Is poisoning and overdose the same thing?- Revive Health

What is a poison?

Any product or substance, including medications, can be harmful if it is used in the wrong way, by the wrong person, or in the wrong amount. A poisoning can occur from that substance by eating it, drinking it, breathing it, injecting it, getting it on the skin, or getting it in the eyes.

Why is drug overdose on this page?

A drug overdose is considered a poisoning. In this case, the drug is the product that is used in the wrong way, by the wrong person, or in the wrong amount. In Washington State over 90 percent of poisoning deaths are from a drug overdose.

What to do if a poisoning occurs

  • Remain calm.
  • Call 9-1-1 if you have a poison emergency and the victim has collapsed or is not breathing. If the victim is awake and alert, dial 1-800-222-1222. Try to have this information ready:
  • the victim’s age and weight
  • the container or bottle of the poison if available
  • the time of the poison exposure
  • the address where the poisoning occurred
  • Stay on the phone and follow the instructions from the emergency operator or poison control center.

What Is A Drug Overdose?

A drug overdose occurs when someone consumes too much of a substance, whether the situation is purposeful or accidental. Substances that may cause overdose include alcohol, over-the-counter drugs, prescriptions, and illicit drugs.


Poisoning/Prescription Drug Overdose

Common Causes of Drug Overdoses

While drug overdoses are commonly associated with addiction, substance abuse is not the only possible cause. Drug overdoses may occur due to improper drug storage, neglect of dosage instructions, history of drug use or mental disorders, and related causes.


Signs & Effects of An Overdose

The symptoms of an overdose may vary according to the type of substance someone uses and how much of it they use. However, there are some general signs of an overdose that are important to look out for. Symptoms of an overdose may include:

  • Nausea & vomiting
  • Trouble breathing
  • Drowsiness
  • Trouble walking
  • Tremors
  • Convulsions
  • Hallucinations
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Irritability or aggression
  • Loss of consciousness

These symptoms, along with others, may ultimately lead to a coma or other fatal complications.


What Is Drug Toxicity?

Drug toxicity may trigger similar symptoms, but can only be caused by the over-ingestion of certain prescription medications. Toxicity, which refers to how poisonous or harmful a substance is, can occur when someone accumulates too much of a certain drug in their bloodstream. This accumulation typically happens over time; in fact, drugs with a longer half life can build up in the body and eventually cause toxicity.

Toxicity is almost always accidental. Doctors, for example, can even cause drug toxicity if they give a patient too high of a dosage. In other cases, a person’s kidneys or liver may not be able to remove the drugs from the bloodstream. Age, kidney function, and hydration play a role in one’s chances of experiencing drug toxicity. In all situations, drugs can cause build-up and result in toxicity symptoms.


Poisoning: Signs, Symptoms, and First Aid Treatment

What Happens When You Experience Drug Toxicity?

Drug toxicity can actually cause an overdose in some cases. Therefore, the symptoms are very similar. Side effects of drug toxicity may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • Stomach pains
  • Slurred speech
  • Seizures
  • Weakness
  • Hand tremors

Ultimately, drug toxicity can cause coma, heart problems, and other serious issues or disorders.


Drug Overdose vs. Toxicity

As you can see, toxicity and overdoses have symptoms in common. However, they are very different issues. While both consequences can be accidental, toxicity almost always is. Overdose, unfortunately, can be done on purpose if someone is attempting to end their own life. Additionally, toxicity happens after the accumulation of one prescription drug. Overdose, on the other hand, can occur quickly after someone digests too much of any substance or combination.


Seeking Help With Overdoses or Drug Toxicity

Even though overdose and toxicity are different, they should both be handled in a medical or rehabilitation-based environment. If you or someone you know is showing signs or drug toxicity or overdose, head to an emergency room or a medical professional as soon as possible.

Treatment for toxicity or overdose may include poison control, activated charcoals, fluid influx, or breathing tube insertion. If overdose is caused by addiction, a rehabilitation program may also be necessary.

To prevent future drug toxicity or overdose, use all prescription drugs as directed and keep them out of reach of children. To learn more about the dangers of drug toxicity and seeking treatment, contact our team of medical and substance abuse professionals by calling 866-488-8349.


The symptoms of poisoning depend on the substance and the amount you take in.

Some poisonous substances, such as carbon monoxide, interfere with the blood’s ability to carry oxygen. Others, such as bleach, burn and irritate the digestive system.

Parents and carers should be aware of sudden, unexplained illness in young children, particularly if they’re drowsy or unconscious, because poisoning could be the cause.

Seek immediate medical advice if you think someone has swallowed a poisonous substance.

Find out what to do if you think someone has been poisoned.

General symptoms

General symptoms of poisoning can include:

  • feeling and being sick
  • diarrhoea
  • stomach pain
  • drowsiness, dizziness or weakness
  • high temperature
  • chills (shivering)
  • loss of appetite
  • headache
  • irritability
  • difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • breathing difficulties
  • producing more saliva than normal
  • skin rash
  • blue lips and skin (cyanosis)
  • burns around the nose or mouth
  • double vision or blurred vision
  • mental confusion
  • seizures (fits)
  • loss of consciousness
  • coma, in severe cases

Signs of a medicine or drug overdose

Medicine overdoses are the most common type of poisoning in the UK.

If someone takes too much of a medicine, they may experience symptoms specific to the medicine taken, as well as the more general symptoms listed above.

Some of the most common medicines or drugs involved in cases of poisoning are listed below.


Drug poisoning and overdose advisory issued for Greater Victoria – Saanich News


Paracetamol is a widely used over-the-counter painkiller.

Specific signs of paracetamol poisoning include:

yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice)
loss of co-ordination
low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia), which can cause symptoms including sweating, trembling and irritability


Aspirin is an anti-platelet medicine that thins the blood and reduces the risk of blood clots forming (arterial thrombosis).

Specific signs of aspirin poisoning include:

rapid breathing
ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
temporary hearing loss

Tricyclic antidepressants

Tricyclic antidepressants are used to treat clinical depression, as well as a number of other mental health conditions, such as panic disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Some types of tricyclic antidepressants can also be used to treat nerve pain.

Specific signs of poisoning with tricyclic antidepressants include:

dry mouth
large pupils
irregular or rapid heartbeat
low blood pressure, which can cause symptoms including lightheadedness and fainting

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs are a newer type of antidepressant that are also used to treat mental health conditions such as OCD and anxiety disorder.

Specific signs of SSRI poisoning include:

feeling agitated
tremor (shaking)
uncontrolled movement of the eyes (nystagmus)
severe muscle tension

Beta blockers

Beta blockers are used to treat a number of conditions that affect the heart or blood, such as high blood pressure (hypertension), angina and heart failure.

Specific signs of poisoning with beta blockers include:

low blood pressure, which can cause symptoms such as lightheadedness and fainting
a slow heartbeat (below 60 beats per minute)

Calcium-channel blockers

Calcium-channel blockers are used for the treatment of high blood pressure and angina.

Specific signs of calcium-channel blocker poisoning include:

feeling agitated
low blood pressure, which can cause symptoms such as lightheadedness and fainting
chest pain
a slow heartbeat (below 60 beats per minute)


Benzodiazepines are a type of tranquiliser, often used on a short-term basis to treat anxiety and sleeping problems (insomnia).

Specific signs of poisoning with benzodiazepines include:

co-ordination and speech difficulties
uncontrolled movement of the eyes (nystagmus)
shallow breathing


Opioids are a type of stronger painkiller used to treat moderate to severe pain. They include codeine and morphine, as well as the illegal drug heroin.

Specific signs of opioid poisoning include:

small pupils
shallow breathing

Stimulant overdose

If you take too much of a stimulant-like drug, such as cocaine, amphetamine, crack or ecstasy, overdose signs can include:

  • anxiety and paranoia
  • restlessness or agitation
  • hallucinations
  • high temperature
  • chest pain
  • rapid breathing
  • irregular or fast heartbeat

Cannabis overdose

If you smoke (or eat) too much cannabis, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • paranoia
  • hallucinations
  • numbness in your arms and legs

Symptoms of overdose

A wide range of signs and symptoms can occur when a person overdoses, and everyone responds differently. Signs and symptoms depend on a variety of factors including:

  • which substance (or substances) they took
  • how much they took
  • how they took it
  • their state of health
  • their age
  • other factors.

Symptoms of a drug overdose (including alcohol poisoning) may include:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • severe stomach pain and abdominal cramps
  • diarrhoea
  • chest pain
  • dizziness
  • loss of balance
  • loss of co-ordination
  • being unresponsive, but awake
  • limp body
  • seizures (fitting)
  • drowsiness and confusion
  • agitation
  • paranoia
  • slow or erratic pulse
  • difficulty breathing, shallow or erratic breathing or not breathing at all
  • hallucination
  • visual disturbances
  • choking or gurgling sounds
  • snoring deeply
  • blue fingernails or lips
  • pale or clammy face
  • loss of consciousness.

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation has more information about different types of drugs, their effects and risk factors.

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