24 hours rehab

Call Now for Immediate Confidential Help and Advice 02038 115 619

24 hours rehab
Immediate Access for help and advice
24 hours rehab

Call Now for Immediate Confidential Help and Advice 02038 115 619

24 hours rehab
Immediate Access for help and advice

Respiratory Depression Explained

Whenever people are abusing drugs, there is a high possibility that the habit would influence their normal physiological state. Using illegal drugs such as crack cocaine, crystal meth or even cannabis may affect the way a respiratory system works. The depressive effects of opiates, such as heroin and some prescription drugs, also have a severe impact on the way we breathe. Respiratory depression is a possible side-effect of drug addiction but is also related to some withdrawal symptoms.

What is Respiratory Depression?

If there are indications of a slowed breathing or an ineffective intake, it means that a risk of dangerous health complications that can lead to serious problems is present. This can even lead to what we know as respiratory arrest. However, with effective treatment, respiratory depression can be tackled, and patients can avert the dangers associated with the breathing disorder. Treatment normally involves holistic techniques targeted at both the root causes of the condition and its direct symptoms.

UK Rehab

Other names for respiratory depression

Another term for respiratory depression is ‘hypoventilation’; ‘hypo’ meaning ‘below’, which defines it as a low rate of ventilation where the gas exchange in the lungs is below normal levels. Hypoventilation should not be confused with hyperventilation, which is the state of breathing deeper or faster than normal.

Causes of Respiratory Depression

Specific health complications and certain medications, especially sedatives, are known to increase a person’s chances of developing respiratory depression, or directly causing the breathing disorder. Common causes of hypoventilation are:

  • Overdose of opioids or opiates like tramadol, morphine, fentanyl, or heroine
  • Anaesthetic related or opioid-induced respiratory depression after surgery
  • Central sleep apnoea
  • Severe obesity
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Chest wall disease
  • Neuromuscular disease
  • Brain injury
  • Stroke
Get Confidential Help Now

Call our admissions line 24 hours a day to get help.

Symptoms of Respiratory Depression

The following symptoms point to the presence of hypoventilation:

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Lethargy
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Reduced heart rate

Left untreated, it can lead to:

  • Respiratory arrest
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Brain damage
  • Coma
  • Death
UK Rehab

Respiratory Depression Triggers

  • Opioid overdose
  • Ethanol poisoning or overdose
  • Sedative poisoning or overdose
  • Barbiturates poisoning or overdose
  • Benzodiazepine poisoning or overdose
  • Anaesthetics
  • Strokes
  • Congenital central hypoventilation syndrome (CCHS)
  • Central sleep apnoea
  • Severely elevated blood ammonia
  • Brain tumours

Complications of Respiratory Depression

Life-threatening complications can occur if respiratory depression isn’t treated, which can possibly lead to death. Right-sided heart failure (pulmonary hypertension) is a possible complication that can be caused by continued hypoventilation episodes. Respiratory depression induced by drug poisoning or overdose can result in respiratory arrest where breathing stops completely, which can be fatal.

How is Respiratory Depression Diagnosed?

Some of the tests a medical professional such as a Gp, a physician or a pulmonary specialist may order to diagnose the condition include:

  • Pulse oximetry test, which measures the level of oxygen in the bloodstream with the use of a monitor on a person’s finger
  • Urine and serum drug screens
  • Blood alcohol concentration tests
  • Screens for various toxins
  • Serum ammonia level test
  • Blood gas test
  • Haemoglobin and haematocrit blood test
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or Computed tomography (CT) scans to check for tumours or stroke in the brain
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG) test
  • Sleep study

Effects and Dangers of Respiratory Depression

The dangers of respiratory depression, particularly when left untreated, can be fatal as they include respiratory arrest (inability to breathe) and falling into a coma.

Respiratory Depression as an Addiction Withdrawal and Detox Symptom

People can get dependent or addicted to drugs used in treating hyperventilation syndrome (increased rate of breathing) and may suffer repressed breathing when they suddenly stop taking these drugs. This withdrawal symptom may also be present during detox but with the right treatment approach, it can be handled appropriately.
UK Rehab

Treatment of Respiratory Depression

Although hypoventilation can be serious, it can also be treated. Experts adopt a variety of treatment options depending on the individual state of each patient, and the severity of the condition.

The following are treatment options for hypoventilation:

Medication used in treatment

If respiratory depression is caused by an overdose of drugs like opioids, detoxification is carried out where medications like suboxone, naloxone, and methadone are used, since they reverse the effects of opioids.

The role of counselling in treatment and rehab

counselling is an invaluable tool in cases where addiction to depressants and sedatives are a direct or contributory cause of respiratory depression. Through counselling, people would learn about the possible changes that could facilitate recovery from addiction and dependence, and prevent a relapse.

Preventing a Relapse

UK Rehab

In order to live free of the risk of future episodes of hypoventilation, preventive measures, as well as life changes, must be taken to avoid relapsing to drugs that trigger respiratory depression. Some measures include:

  • Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption
  • Avoiding or taking extra precautionary measures when using sedative medications
  • Giving up or taking extra precautions when using narcotic medications
  • Supervising children placed on prescription medications

Choosing a treatment centre

There are treatment clinics that can help you properly tackle hypoventilation in the UK through different options, including detox and rehab in cases of drug overdose, and where an addiction is present. Choosing this kind of treatment centre will boost your chances of successful recovery.

Types of respiratory depression treatment

You can choose to get treatment as a resident patient in an inpatient facility, or on an outpatient basis where you’ll be treated as a visiting patient. Ultimately, your doctor will make a recommendation depending on your situation.

Questions to ask treatment centres

It’s important that you undergo treatment in an enabling environment that suits your needs. So, ensure to ask your treatment centre questions about their policy in regards to confidentiality, their available methods of payment, specific facilities in the centre, as well as your treatment duration.

Facts about Respiratory Depression

  • Addiction to drugs like opioids, benzodiazepines, and substances like alcohol will increase the risk of respiratory depression.
  • Treatment options for the condition will be influenced by the severity of the case as well as other factors.
  • Symptoms include shallow breathing, and in dire cases, coma, respiratory failure, or death.
Get Confidential Help Now

Call our admissions line 24 hours a day to get help.

Get help today

Respiratory depression is a dangerous health condition. Don’t take symptoms for granted, as the next episode could be fatal. By getting help, you can avert a serious complication that may claim your life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is treatment permanent?
Treatment can save you from dangerous complications, but if you go back to the life choices that triggered your depressed respiration in the first place, you’ll likely be putting yourself at risk again.
How long does treatment last?
The duration of treatment will depend on the treatment option adopted by your doctor, which will also be influenced by the nature and severity of your condition.
Can you die from having a respiratory depression?
Respiratory depression can result in coma and respiratory arrest, which can cause death.
Yes. An overdose on opioids can trigger hypoventilation.
Do I have to give up alcohol completely because of respiratory depression?
In certain situations, you may be advised to cut down your use but where there’s a case of chronic addiction, you’ll be advised to stay completely sober.

Find alcohol and drug rehab clinics in your area

No matter where you live, there is a drug rehab center that can help you overcome your addiction. We'll help you find it.

Select a County
Get Confidential Help Now

Our trained addiction counsellors are
on hand 24 hours a day

Rehab treatment Centres

We’ll help you find help near you.

If you are experiencing problems as a result of your alcohol or drug use, or if you are drinking or using drugs to cope with existing problems, our National Addiction Treatment & Rehabilitation Directory contains over 700 addiction treatment services that may be able to help you when you decide to do something about them.

close help
Who am I contacting?

Calls and contact requests are answered by admissions at

UK Addiction Treatment Group.

We look forward to helping you take your first step.

02038 115 619