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Even first-time cocaine users can die from an overdose, but certain risk factors increase the danger. How can you recognize a cocaine overdose, and what should you do if you see one?

Euphoria. Increased confidence and freedom to speak your mind. More energy. Amazing mental alertness that allows you to experience everything around you in wholly new ways. The ability to go on without needing to sleep. Does all that sound nice? Many of the people who take cocaine — and that's about one in every six Americans, by the time they're 30 — think so, too. 

Though some folks who try cocaine once never use it again, and others are able to stick to recreational use, data from the National Institute reveals that nearly 100,000 Americans are addicted to the stuff. That's bad news. Cocaine will get you high fast, but its effects also tend to wear off rather quickly, within an hour, after which someone in the thrall of an addiction is going to seek the drug out again, and again, and again. 

Cocaine doesn't just offer its users all those nice feelings they're after when they take the drug, however. Its use also has the potential to cause paranoia (in up to 84 percent of users), violent or aggressive outbursts (in around 55 percent of cases), suicidal feelings (as many as 22 percent of suicide cases may be cocaine-related), and even homicide (as cocaine is believed to play a role in a shocking 31 percent of murder cases!). 

The physical "side effects" of long-term cocaine abuse are also terrifying. Ranging from fairly benign-sounding conditions like frequent nosebleeds, losing your sense of smell, and a hoarse voice, to hepatitis C, HIV, seizures, stroke, angina, malnourishment, and Parkinson's Disease, cocaine can give you much more than you bargained for.

(Almost?) nobody tries cocaine for the first time believing they'll soon be completely dependent on this powerfully addicting drug, but research shows that people are often wrong about their ability to limit their use and stay in control. Don't think you're any different than others — if you experiment with cocaine, it's not unlikely that you'll soon find yourself unable to stay away from it.

Overdose is another risk, and it can be fatal. What do you need to know about its potential effects on the body?

Cocaine overdose: Just how common is it?

Cocaine was responsible for almost 20 percent of fatal drug overdoses in the United States in 2017. Though the rate of cocaine overdoses dropped in the early twenty-first century, it's recently been on the rise again. The Centers for Disease Control report that 14,000 people died from cocaine overdoses in 2017, a number that represents a 34 percent increase. Why? The answer can mainly be found in the fact that cocaine has become more easily accessible, with vast quantities flooding the market. 

Which users are at risk of a cocaine overdose?

  • In many of these cases, cocaine isn't the only drug a person has been taking — research shows that the combination of cocaine and opioids such as fentanyl is especially deadly. 
  • Using alcohol and cocaine at the same time is another powerful risk factor. 
  • Long-term cocaine abusers, who are both addicted and physically dependent on the drug, will definitely build up a tolerance, requiring them to use higher quantities more often to experience the same effects. This situation is, likewise, associated with overdoses.
  • Someone who is trying cocaine for the first time or who is still new to the drug may, on the other hand, not know what they're doing and thus also risk overdose. 
  • People who inject cocaine have a higher risk of overdosing than those who smoke or snort the drug, though these people aren't safe, either. 

We've got to say it, though — the primary risk factor for a cocaine overdose is, you guessed it, using cocaine. It is safe to say that not using cocaine reduces your risk of overdosing on it to zero. Another important thing to mention is that you won't know how much cocaine it takes to lead to an overdose, as this varies from one person to another and depends on the purity of the drug, too.

What happens during a cocaine overdose, and what are the signs?

As one research paper puts it:

"Patients with acute cocaine poisoning present with life-threatening symptoms involving several organ systems. While the effects of cocaine are myriad, they are the result of a limited number of cocaine-protein interactions, including monoamine transporters, neurotransmitter receptors and voltage-gated ion channels."

Was that too clinical for you? Yeah, me too. During a cocaine overdose — also called acute cocaine toxicity — a person's whole body can be pretty messed up. Seizures, stroke, respiratory failure, heart-related complications, dangerously high body temperatures (hyperthermia), and kidney failure are all possible. While an overdose won't necessarily kill you, it most definitely can. 

Not everyone will have the same warning signs that they are indeed overdosing, but it's possible to become nauseous and vomit, experience severe chest pain, have a racing heart, go into a seizure, find yourself unable to breathe properly, and start shaking. Some people will feel very hot and sweat a lot, as well. On the mental side of things, someone overdosing on cocaine can become extremely panicked and anxious, in addition to feeling rather paranoid and sometimes seeing and hearing things that aren't there. 

If you believe someone is experiencing an overdose, call emergency medical services immediately — it could save their life. In the meantime, you can cool their body down using ice or cold packs, and keep dangerous objects and people out of their way if they are having a seizure. 

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