Dealing with Alcohol Poisoning or Drug Overdoses

Dealing with Alcohol Poisoning or Drug Overdoses

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drug overdose deaths increased for the 11th consecutive year in 2010. Overdoses accounted for 38,329 deaths, making it the leading cause of injury death in the United States.  In people ages 25-64, more die from drug overdose than car crashes. These disturbing statistics are not just limited to the United States. According to the World Health Organization (WHO):

  • Globally, between 102,000 and 247,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2011.
  • It is estimated that over 70,000 lives were lost due to drug overdoses in Europe within the first decade of the 21st Century. European Union nations reported 6,500 overdose deaths in 2011.
  • At least three Australians die every day from overdoses. Overdoses outnumbered road fatalities in Australia in 2011. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, overdose deaths totaled 1,383, while road deaths, which have been steadily declining, ended the year at 1,323. In Victoria prescription drug-related deaths now outnumber those caused on the road.
  • In 2011 overdoses in the UK (3,338) exceeded the number of deaths in road accidents (1,960).
  • Drug fatalities surged in Scotland between 2010 and 2011, increasing  from 365 to 438 cases. The drug most frequently found was diazepam (81.4%) followed by methadone (57.3%), heroin/morphine (51.5%), anti-depressants (37.1%) and alcohol (37.1%). In 97% of cases more than one drug was present
  • In Ireland prescription pills offences far outstrip those for heroin, cocaine and cannabis.  Of 1,500 arrests for drug dealing in Dublin city center between September and December 2011, 60 were for selling drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
  • Eastern Europe and Central Asia has an estimated 3,724,000 people who inject drugs.  The EHRN survey found that t least two-thirds of users reported having overdosed, with 4 out of 100 being fatal. In most countries within the region, drug users are afraid to call an ambulance for an overdose because police must launch a criminal investigation when a death occurs.
  • Drug-related deaths in Asia are extremely sensitive due to the poor regional coverage and reporting of mortality data, the UNODC said. However the agency estimated between 15,000 and 140,000 drug-related deaths per year in Asia.

As drug use surges, so does the possibility that a person could be in the presence of someone who is in the midst of a medical crisis from ingesting too much of a drug or consuming too much alcohol. Undoubtedly, this leads to a horrible experience for everyone involved. It is always paramount for these situations to be handled by medical professionals. However, before they arrive, there are some things you should do and some things you shouldn’t do to help the person in crisis. TeenHealthFX presents the following information to give our readers a way in which they can determine if someone is in distress from ingesting too much alcohol or too many drugs and how to respond appropriately.


A person might be suffering from alcohol poisoning if they are unconscious and cannot be woken. If you try to wake your friend up and they do not respond, check to see if they have cold, clammy, unusually pale or bluish skin.  If they are breathing slowly or irregularly—less than eight times a minute—or ten seconds or more between any two breaths, they are in trouble.

Calls 9-1-1 immediately, do not think about any legal implications, your friend's life could depend on your quick response. Do not attempt to drive them to the hospital yourself.

Do not leave the person alone and continue to try and revive them. Put them in the “Recovery Position.”

How to put them in a Recovery Position

  • Open their airway by tilting the head back and lifting the chin
  • Straighten the legs
  • Place the arm nearest to you at a right angle to their body
  • Pull the arm furthest from you across their chest and place the back of their hand against the cheek nearest to you
  • Get hold of the far leg, just above the knee, and pull it up, keeping the foot flat on the ground
  • Keep their hand pressed against the cheek and pull on the upper leg to roll them towards you, and onto their side
  • Tilt the head back to make sure they can breathe easily. Make sure that both the hip and the knee of the upper leg are bent at right angles


While waiting for medical help to arrive, you should:

  • Try to keep them awake by having them respond to your voice.
  • Give them some water, if they can drink it.
  • Keep them warm.
  • Stay with them and monitor their symptoms.

You should never:

  • Leave someone to sleep it off. The amount of alcohol in someone’s blood continues to rise even when they’re not drinking. Alcohol in the digestive system will continue to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Too much alcohol in the blood stops the body from working properly.
  • Give them coffee. Alcohol dehydrates the body. Coffee will make someone who is already dehydrated even more dehydrated.
  • Make them sick. Their gag reflex won’t be working properly which means they could choke on their vomit.
  • Walk them around. Alcohol is a depressant which slows down your brain’s functions and affects your sense of balance. Walking them around might cause accidents.
  • Put them under a cold shower. Alcohol lowers your body temperature, which could lead to hypothermia. A cold shower could make them colder than they already are.
  • Let them drink any more alcohol. The amount of alcohol in their bloodstream could become dangerously high.

Heroin, Morphine, Oxycodone, Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan, Fentanyl, Methadone (depressant drug overdose)

All these drugs affect the central nervous system, including breathing and heart rate. Too much of any one of these substances, on their own or in combination, can kill or cause permanent brain damage.

Signs that a person is in trouble:

  • Lips, tongue, nail beds, earlobes, or skin are blue or purple
  • Breathing is less than once every five seconds or stopped altogether
  • Pulse is slow or there is none at all
  • They start to seize and lose control of motor functions.
  • A person who has overdosed may be able to breathe and to look at you but not talk
  • They may be unconscious and unresponsive.

If you can’t get a response from someone, don’t assume they are asleep. Not all overdoses happen quickly and sometimes it can take hours for someone to die. If you believe someone is in danger, call 9-1-1 or your local emergency hotline to get an ambulance to respond as soon as possible. Do not attempt to drive them to the hospital yourself. If the person is unresponsive put them in the “recovery position.”

If the overdose was due to prescription painkillers, try and give the 9-1-1 operator the following information:

  • The person's age, weight, and condition
  • Name of product (as well as the ingredients and strength if known)
  • The time at which it was swallowed
  • The amount swallowed

Amphetamine, Speed, Crystal Meth, Ice overdose

Stimulant overdose increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, seizure or drug-induced psychotic episodes. Overdoses caused by stimulants do not look the same as overdoses caused by opioids. Call for emergency help when someone is:

  • Unconsciousness
  • Having a seizure
  • Experiencing severe headaches
  • Experiencing chest pain
  • Disoriented or confused
  • High temperature (overheating, but not sweating)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hallucinations
  • Extremely paranoid, agitated and/or confused.

It is not necessary for someone to have all of these signs or symptoms for them to be overdosing. Exhibiting only a few could still mean they are in trouble and need emergency help. If you suspect an overdose call 9-1-1 or your local emergency hotline to get an ambulance to respond as soon as possible. Do not attempt to drive them to the hospital yourself. If the person is unresponsive put them in the “recovery position.”

Cocaine Overdose:

The quicker the cocaine is absorbed into the user's system, the higher the chance of accidental overdose. Injecting cocaine carries the most risk, while smoking and snorting cocaine is slightly less risky. Cocaine overdose symptoms are both physical and psychological, allowing for an easy determination of an overdose reaction in a user.

The physical symptoms of an overdose are most quickly noticed and can include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Irregular breathing
  • Increased temperature
  • Increased heart rate
  • Chest pains
  • Seizures

The psychological symptoms of an overdose may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Paranoia
  • Panic
  • Hallucinations

If you suspect a cocaine overdose call 9-1-1 or your local emergency hotline to get an ambulance to respond as soon as possible. Do not attempt to drive them to the hospital yourself. If the person is unresponsive put them in the “recovery position

Ecstasy, Molly (MDMA)

In high doses, MDMA can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature. This is especially true in crowed dance clubs where the combination of “crowd heat,” prolonged dance movement and Molly combine to cause a sharp increase in body temperature (hyperthermia) which can result in liver, kidney, or cardiovascular system failure or even death. When the body reaches a temperature of 107 degrees (40 C) a person’s organs will begin shutting down. Mild Hyperthermia and/or dehydration can occur from dancing too long, and users may recover with administration of fluids and rest in a cooler environment. However, if you are with someone who has taken Molly and he/she expresses concern about how hot they feel, or if their body temperature is still rising even when they have stopped dancing and are in a cooler environment, and their skin is hot and dry to the touch, then they may be developing a more dangerous drug-induced hyperthermia..

If you suspect that someone is overdosing, don't leave them alone. Call 9-1-1 to get an ambulance to respond as soon as possible. Do not attempt to drive them to the hospital yourself. If the person is unresponsive put them in the “recovery position.”

With substance use, especially substances that slow down the systems of the body (benzodiazepines, opioids), snoring may indicate a serious and potentially life threatening obstruction of the airway. Don’t let people ‘sleep it off’ if they are snoring, this may be a sign of significant and life threatening emergency – try to wake them immediately!

The “snoring” noise generated results from reduction in the size of the airway.  The result is a reduction in the volume of air that is able to move in and out of the lungs with each breath and the vibration of tissues around the airway as the comatose person struggles to move air in and out of the lungs. The larger the obstruction, the smaller the amount of air that gets in, and the greater the effort that is required to try and get air into the lungs. The 9-1-1 operator may give you specific instructions on how to help the person breath.

Another excellent resource is The American Association of Poison Control Centers. Poison centers offer free, confidential medical advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Poison Help Line at 1-800-222-1222. Outside the United States contact the International Programme on Chemical Safety