Addiction Drug Use Cocaine What Is a Cocaine Overdose? By Sanjana Gupta Sanjana Gupta Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness. Learn about our editorial process Updated on August 20, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE Medically reviewed by John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE is board-certified in addiction medicine and preventative medicine. He is the medical director at Alcohol Recovery Medicine. For over 20 years Dr. Umhau was a senior clinical investigator at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Hispanolistic / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents What Is Cocaine? What Is a Cocaine Overdose? Causes Symptoms Effects Diagnosis Treatment What Is Cocaine? Cocaine Cocaine is a compound extracted from the leaves of the Erythroxylum coca shrub, native to South America, where Indigenous communities used to drink coca tea or chew coca leaves for their energizing and stimulating benefits. Consuming cocaine triggers the release of a chemical called dopamine in the brain, causing a high characterized by euphoria, alertness, excitement, and frenzied energy. This high can be addictive, causing cravings for more and more of the drug. While cocaine can legally be used for medical purposes, such as local anesthesia, it is illegal to use it recreationally. Nevertheless, a 2022 study notes that approximately 24.6 million people around the world use cocaine. Cocaine, also known as coke, coca, snow, blow, and flake, is snorted through the nostrils, rubbed into the gums, injected into the veins, or smoked via a pipe or cigarette. Using cocaine can be dangerous, as it can cause severe issues including a heart attack, stroke, and overdose. This article explores the causes, symptoms, effects, diagnosis, and treatment of cocaine overdose. If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. What Is a Cocaine Overdose? Cocaine Overdose A cocaine overdose can occur when someone consumes enough cocaine to cause serious side effects, life-threatening symptoms, or death. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, over 19,000 people died of cocaine overdose in 2020. In fact, the number of deaths due to cocaine overdose has been increasing significantly every year. It’s important to note that death due to a cocaine overdose can occur unexpectedly at any time, including upon someone's first instance of using cocaine, or at any time thereafter. Causes of a Cocaine Overdose A cocaine overdose can occur if someone: Takes too much cocaine in one go Takes an overly concentrated form of cocaine Does cocaine whilst drinking alcohol Mixes cocaine with other drugs, such as heroin Consumes an adulterated form of cocaine that contains other drugs, such as amphetamines or fentanyl—this is considered the most common cause of overdose, and the reason why the number of deaths related to cocaine overdose have spiked Uses cocaine in warm weather, as dehydration can worsen the side effects of the drug Harm Reduction Strategies When Using Cocaine Symptoms of a Cocaine Overdose These are some of the symptoms of cocaine overdose: Fast or labored breathing Rapid, rambling speech Anxiety and agitation Confusion and restlessness Lack of awareness of surroundings Muscle tremors, particularly in the hands and face Dilated pupils that don’t shrink even when a light is shined into them Rapid or irregular heart rate Increased blood pressure Nausea and vomiting Lightheadedness Paleness or blue-tinted skin Fever Excessive sweating Bladder incontinence Hallucinations Seizures The Comedown, Crash, or Rebound Effect of Drugs Effects of a Cocaine Overdose A cocaine overdose can affect several organs in the body, which can cause permanent damage and result in: Stroke, seizures, or paralysis Severe mental health conditions, such as chronic anxiety, depression, or psychosis Reduced cognitive function Heart attack, sudden cardiac death, reduced heart function, or other heart irregularities Kidney damage or kidney failure, which may require dialysis Muscle breakdown, which may require amputation What to Know About Cocaine Use Diagnosing a Cocaine Overdose A cocaine overdose is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical care. If you suspect you or a loved one may be experiencing a cocaine overdose, call 911 right away. Healthcare providers may perform the following tests to diagnose cocaine overdose and determine whether any organs have been affected: Vital signs, including pulse, temperature, breathing rate, and blood pressure Cardiac enzymes, to check for a heart attack or other heart damage Electrocardiogram (ECG), to measure the heart’s electrical activity Chest x-ray, to check for lung damage Computed tomography (CT) scan of the head, in case a head injury or internal bleeding is suspected Toxicology screen, to check for drugs and other substances Urinalysis, to check for drugs and other substances Treating a Cocaine Overdose Treating a cocaine overdose involves managing the symptoms and treating them as required. However, it’s important to note that there is no medication that can specifically treat or reverse a cocaine overdose. Treatment for a cocaine overdose can involve: Monitoring vital signs Injecting fluids intravenously Providing breathing support, which may involve inhaling oxygen through a face mask, a tube inserted down the throat, or a ventilator Restoring blood flow to the heart, in case of a heart attack Restoring blood flow to the brain, in case of a stroke Stopping and preventing seizures Prescribing medication for symptoms such as nausea, pain, high blood pressure, anxiety, or agitation Treating other complications such as muscle or kidney damage If the person survives the cocaine overdose, it’s important to help them get the treatment they need for substance addiction. Treatment may involve: Detoxification: A period where the remnants of the drug are flushed out of the body. The detox process may need to be undertaken at a hospital or recovery facility as the person may experience withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, headaches, fatigue, depression, slow thinking, insomnia, and nightmares. Counseling: Once the physical symptoms of withdrawal subside, the person can begin counseling. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help the person understand why they were using cocaine, identify the impact of the cocaine use on their life, and learn coping strategies to help them avoid the substance. Contingency management is another therapeutic approach that rewards people for staying drug-free. 12-step programs: Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and Cocaine Anonymous (CA) are community-based recovery programs that take a 12-step approach to recovery. Members of the group help each other recover by sharing experiences, confiding in each other, and offering support and advice. Narcotics Anonymous Meetings Can Help Drug Addictions A Word From Verywell If you or someone you know uses cocaine, it’s important to recognize the addiction and seek treatment for it as soon as possible. Cocaine is an addictive drug that can cause a fatal overdose at any time. Alternatively, it can result in permanent damage or cause long-term health effects. How to Stop an Addiction 10 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Drake LR, Scott PJH. Dark classics in chemical neuroscience: Cocaine. ACS Chem Neurosci. 2018;9(10):2358-2372. doi:10.1021/acschemneuro.8b00117 National Library of Medicine. Cocaine intoxication. National Institute on Drug Abuse. What are the long-term effects of cocaine use? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Cocaine drug facts. Cenci D, Carbone MG, Callegari C, Maremmani I. Psychomotor symptoms in chronic cocaine users: an interpretative model. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022;19(3):1897. doi:10.3390/ijerph19031897 Cleveland Clinic. Cocaine addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Overdose death rates. McCall Jones C, Baldwin GT, Compton WM. Recent increases in cocaine-related overdose deaths and the role of opioids. Am J Public Health. 2017;107(3):430-432. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2016.303627 UMass Chan Medical School. What is fentanyl and why is it behind the deadly surge in US drug overdoses? Mount Sinai. Cocaine intoxication. By Sanjana Gupta Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Get Treatment for Addiction Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.