How Long Does It Take to Recover From an Overdose?

Over the past two decades, the United States has experienced a dramatic increase in the annual number of overdose deaths. In today’s post, we address some common questions about this catastrophic trend, including what are the signs of an overdose, who is at risk, and how long does it take to recover from an overdose?

If you believe you or a loved one is suffering from an overdose, call 911 immediately.

Who Is at Risk of an Overdose?

Before we discuss how long does it take to recover from an overdose, let’s take a moment to review who is at risk for this life-threatening experience and how you can identify if someone is in crisis.

First: Anyone who engages in recreational substance abuse is at risk of overdosing. 

Some substances, such as opioids (a category that includes heroin, prescription painkillers, and fentanyl) pose a high risk of overdose, because they are extremely potent drugs. 

The powerful effects of opioids also increase a person’s risk of death if they overdose. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids were involved in more than 75% of all overdose deaths in the United States in 2021.

Please note that this does not mean that individuals who abuse other (non-opioid) substances should feel safe from overdosing. For example:

  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has reported that cocaine and methamphetamine were involved in 32,537 overdose deaths in 2021. 
  • During the same year, NIDA data indicates that 12,499 overdose deaths involved benzodiazepines.
  • In 2015, a CDC publication revealed that alcohol poisoning accounts for an average of 2,200 deaths per year (which works out to slightly more than 6 deaths every day).

The risk of overdose death may be particularly high among individuals who engage in polysubstance abuse (misusing more than one drug at the same time) or who acquire their drugs from illicit sources (and thus cannot be sure what, exactly, they are consuming). 

What Are the Signs of an Overdose?

Certain overdose signs can vary depending on what type of drug a person has ingested. In general, though, the following symptoms may indicate that someone has overdosed and needs immediate help:

  • Extreme confusion or disorientation
  • Vomiting
  • Minimal reflexes
  • Slow or shallow breathing
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Faint pulse
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Inability to be awakened
  • Cool, clammy skin
  • Bluish coloration near the lips and fingertips
  • Convulsions or seizure

If someone exhibits these types of symptoms after using opioids, benzos, cocaine, or other drugs, you should call 911 or otherwise summon an emergency response professional.

If the individual has overdosed on an opioid, you may be able to revive them with the timely administration of naloxone. This over-the-counter medication, which is sold as a nasal spray under the brand name Narcan, is legal for purchase and use throughout the United States.

Of course, even if a person is saved from overdose death by receiving Narcan from an acquaintance, they should still be seen by a qualified medical professional.

How Long Does It Take to Recover from an Overdose?

The question, How long does it take to recover from an overdose?, doesn’t have a simple answer. The amount of time it takes someone to heal after they have gone through an overdose can be influenced by a variety of factors, such as the following:

  • Their age and gender
  • Their health status prior to the overdose 
  • What type of drug or drugs they were taking when they overdosed
  • How much of the drug they took
  • How quickly they received appropriate medical attention
  • The amount and frequency of their prior substance abuse
  • If they have a history of prior overdoses

Each of the influences above can contribute to the factor that has the greatest impact on how long it may take to recover from an overdose: What type of damage did the individual incur, and how severe was that damage?

Some aspects of an overdose, such as loss of consciousness due to opioid abuse, can be remedied in a matter of minutes via the immediate administration of naloxone. However, this does not mean that the person who overdosed is no longer in danger. Individuals who are brought to a hospital emergency department due to overdose may remain under observation for an extended period to ensure that they are no longer at risk of imminent death.

While the immediate threats to a person’s life (such as depressed heart rate or respiration) must be resolved immediately, other types of overdose-related harm can take much longer to heal. For example:

  • If the person incurred a physical injury due to a fall or during a convulsion, that damage can add to their recovery time.
  • Oxygen deprivation during an overdose can cause long-term cognitive damage, memory problems, and increased risk of stroke.
  • Living through an overdose can have a profound impact on a person’s mental health. In some cases, an overdose can be a source of anxiety, depression, or even posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These concerns can necessitate extensive care to properly address.
  • An overdose involving acetaminophen (a common ingredient in over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol) can cause irreparable damage to a person’s liver. In some cases, the only treatment option is transplant.

If the person who overdosed had become addicted to the drug they were taking, it’s essential for them to get appropriate treatment to help them end their substance abuse. If a person doesn’t receive proper care for addiction in the aftermath of an overdose, their risk of overdosing again can increase considerably.

Begin Addiction Treatment in Massachusetts

Surviving an overdose can be a dramatic wake-up call that you need professional care for your substance abuse problem. But you don’t have to wait for a life-threatening event before you get help. (The idea that you have to “hit rock bottom” before you can benefit from addiction treatment is nothing more than a dangerous myth).

Lake Avenue Recovery Center is a trusted source of life-affirming treatment for adults who are working to end their compulsive use of alcohol, cocaine, opioids, and other drugs. At our addiction treatment center in Worcester, Massachusetts, you can receive customized care and close personal support within a safe, welcoming, and respectful environment. With our help, you can discover the hope and promise of successful, long-term recovery.

To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Admissions page or call us today.