There is something about a celebrity dying from an overdose that suddenly brings the danger of drugs and alcohol into sharp focus. No matter that the public is well aware of the potential risks of toxicity of these substances, it isn’t until a beloved athlete, actor, singer, or artist dies by overdose that it becomes real.
Celebrity overdoses are, sadly, all too common. Infamous deaths, such as Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis Presley may come to mind immediately when the topic comes up. But each and every year there is a spate of celebrity overdoses that capture headlines and break hearts. This year the shocking overdose death of Tyler Skaggs, a promising young Angels pitcher, stunned the country. This confounded many, how a young, successful athlete was even able to perform while addicted to prescription opioids for as long as he did. Additionally, Clark Gable’s grandson, Clark James Gable, died of a fentanyl overdose, and Kristoff St. John lost his life due to alcohol poisoning.
Just last year the world lost several beloved celebrities to overdose deaths. These included rapper Mac Miller to a fentanyl, cocaine, and alcohol poisoning, Delores O’Riordan, lead singer of the Irish rock band The Cranberries to alcohol toxicity, and Art Bell, radio broadcaster of the popular Coast-to-Coast AM to opioid overdose.
So, what can be learned from these sad celebrity overdoses? What lessons are taught to fans who might be experimenting with drugs or alcohol themselves? If nothing else, it is wise to have a healthy fear for the potent effects of these substances and to realize how vulnerable individuals who partake in recreational drug or alcohol abuse really are.
What Happens in an Overdose?
Overdose occurs when too much of a substance, such as alcohol or drugs, has entered the bloodstream, outpacing the body’s ability to metabolize it. This leads to toxicity, or poisoning. This can effectively suppress the central nervous system to the extent that respiratory functioning and heart functions are impacted. Some of the symptoms of overdose include:
Opiate overdose symptoms:
- Limp body
- Awake but noncommunicative
- Slow, shallow breathing
- Choking sounds, snoring-like gurgling sounds
- Pale, clammy skin
- Pinpoint pupils
- Bluish fingernails and lips
- Slow, erratic pulse
- Loss of consciousness
- Unresponsive to outside stimuli
Alcohol overdose symptoms:
- In and out of consciousness
- Slowed heart rate
- Clammy skin
- Slowed respiratory rate
- No gag reflex
- Low body temperature
- Loss of consciousness
Stimulant overdose symptoms:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Chest pains
- Elevated heart rate
- Panic attack
How Are Overdoses Treated?
When an individual has ingested more of a substance than their body can metabolize it presents an emergency medical event. No time should be spared in getting the person help, as each moment can make or break the ability to survive the overdose. Emergency responders will immediately gather as much information about which substance, how much of it, and how long ago it was ingested. They will check vital signs and see if the airway is blocked. Increasingly, first responders are equipped and trained to administer the life-saving Naloxone for opiate overdoses, which can restore respiratory functioning.
Once the individual is transported to the hospital, medical interventions ensue. The primary goal is to rid the body of any residual drugs or alcohol before it can be absorbed into the bloodstream. This is accomplished through gastric lavage, otherwise referred to as stomach washing, and through administering activated charcoal. Intravenous fluids can also help dilute and pass residual substances, as well as replenish nutrients and prevent possible dehydration. Time is of the essence, so the emergency team moves rapidly to provide these measures in an attempt to save the person’s life.
When Substance Abuse is Accompanied by a Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorder
Very often someone who is struggling with a substance use disorder also has a co-occurring mental health condition. The individual may be using alcohol or drugs to self-medicate the symptoms of depression, bipolar disorder, or an anxiety disorder. This is a common problem that is referred to as a dual diagnosis.
When a dual diagnosis has developed, each of the disorders, the mental health disorder and the substance use disorder, are aggravated by the other. The alcohol or drugs exacerbate the symptoms of the mental health disorder, and the mental health disorder causes substance use to ratchet up, potentially leading to addiction or dependency.
Learning Important Lessons from Celebrity Overdoses
The human body is capable of metabolizing a certain amount of toxins in a given hour. When the level of toxins exceeds what the body can safely process, an overdose can occur. We can all learn valuable lessons from the famous individuals who pass away at a premature age due to the power of addiction. Addiction is still vastly misunderstood by most people, so hopefully the loss of a much loved celebrity resonates beyond a temporary emotional response and results in public education about how addiction happens.
It isn’t only the famous who can elevate our awareness about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. By now, most of us have been touched by the untimely death of a person, possibly a neighbor, a relative, someone in the community, due to drug or alcohol overdose. In 2018 alone there were an estimated 70,000 overdose deaths, a number that reflects the arrival of the synthetic opioid, fentanyl, into the supply chain. Individuals are unknowingly ingesting this highly toxic drug through the purchase of heroin, cocaine, and illicit prescription opioids.
Getting Treatment for a Drug or Alcohol Addiction
Comprehensive treatment is needed for the problematic substance use disorder than lead to the overdose. It is not recommended than an individual attempt to manage the problem on their own, as the brain pathways in the reward system are so entrenched that it is virtually impossible to override the cravings. To effectively overcome a substance use disorder it is necessary to obtain professional support and treatment.
INTAKE: The first step is the intake process, where a careful evaluation of the exact presenting conditions allows the clinical team to design a treatment plan for the specific diagnosis. Because each individual person will present with unique diagnostic features, it is important to receive treatment at a treatment program that customizes the plan to align with the client’s particular needs.
MEDICAL DETOX: In most cases, it will be necessary for the individual to begin treatment with the detox and withdrawal phase. This accomplishes two important goals, to allow the body to be cleared of the drug or alcohol, and also to help stabilize the individual so they can then fully participate in treatment. Detox is conducted under medical supervision, where vital signs are carefully recorded and withdrawal symptoms are closely monitored. Medical interventions can assist with minimizing discomfort, and psychological support can help encourage individuals along during the process.
TREATMENT: Addiction treatment involves multiple therapeutic activities that provide an integrated approach. The ultimate goals of treatment involve helping the individual reshape disordered thought and behavior patterns, to acquire new coping skills, to work through family-related issues, and to possibly be prescribed medication-assisted treatment. Evidence-based therapies include cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, contingency management, and motivational enhancement therapy. Complementary therapies include mindfulness meditation, yoga, massage therapy, art therapy, and equine therapy. MAT includes naltrexone, methadone, or buprenorphine, which is closely monitored while in use.
AFTERCARE: Often overlooked, the aftercare component of addiction treatment is of utmost importance. Aftercare efforts are what helps to solidify recovery, providing timely guidance through outpatient therapy and support via small groups. Recovery meetings at a 12-step or similar program provide social support and fellowship to aid individuals as they encounter challenges in recovery. Sober living housing can offer a supportive, substance-free living space if the home environment is not conducive to sustaining sobriety.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment
Individuals who have coexisting mental health challenges will not be able to maintain a long-term recovery from a substance use disorder unless the psychological issues are dealt with. Underlying emotional problems will quickly sabotage any attempts at sobriety, as the substance has become a form of self-medication for the mental health disorder. To increase the chances of success in recovery it is imperative to address the accompanying mood disorder.
A dual diagnosis program can provide the psychiatric expertise necessary in this regard. Medication may be helpful in managing the symptoms of the mental health disorder, which then assists in the overall recovery picture. Psychotherapy that focuses on the trauma or sources of distress can help the individual begin to process and heal those wounds and to learn more productive ways to respond to the emotional triggers.
When we learn of a favorite athlete or celebrity who has succumbed to an overdose, it can give us all a moment of pause, to consider whether recreational substance use may be a threat to not only health and wellbeing, but to life itself.
The Treatment Specialist Offers Free Guidance for Treatment Options
The Treatment Specialist is an online resource that provides free information about substance use disorders and mental health disorders, as well as guidance for exploring treatment options. If you or a loved one are battling a drug or alcohol problem, the sooner it is addressed and treated the more promising the recovery outcome. Don’t waste another day that could be used to get healthy. Call The Treatment Specialist today at (866) 644-7911.