What is Drug Toxicity and How is it Treated?

What is Drug Toxicity and How is it Treated?

Drug toxicity refers to how poisonous or harmful a substance may be. This happens when a person has too much of a drug in their bloodstream, leading to adverse effects on the body. It may occur when too high a dose is given or the liver and kidneys can remove the drug from the bloodstream. Learn more about the dangers of drug toxicity and how it is treated.


Drug toxicity can occur as a result of over-ingestion of medication, such as having too much of a drug in a person’s system. This can happen if the dose exceeds what is prescribed or, with certain /medications, drug toxicity may occur as an adverse drug reaction. The threshold between what is effective as a dose and what is toxic is very narrow. What is therapeutic for one person may be toxic to another. Factors like age, kidney function, and hydration can impact the body’s clearing of medication out.

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of toxicity differ depending on the medication. In the case of lithium, different symptoms may occur depending whether the toxicity is acute or chronic. Possible mild symptoms of acute lithium toxicity include diarrhea, dizziness, nausea, stomach pains, vomiting, and weakness. More symptoms may include hand tremors, muscle twitches, slurred speech, seizures, coma, and heart problems.


Acute toxicity is diagnosed easily as symptoms follow one-time administration of a medication. Blood tests can screen for levels of medication in a person’s bloodstream. Chronic toxicity is harder to diagnose. Stopping medication and then ‘re-challenging’ it later is one method of testing whether the symptoms are caused by medication.


There are several ways in which drug toxicity may be treated. If the toxicity is the result of acute overdose, a person may undergo stomach pumping to remove drugs not yet absorbed. Activated charcoal can help bind drugs and prevent them from being absorbed into the blood. Other medications may be given as an antidote.

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