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Coma Due to Drug Intoxication

A drug-induced coma is a very dangerous occurrence. Learn about the causes of coma from drug overdose and where to get treatment.

What Is a Drug-Induced Coma?

Substance abuse is a growing problem in the United States. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, over twenty-two million Americans suffer from substance use disorder. 1

A coma from a drug overdose is one of the most severe consequences of substance abuse. When too much of a substance is taken, there is a chance that the body shuts down and falls into a deep sleep. In some cases, the coma is irreversible, meaning the affected individual never wakes up.

Reasons for a Drug-Induced Coma

A drug-induced coma can be caused by many different drugs, including alcohol, prescription medications, and illegal drugs. However, the most common cause of drug-induced coma is alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol Poisoning
Alcohol poisoning occurs when large amounts of alcohol are consumed in a short amount of time (binge drinking; five standard drinks for men and four standard drinks for women), preventing the body from processing and metabolizing the alcohol fast enough and leading to an excessive amount of alcohol in the bloodstream. As a result, parts of the brain responsible for breathing, heart rate, and body temperature begin shutting down, potentially leading to unconsciousness and even coma.

In 2019, 25.8% of American adults eighteen years and older reported binge drinking. Data shows that those who engage in high-intensity drinking are seventy times more likely to have an alcohol-related emergency department visit. High-intensity drinking is characterized as consuming two or more times the amount of binge drinking (ten standard drinks for men and eight standard drinks for women). 2

Signs and Symptoms of a Drug Overdose

Signs and symptoms of a drug overdose include:

  • Unconsciousness, coma
  • No gag reflex, inability to prevent choking (especially from vomit)
  • Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Blood in vomit or bowel movements
  • Sleepiness
  • Confusion
  • Skin can be cool and sweaty or hot and dry
  • Seizures, convulsions
  • Chest pain, possibly caused by heart or lung damage
  • Shortness of breath (rapid, slow, deep, or shallow breathing)

What Are the Risk Factors for Drug Overdosing?

There are many risk factors for drug overdoses. Some of the most common include will be detailed below.


Risk-taking behavior and impulsivity associated with adolescence increase the likelihood of misusing and overdosing on substances. Young adults’ brains are still developing, especially in areas responsible for impulse control and executive functioning. Thus, they are at an increased risk of overdosing. Multiple studies have shown that 24% to 48% of young people ages fourteen to thirty are likely to experience a drug overdose. 3

On the other hand, older adults are also susceptible to drug overdose. For example, as people get older, they are more likely to develop chronic health conditions that require them to take medication. This puts them at greater risk of accidentally taking too much medication or mixing different medications. Additionally, older adults are more likely to have impaired liver function, reducing the body's ability to process and eliminate drugs.

Taking Multiple Medications (Polysubstance Use)

Polysubstance use, taking more than one medication together or in a short time, increases the risk for drug overdoses. In 2019, almost half of all deaths caused by drug overdoses involved multiple substances. 4

Some medications can also interact with each other, increasing the risk of an overdose. Therefore, people should always discuss their medications with a doctor and be aware of any potential interactions.

Mental Health Conditions

People with mental health conditions are also at greater risk for drug overdoses. This is because they are more likely to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to alleviate symptoms of mental illness. Additionally, people with mental health conditions may be more likely to mix different medicines or take too much of one drug.

Low Income

Low income can be linked to increased stress levels, anxiety, and depression, leading to drug use as a coping mechanism. In addition, low-income individuals are less likely to have access to quality healthcare, increasing the risks associated with drug use. Without proper medical supervision, the risk of overdose increases.

High Daily Dosage of Medications

People who take high doses of medication are at greater risk for drug overdoses. They may build up a tolerance to the pharmaceutical and need to take more to achieve the same effect.

Injection Drug Use

Injection drug use is one of the most significant risk factors for drug overdoses. Injected drugs go directly into the bloodstream and bypass the liver, responsible for filtering out toxins. This can lead to a much higher concentration of the drug in the body, increasing the chances of an overdose.

In addition, injecting drugs can damage veins and lead to infections. People who inject drugs are also at increased risk of contracting HIV and other blood-borne diseases.

When Should You Call a Doctor Over a Suspected Drug Overdose?

If you think someone has overdosed on drugs, it is essential to call 911 immediately. The sooner the person gets medical help, the better their chances of surviving.

Which Types of Doctors Treat a Drug Overdose?

There are many different types of doctors who can treat a drug overdose. Emergency room doctors, poison control center doctors, and addiction specialists are the most common.

How Do Doctors Test for a Drug Overdose?
The most common tests are blood tests, urine tests, and hair follicle tests.

Can a Drug Overdose Be Treated at Home?
Drug overdoses should not be treated at home. In the event of an overdose or suspected overdose, call 911 immediately and wait for medical help to arrive.

Can You Die from a Drug Overdose?

Yes, people can die from a drug overdose. Unfortunately, drug overdoses are one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Between 1999 and 2020, nearly one million people died from drug overdoses, with 91,799 in 2020 alone. 5

Coma From Drug Overdose

Coma From Drug Overdose

Get Treatment for Drug Overdose at Genesis Recovery

If you or someone you know has overdosed on drugs or suffers from drug addiction, it is essential to get help. At Genesis Recovery, we offer many treatment options for those struggling with addiction.

Our experienced doctors and counselors work with each patient to create a customized treatment plan that meets their unique needs. Contact us at Genesis Recovery today to learn more about our program and how we can help you or a loved one recover from addiction.

A drug overdose is a severe medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. If you think someone has overdosed on drugs, call 911 right away. 


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