Why would an experienced drug user overdose?
After all, once an individual uses drugs over a long period they come to understand what to expect from doses.
I’ve worked as a drug counselor or college professor on the topic since 1985.
The answer to the overdose question lies mostly in the dynamics of getting high and addiction.
Some commonly used drugs of abuse cause the user to develop physical tolerance. Tolerance means it takes more of the substance to get the same effect. This is a physical dynamic, the body adapts to the substance and it simply takes more and more of it to produce the desired high.
Sometimes the user, depending on the substance, progresses to the point where the dose they are taking has come dangerously close to the fatal dose. One day they take too much and the nervous system slows down or speeds up and breathing stops or a heart attack occurs.
Elvis Presley had gotten to the point of taking a “six-pack” cocktail to go to bed. Most of the drugs in the cocktail caused tolerance. On August 16, 1977, he couldn’t sleep and asked for a second six-pack. That dose probably came too close to the first and Elvis’s heart stopped.
There’s something else.
The dynamic of getting high also leaves the user with always wanting to experience more, better, intensified, bigger highs. Their first use of alcohol led to the desire to try pot which led to a curiousity to try, say, cocaine which turned into a desire for freebasing and on and on. The desire to alter one’s consciousness keeps upping the ante.
John Belushi loved cocaine and one night kept upping the ante with heroin to experience the speedball effect of combining an upper and a downer.
Michael Jackson appears to have been dependent on painkillers but also progressed to anesthesia–which is a wildly significant progression and ridiculously dangerous.
What about suicide?
Sometimes users decide to kill themselves but more often they get sloppy with their use. Sometimes they mix desires and think to themselves that if they get really high and don’t wake up it wouldn’t be so bad.
Sometimes a user gets a new dealer or a dealer gets a new supplier. Street drugs are wildly inconsistent in the amount of the actual mind altering substance contained in them. The same amount of heroin injected on a Monday may look like Tuesday’s dose but it might actually be double. That causes overdose.
Drugs differ in what they do in the body. Some classes of drugs don’t have a physical tolerance. Marijuana, LSD and XTC don’t cause physical tolerance though they certainly can cause the user to develop a psychological tolerance. Medically speaking, cocaine doesn’t have a tolerance or a withdrawal dynamic but if you ask anyone who’s gotten addicted to it they’d argue with you quite a bit.
People don’t die from smoking a lot of marijuana or tripping a lot. Alcohol, narcotic analgesics, barbiturates and benzodiazepines all cause tolerance.
We’ll find out about Corey Haim after toxicology reports come in.
If it shows that drugs caused his death he won’t be alone.