Overdose, Adult

ExitCare ImageA person can overdose on alcohol, drugs or both by accident or on purpose. If it was on purpose, it is a serious matter. Professional help should be sought. If the overdose was an accident, certain steps should be taken to make sure that it never happens again.


Overdosing on prescription medications can be a result of:

  • Not understanding the instructions.

  • Misreading the label.

  • Forgetting that you took a dose and then taking another by mistake. This situation happens a lot.

To make sure this does not happen again:

  • Clarify the correct dosage with your caregiver.

  • Place the correct dosage in a "pill-minder" container (labeled for each day and time of day).

  • Have someone dispense your medicine.

ExitCare ImagePlease be sure to follow-up with your primary care doctor as directed.


If the overdose was on purpose, it is a serious situation. Taking more than the prescribed amount of medications (including taking someone else's prescription), abusing street drugs or drinking an amount of alcohol that requires medical treatment can show a variety of possible problems. These may indicate you:

  • Are depressed or suicidal.

  • Are abusing drugs, took too much or combined different drugs to experiment with the effects.

  • Mixed alcohol with drugs and did not realize the danger of doing so (this is drug abuse).

  • Are suffering addiction to drugs and/or alcohol (also known as chemical dependency).

  • Binge drink.

If you have not been referred to a mental health professional for help, it is important that you get help right away. Only a professional can determine which problems may exist and what the best course of treatment may be. It is your responsibility to follow-up with further evaluation or treatment as directed.

Alcohol is responsible for a large number of overdoses and unintended deaths among college-age young adults. Binge drinking is consuming 4-5 drinks in a short period of time. The amount of alcohol in standard servings of wine (5 oz.), beer (12 oz.) and distilled spirits (1.5 oz., 80 proof) is the same. Beer or wine can be just as dangerous to the binge drinker as "hard" liquor can be.


Alcohol poisoning is the most serious consequence of binge drinking. This is a severe and potentially fatal physical reaction to an alcohol overdose. When too much alcohol is consumed, the brain does not get enough oxygen. The lack of oxygen will eventually cause the brain to shut down the voluntary functions that regulate breathing and heart rate. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Vomiting.

  • Passing out (unconsciousness).

  • Cold, clammy, pale or bluish skin.

  • Slow or irregular breathing.


If you have a history of drug abuse or suffer chemical dependency (alcoholism, drug addiction or both), you might consider the following:

  • Talk with a qualified substance abuse counselor and consider entering a treatment program.

  • Go to a detox facility if necessary.

  • If you were attending self-help group meetings, consider returning to them and go often.

  • Explore other resources located near you (see sources listed below).

If you are unsure if you have a substance abuse problem, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you been told by friends or family that drugs/alcohol has become a problem?

  • Do you get into fights when drinking or using drugs?

  • Do you have blackouts (not remembering what you do while using)?

  • Do you lie about use or amounts of drugs or alcohol you consume?

  • Do you need chemicals to get you going?

  • Do you suffer in work or school performance because of drug or alcohol use?

  • Do you get sick from drug or alcohol use but continue to use anyway?

  • Do you need drugs or alcohol to relate to people or feel comfortable in social situations?

  • Do you use drugs or alcohol to forget problems?

If you answered "Yes" to any of the above questions, it means you show signs of chemical dependency and a professional evaluation is suggested. The longer the use of drugs and alcohol continues, the problems will become greater.


  • You feel like you might repeat your problematic behavior.

  • You need someone to talk to and feel that it should not wait.

  • You feel you are a danger to yourself or someone else.

  • You feel like you are having a new reaction to medications you are taking, or you are getting worse after leaving a care center.

  • You have an overwhelming urge to drink or use drugs.

Addiction cannot be cured, but it can be treated successfully. Treatment centers are listed in the yellow pages under: Cocaine, Narcotics, and Alcoholics Anonymous. Most hospitals and clinics can refer you to a specialized care center. The US government maintains a toll-free number for obtaining treatment referrals: 1-800-662-4357 or 1-800-487-4889 (TDD) and maintains a website: http://findtreatment.samhsa.gov. Other websites for additional information are: www.mentalhealth.samhsa.gov. and www.nida.gov.

In Canada treatment resources are listed in each Province with listings available under The Ministry for Health Services or similar titles.