Age & Physical Health


Your age and physical health are going to impact your body’s ability to manage drugs. Older people and/or those with longer drug using careers are at increased risk for fatal overdose. While more experience with substances in and of itself is probably protective, the cumulative effects of long term substance use, which could include illnesses, like viral hepatitis or HIV or infections, like endocarditis or cellulitis, may hinder resiliency. Older people who overdose are less likely than younger people to survive their overdose. If you have a compromised immune system, you’ve been sick, or if you have a current infection, like an abscess, this also puts you more at risk for overdose because your body is weakened. Dehydration, not eating or sleeping also puts you more at risk for overdose.  If you are a stimulant user, you are more at risk for a seizure, stroke, or heart attack if you also have other health issues like high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol or if you smoke cigarettes.

Liver and Lung Health

Liver and lung health, negatively impacted by hepatitis and smoking respectively, play an important role in overdose. The liver filters substances in the body and is involved in their metabolism, so a poorly functioning liver means less capacity to do that in a timely manner. In other words, when your liver is not working so great it can’t process drugs and alcohol as easily, leading to “build-up” of drugs in your system, which can be toxic and make the effects of certain drugs last longer than they should.

Also, since downers cause your breathing to slow down, if you have asthma or other breathing problems, you could be at higher risk for overdose. Poor lung function decreases the body’s capacity to replenish the oxygen supply, which is essential for a person to survive an overdose. Someone should use less when they are sick or recovering from an illness.

Everybody is Different

Drug using partners should rely more on what they know about their own body, tolerance and experience, then rely on what their partners are using, as there is substantial variability in how different substances are processed by different people.

Anyone who uses opioids, including people who take opioids for pain, should be aware of increased overdose risk if they have any of the following health characteristics:

  • Smoke or have COPD, emphysema, asthma, sleep apnea, respiratory infection, or other respiratory illness
  • Have kidney or liver disease or dysfunction, cardiac illness or HIV/AIDS
  • Drink alcohol heavily
  • Currently taking benzodiazepines or other sedative prescription or antidepressant medication

Prevention Tips:

  • Drink lots of water or other fluids, try to eat
  • Pharmaceuticals, like opioids and benzos, especially with Tylenol (acetaminophen) in them, are harder for your liver to break down because of a lot of the stuff that’s in them.  If you have liver damage, stay away from pharmaceuticals with a lot of acetaminophen in them, like Vicodin and Percocet.
  • Carry your inhaler if you have asthma, tell your friends where it is, and that you have trouble breathing
  • Go slow if you’ve been sick, lost weight, or have been feeling under the weather or weak—this can affect your tolerance.
  • Try to find a good, nonjudgmental doctor and get checked out for other health factors that increase your risk of stimulant overdose, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease or other physical issues that could increase your risk for a stroke or heart attack
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