Drug overdose (OD) from addiction or other causes is growing extremely fast in the U.S. Most of the fatalities, as much as 200 each day, happen because of illegal opioids or prescription drugs.
No matter the particular drug involved, even non-fatal instances of overdoses carry emotional aftereffects of anger, guilt and anxiety. The following information presents the physical problems associated with overdoses as well as ways to cope with any emotional effects. The information may be helpful to those who have lost a loved one to overdose as well as assist people seeking recovery after experiencing an overdose.
When You Should Find a Medical Professional
Your physician or the local hospital’s emergency room might be able to get a proper determination of the severity of a presumed drug OD. Symptoms that progress after a drug OD need to be immediately and accurately examined, including the precise name of the drug, how much of the drug was ingested and when the drug was consumed. The bottle of the drug will usually have all the needed information.
Some doctors have offices equipped with OD measures while others do not. Doctors may recommend that their patients visit an emergency room. An ambulance should be called if it’s a life-threatening situation. You aren’t required to identify when a drug OD is severe. When you can’t talk to a medical care provider by telephone regarding the OD, it’s good judgment to bring the individual to the closest medical facility or emergency department.
Apply adequate precaution when taking care of a drug OD. Everyone will respond in his or her own way, and reactions are tough to foretell. Many of those who are advised to visit an emergency room might not show any outer signs of poisoning. Others can grow very ill.
Someone who isn’t willing to seek medical aid may need to be cajoled by a trained emergency medical service professional, such as ambulance personnel and paramedics or police officers. You can contact 911 for such assistance. Members of the drug user’s family tend to be helpful in convincing the individual to get medical attention.
A person who is close to the drug user might provide further help by gathering any medication or chemical containers and taking them to the medical professional.
Treating Overdose Symptoms
An OD must be treated medically right away. Specific symptoms can differ, but common OD signs are apparent. Ordinary drug or alcohol OD symptoms include:
- Gasping for air
- Fluctuations in temperature or pulse rate
- Heavy perspiration or stopped perspiration even though the temperature is increasing
- Bluish or ashen skin color
- Violent tremors
- Evident agitation or disorientation
- Chest pain
- Passing out or collapsing
- A severe headache
Because these symptoms might also be signs of a heart attack or various other non-drug-related conditions, a person close to the user would be able to confirm whether any drugs were used, what types and what quantities. The more the medical providers know about the problem, the greater the user’s odds will be of surviving an overdose.
The Emotional Effects of a Non-Fatal OD
When the drug user does survive, he or she is going to be heavily impacted by the event. They will likely require psychological counseling and supplementary physical treatment. Even though some overdoses occur completely accidentally, like a medication that had the wrong label or extra doses that were taken entirely from forgetfulness, the majority of incidents are caused by one of three reasons:
- The user consumes more than the suggested dose from the medical provider to try to enhance the effects of relief.
- The user acquires a drug with uncontrolled and unknown formulas and underestimates the force of the dose.
- The user is actively self-destructive and attempts an intentionally fatal overdose.
Each one of these means there is likely pre-existing depression or anxiety that should be handled immediately, especially with the emotional consequences due to the OD itself.
Psychological emotional effects of drug overdoses could include:
- Anxiety and anger because of feelings of betrayal of trust in the person or drug that brought on the OD
- Fear of recurrence
- Anger directed inward for failing or at to those who impeded the effort when the overdose was a suicide attempt
- Possible hallucinations or delusions or paranoia
When issues like these are overlooked after a person is recovering from his or her overdose, they could end up leading to another experience.
Individuals in close contact with the drug user, particularly when they saw the incident happen in person, will probably be managing post-traumatic responses, have fear of it recurring, show anger at the user for arranging such an act and feel anger directed at themselves for failing to somehow stop the overdose as well. Those who witnessed the event may need counseling, preferably coinciding with the user preferably, and an approach to handle the addiction and other related problems.
When the OD was induced by prescription medications, therapy sessions should include serious thought about asking the user’s doctor to terminate the prescription. Those who continue with opioid painkiller prescriptions after ODs run the risk of a 17 percent chance of overdosing again. If the initial prescription was taking care of a legitimate medical issue, additional emotional influences will involve fear of the old pain coming back. This is why thinking about other methods of relief is vital.
Dealing With Survivors’ Guilt After an OD
Unfortunately, many drug overdoses are deadly. This often leaves the user’s loved ones by themselves to cope with the emotional effects listed above as well as the added guilt and grief. “I was supposed to stop it” is almost a universal response to a tragedy of this kind, even if all the evidence points to the fact that an individual couldn’t have done anything. Parents and anyone who has felt personally responsible for the death of a loved one because of an overdose get hit particularly hard by shame over wondering why they couldn’t protect the drug user.
An additional type of survivors’ guilt typically hits loved ones who have had substance use difficulties themselves in the past, particularly those who have been able to recover in a way that the OD victim couldn’t. Those who have suffered from an overdose may leave themselves wondering, “I’m not the bigger person, so shouldn’t I have been the one to go?” It could have been a situation where the sharing of drugs produced the fatal OD or where the loved one was the one who provided them.
There is some important advice to follow for those who have lost a loved one to an OD:
- Seek counseling for professional help in dealing with the guilt and grief.
- Get everyone from the victim’s intimate circle involved just like you would with someone in recovery who’s living. Their loved ones are all part of this unified whole, and the support from everyone can be extremely helpful in processing the loss.
- Focus on trying not to hold yourself accountable for someone else’s choices. Even when you had some sort of influence on the outcome, what has transpired cannot be altered, and there isn’t anything to gain by cursing yourself for it. Try to forgive yourself and direct the pain toward creating a brighter future. Avoid viewing yourself as guilty and attempting to answer each one of the “whys.” Certain things just have to be accepted in their own time.
- Care for yourself emotionally and physically. Lower your workload and the decisions you need to make for a while.
- When you’re dealing with substance use issues yourself, seek treatment as soon as possible. If you’re placed into a type of recovery situation, stick firmly with your relapse prevention program. The subconscious urge to “punish” yourself may be there to go through with an OD yourself. Keep in mind that you’re responsible to not cause such distress to others.
OD Prevention Suggestions
To avoid any accidental ODs, medications and even over-the-counter vitamins or pain relievers need to be stored in safe and secure places. Deliberate ODs are more difficult to avoid unless the underlying issues are addressed. The fear of unintentional ODs from illicit drugs is a pressing issue that is best prevented by ensuring that the person does not have access to any illicit drugs.
Those with some mental illnesses will require the assistance of friends and family with medication therapy and additional comforting. Drug users need this kind of support for them to stay safe and sober as well.
If One OD Has Led to More of the Same
The sad truth is that many people who have survived ODs go on to use drugs once again and may end up experiencing another OD or even many more. Certain individuals become constant repeaters who usually need more involved treatments with each subsequent OD.
Repeat OD survivors will have emotional reactions different from those produced from a one-time incident. People close to the user generally grow more annoyed and frustrated, thinking things like “Will they ever learn their lesson?” and “They just won’t listen to me and stop.”
The user, who may consciously want to stop very much, could be scolding themselves for becoming a failure who won’t ever change. This continuous cycle of hiding a sense of hopelessness in a dense emotional fog only increases the likelihood of another OD.
The following factors leave individuals at a high risk for repeat ODs:
- Having a diagnosed mental illness in addition to substance use
- Residing in a low socio-economic bracket
- Experiencing a chronic physical ailment that affects the lungs or nervous system
- Feeling neglected, depressed or suicidal
- Being sober for a long time since the initial overdose, which might lead to using the previously accustomed dose after tolerance has returned to normal
A severe dilemma can form if several overdoses have taken place in a brief amount of time. Repeaters have distinct risks due to recurrent emotional and physical stress. Effects from recurrent drug ODs can include:
- Emergency medical attention delays as the circumstances have grown too familiar
- Relationships destroyed by the tension
- Extreme depression
- Brain injury
- Long-term harm to internal organs
- The continuous risk that the ensuing overdose will be fatal
A user who repeatedly ODs must get psychological counseling immediately. Ideally, a drug user will survive their OD with a commitment to recovering from their addiction or other negative behavior. Counseling for their loved ones may help them stay strong on that path. If the user rejects any help, it’s important that friends and family find counseling for themselves. When a drug OD happens, no matter the situation, care from a qualified professional is crucial to deal with the effects. If you find yourself struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, it’s important to realize that help is available. Assistance from a reputable treatment facility can help put you on the path to sobriety.