Skip to main content
Update Location

My Location

Update your location to show providers, locations, and services closest to you.

Enter a zip code
Or
Select a campus/region

Definition

An overdose is when you take more than the recommended amount of something, often a medicine or drug. An overdose may result in serious, harmful symptoms or death.

If you take too much of something on purpose, it is called an intentional or deliberate overdose.

If the overdose happens by mistake, it is called an accidental overdose. For example, a young child may accidentally take an adult's medicine.

Your health care provider may refer to an overdose as an ingestion. Ingestion means you swallowed something.

An overdose is not the same as a poisoning, although the effects can be the same. Poisoning occurs when someone or something (such as the environment) exposes you to dangerous chemicals, plants, or other harmful substances without your knowledge.

Information

An overdose may be mild, moderate, or serious. Symptoms, treatment, and recovery depend on the specific drug involved.

In the United States, call 1-800-222-1222 to speak with a local poison control center. This hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.

You should call if you have any questions about an overdose, poisoning, or poison prevention. You can call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

At the emergency room, an examination will be performed. The following tests and treatments may be needed:

  • Activated charcoal
  • Airway support, including oxygen, breathing tube through the mouth (intubation), and breathing machine (ventilator)
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Chest x-ray
  • CT (computed axial tomography) scan
  • ECG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
  • Fluids through a vein (intravenous or IV)
  • Laxative
  • Medicines to treat symptoms, including antidotes (if one exists) to reverse the effects of the overdose

A large overdose can cause a person to stop breathing and die if not treated right away. The person may need to be admitted to the hospital to continue treatment. Depending on the drug, or drugs taken, multiple organs may be affected. This may affect the person's outcome and chances of survival.

If you receive medical attention before serious problems with your breathing occur, you should have few long-term consequences. You will probably be back to normal in a day.

However, an overdose can be deadly or can result in permanent brain damage if treatment is delayed.

References

Bluth MH, Pincus MR, Abraham NZ. Toxicology and therapeutic drug monitoring. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 24.

Meehan TJ. Care of the poisoned patient. In: Walls RM, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:chap 135.

Nikolaides JK, Thompson TM. Opioids. In: Walls RM, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:chap 151.

Last reviewed January 2, 2023 by Jesse Borke, MD, CPE, FAAEM, FACEP, Attending Physician at Kaiser Permanente, Orange County, CA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team..

Related specialties

Clinical Trials: Overdose

UF Health research scientists make medicine better every day. They discover new ways to help people by running clinical trials. When you join a clinical trial, you can get advanced medical care. Sometimes years before it's available everywhere. You can also help make medicine better for everyone else. If you'd like to learn more about clinical trials, visit our clinical trials page. Or click one of the links below:

END-DM1

Building on previous work of the Myotonic Dystrophy Clinical Research Network (DMCRN), the present study seeks to overcome insufficient data on natural history; lack of reliable biomarkers; and incomplete characterization and limited biological…

Investigator
Sub Subramony
Status
Accepting Candidates
Ages
18 Years - 70 Years
Sexes
All

News and Patient Stories: Overdose

More Overdose stories

Latest podcast episodes

Study: Asthma rescue inhalers still overused

For people with asthma, reaching for a rescue inhaler can almost become a reflex. Still, there can be too much of a good thing. Recent findings by researchers in England found more than...

Work-from-home burnout and how to overcome it

Feeling burnt out from the stress of working at home? Odds are you’re not alone. After more than a year of isolating in home workspaces due to the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Americans are...

Listen to more Health in a Heartbeat episodes