug or alcohol and they might not be able to make the right choices. Drugs and alcohol lower our inhibitions and make us more prone to taking substances in quantities that are nowhere near safe.

drunk person trying to recover from an overdose
Most people succumb to an overdose while under the influence of another substance.

Other overdose causes include experimenting with new substances or substance combinations, due to the fact that the person might not know what potency to expect or how their body will react to the substance/combination. A person can also succumb to an overdose after a long period of abstinence, due to the fact that their tolerance level has decreased.

Lastly, the presence of mental health issues can significantly contribute to a risk of an overdose. For example, a person that has PTSD is much more likely to turn to drugs to escape their emotional pain. And that same emotional pain might make it difficult for a person to pay proper attention to the amount of the substance that they take.

Signs of an overdose

Not every overdose knocks a person out cold. More often than not, a person will experience numerous signs of an overdose before losing consciousness. The signs themselves also differ according to the substance. Here are a few examples of overdose signs you may expect from commonly abused drugs:

Opioid overdose signs – A person who overdosed on opioids often experiences constricted pupils, clammy skin, and respiratory depression. Overdosing on opioids may also cause sudden respiratory arrest and unconsciousness.

Hallucinogens overdose signs – A person suffering from a hallucinogens overdose may experience psychotic episodes, agitation, and delirium tremens. And, of course, hallucinations.

Depressant overdose signs – Signs of a depressant overdose are somewhat similar to opioid overdose signs, as they also may include clammy skin. Other signs include shallow breathing and a weak pulse. In worst cases, they may even include a coma.

doctor taking a patient's pulse
A weak pulse is one of the most common signs of a depressant overdose.

Inhalant overdose signs – Overdosing on inhalants is one of the worst experiences a person might have. The “least” of the associated signs is arrhythmia. After that, it gets worse by the second, as a person may experience loss of consciousness, system depression, coma, and even sudden death.

Marijuana overdose signs – Contrary to popular belief, it is quite possible to suffer a marijuana overdose. Luckily, the signs themselves are far more “lenient” than those found in other substances. They include drowsiness, agitation, tachycardia, unsteady gait, and vomiting.

Stimulant overdose signs – The signs of a stimulant overdose include agitation, hallucinations, seizures, arrhythmia, and various cardiovascular symptoms.

A word of warning about overdose signs

As you may see, there are quite a few overlapping symptoms. Agitation, in particular, is found in both hallucinogens, marijuana, and stimulant overdoses. The important thing to note is that you need to act whenever you notice any of these signs. Even if you happen to suffer from an overdose, it is much easier to recover from an overdose if you get medical help as soon as possible.

Treatment options for drug overdose

Unless the overdose is inherently fatal, treatment is readily available. Ironically, the best treatment for a drug overdose is a drug. Depending on the substance that caused the overdose, medical professionals may use Naltrexone, Methadone, Buprenorphine, and a few others. Most opiate detox PA centers use Naltrexone to immediately reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, while Methadone is often utilized in MAT (Medication-Assisted Treatment). Other drugs may be used, depending on the specific situation and circumstances.

person holding pink pills in their palm
When it comes to recovering from a drug overdose, “Fight fire with fire” is usually the best recourse.

Treatment options for drug addiction

More often than not, a drug overdose is a result of drug addiction. In other words, treating an overdose does little to nothing to solve the underlying problems. If you or a loved one is suffering from drug addiction, the best course of action is to seek professional treatment. There is a variety of treatment programs available to you, including:

  • Outpatient treatment
  • Intensive outpatient treatment
  • Inpatient treatment
  • Partial hospitalization
  • Family programs
  • Recreational therapy
  • Sober living programs

But the most important thing that all these programs have in common is the continuum of care. When a person is trying to recover from an overdose, they need a support system in place. Furthermore, throughout the course of treatment, a person’s needs may change. Psychotherapy might be the best initial option but it might so happen that other medical services may be required down the proverbial line.

Throughout these programs, a person recovering from addiction will have access to a range of therapy modalities. More often than not, the best course of action is to enroll in a CBT treatment plan for substance abuse. CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is one of the best treatment modalities when it comes to dealing with addiction.

two people talking about how to recover from an overdose
CBT is primarily a form of talk therapy.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can make it easier to recover from an overdose

Most of the time, a drug overdose occurs due to negative thoughts and behavioral patterns. We are all victims of our subconsciousness, after all. But we also have the power to change it. This is basically the premise of CBT, a treatment modality that is focused on identifying harmful thoughts and patterns and then changing them. The power of CBT is well-documented, as well. According to a National Library of Medicine’s study about CBT for substance use disorders, 60% of patients that were undergoing cocaine addiction treatment showed clean toxicology screens after 52 weeks. This serves to show that CBT provides long-lasting benefits to patients.

The way this therapy works is by helping patients fully understand why exactly were they in the position to overdose. Once the patient realizes their subconscious thoughts and their effects, they can start working on changing them. Furthermore, CBT will instill helpful coping skills and present a way to deal with painful emotions in a positive way. That is why cognitive behavioral therapy is such a powerful treatment modality when it comes to dealing with substance addiction and a range of other mental health issues. The fact of the matter is that substance abuse is often accompanied by one mental health problem or another. To fully recover from an overdose and addiction, one needs to change the way one fundamentally thinks. And CBT can make that happen.

As you can see, it may be quite difficult and time-consuming to fully recover from an overdose and a substance addiction. But the tools and options are there and it is definitely possible, quite likely even. Most people recover in a few days but others may need much, much longer.

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