Can You Overdose on Crack?
Someone can overdose on crack cocaine if he or she uses too much and the drug reaches toxic levels in the person’s system. An overdose can be fatal and lead to serious mental and physical health complications. Prompt treatment for crack overdose can help improve the chances of recovery.
Learn more about a crack overdose, including:
- What an overdose is and what the risk factors are.
- Signs and symptoms of an overdose.
- How an overdose is treated.
- Recovery from an overdose.
Overdosing on Crack
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Crack cocaine is a form of cocaine that has been cooked in a mixture of sodium bicarbonate and water. It is typically smoked in a glass pipe and produces a rapid and intensely rewarding high that prompts frequent and repeated use, which can quickly lead to addiction. 3 The pleasurable side effects of the drug include euphoria, increased energy, enhanced mental alertness, and increased sociability. 1
A crack overdose is the result of taking too much of the drug. The symptoms can range from chest pain and increased heart rate to seizures, stroke, and death.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that there were 5,415 cocaine overdose deaths in 2014. There was a 42% increase in overdose deaths from 2001 to 2014. 2
Risk Factors for Overdose
- Binging: Since a crack high does not last very long, users may smoke crack frequently in a short period of time to maintain the high, which can lead to overdose. 1
- Mixing crack with other drugs. Many people who abuse cocaine drink alcohol or mix it with heroin, which increases the risk of overdose. 1
- Tolerance: Many regular users build tolerance to the drug and begin to take more and more at higher doses to feel “high.” This also increases the risk of overdose.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of a crack overdose include: 1,3,4
- Enlarged pupils.
- Increased body temperature.
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure.
- Chest pain.
- Signs of mental illness: depression, manic depression, paranoid ideation, and loss of touch with reality.
If you observe these symptoms in yourself or someone you know, call 911 immediately. The person does not need to exhibit all of the symptoms to require help.
Treatment for Crack Overdose
First responders and emergency medical doctors will attempt various cardiopulmonary resuscitation efforts and administer appropriate pharmacologic intervention to treat a crack overdose.
- In the event of cardiac arrest, ventilation assistance will be provided and attempts will be made to restore spontaneous blood flow to the heart.
- Also in the event of cardiopulmonary arrest, or should a stroke occur, ongoing CPR will be administered to maintain or restore perfusion of oxygen-rich blood to the brain.
- In the event of seizure activity, intravenous administration of anti-convulsive medication will take place. 1
The person may also receive: 4
- Breathing support, including a breathing tube or a ventilator.
- IV fluids.
- Medicines to treat pain, anxiety, agitation, nausea, seizures, and high blood pressure.
- Medical intervention for any severe, persistent health issues, including those of the heart, brain, muscle, and kidney.
Neuroleptic medications and/or benzodiazepines (e.g. Valium) may be used to manage any psychosis, delirium, or seizure activity to emerge in association with cocaine use. In addition to emergency procedures, antidepressants may be prescribed if warranted.
Can You Die From a Crack Overdose?
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Yes, a person can die from a crack overdose. In fact, a person can die from an overdose on his or her first use of the drug. 1
A crack overdose can also cause:
- Irregular heart rhythms.
- Heart attacks.
- Kidney damage. 1,4
Long-term complications can include: 4
- Chronic anxiety and psychosis.
- Reduced mental acuity.
- Heart irregularities and reduced heart functioning.
- Kidney failure that requires dialysis.
- Necrotic muscle tissue or widespread muscle cell injury, which can require amputation.
Recovering From an Overdose
A person can recover from a crack cocaine overdose depending on how much he or she used and which organs were affected. 4
People who are recovering from an overdose should seek a form of addiction treatment to reduce their risk of additional overdoses and long-term consequences from crack addiction.
Types of recovery programs include:
- Inpatient or residential. These are rehab programs in which users remain at the rehab facility for the duration of treatment. Most programs provide detox, individual and group therapy, education on addiction, relapse prevention, recreational activities, and aftercare planning. Inpatient environments minimize triggers for relapse and allow people to focus on quitting crack.
- Outpatient treatment can range from programs that meet multiple times a week for several hours to individual counseling with a therapist once a week. Many people transition to outpatient after completing an inpatient stay, but outpatient is also a good choice for people who do not have severe addictions and have a good support system.
- 12-step programs: Cocaine Anonymous is a 12-step program based on Alcoholics Anonymous. It involves admitting powerlessness over your addiction and working through a series of recovery steps with the help of a sponsor. Non-12-step programs, such as SMART Recovery, are non-spiritual, evidence-based alternatives.
Crack cocaine recovery treatment may also include behavioral therapy, such as:
- Contingency management, which provides rewards for successful efforts in maintaining abstinence. It has been extensively used in cocaine addiction treatment with moderate success. 5
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps people recognize and avoid situations that are likely to result in a relapse.
- Motivational interviewing, works to increase a user’s incentive to abstain from cocaine.
- The Matrix Model, is an intensive outpatient program that is specifically designed to help stimulant abusers. It combines addiction education, relapse prevention, family therapy, and self-help programs.
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. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). What is cocaine?
. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). Overdose Death Rates.
. Abadinsky, H. (2014). Drug Use and Abuse: A Comprehensive Introduction. Eighth Edition. Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2015). Cocaine intoxication.
. Kosten, T.R., et al. (2008). Clinical Management: Cocaine. In Galanter, M., and Kleber, H.D., Editors. The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Substance Abuse Treatment. Fourth Edition. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc. pp. 157-168.
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