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What Is an Overdose?

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Updated March 01, 2011

Definition:

We hear a lot in the news about people ending up in the hospital or even dying after taking an overdose. But what is an overdose?

An overdose is the condition of taking a larger dose of a drug than the body is able to handle. Overdoses can occur accidentally or deliberately.

The risk of overdose with illicit drugs is particularly high when the drug strength and content is not known, or if the person has recently been through detox and has relapsed, because he or she may not have the tolerance for the dose taken previously.

Accidental overdoses are less common with prescription drugs, because the strength and dosage is known, and the physician provides instructions regarding the appropriate amount. However, accidental overdoses of prescription drugs can occur at times of confusion or forgetfulness, if the person has experienced extreme weight loss, or if he or she has discontinued or reduced the usual dose since the drug was originally prescribed.

Overdoses can also occur from taking over-the-counter medications or even seemingly harmless substances, such as vitamin supplements. Overdoses of over-the-counter drugs may be even more harmful and irreversible than controlled drugs.

Pronunciation: O-ver-dOs
Also Known As: OD
Examples:
Tina overdosed on her usual hit of heroin, because she did not realize that her tolerance had been lowered during detox.
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