Alcohol Poisoning: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

alcohol poisoning signs symptoms and treatment

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are common issues in the United States. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 14.5 million people aged 12 and older suffer from alcoholism.[1]

Because alcohol use is a popular pastime in America, many people partake in binge drinking. To explain, women who consume more than 4 drinks and men who drink more than 5 beverages in two hours are binge drinking. This type of alcohol consumption is exceptionally dangerous, as it can lead to an array of health complications.

The NIAAA reports, “people who drank alcohol at twice the gender-specific binge drinking thresholds were 70 times more likely to have an alcohol-related emergency department (ED) visit.”[1]

Drinking large amounts of alcohol at a time puts individuals at risk of suffering from alcohol poisoning, a life-threatening condition. According to the CDC, more than 22,000 people die from alcohol poisoning each year, which equates to an average of 6 deaths per day.[2]

What is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning is also known as an alcohol overdose. This occurs when an individual drinks more alcohol than their body can handle.

When someone drinks alcohol, their stomach digests and absorbs it. This causes the alcohol to enter their bloodstream. Then, their liver works to break the alcohol down and rid it from the individual’s body.

If someone drinks a large amount of alcohol in a short time, their blood will become concentrated with alcohol. Additionally, the liver cannot properly break the substance down. This is what causes alcohol poisoning.

How quickly alcohol overdose occurs depends on:

  • Age
  • Gender 
  • Weight
  • Whether the individual ate food
  • Their tolerance of alcohol 

Alcohol poisoning is extremely dangerous and causes parts of the brain to shut down. This affects vital functions of the body such as breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. 

The Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning 

Individuals who binge drink are at the highest risk of experiencing alcohol poisoning. While many people assume alcohol poisoning is most common among college students, it actually affects middle-aged men at the highest rates. 

Anyone who drinks large quantities of alcohol in a short period is at risk of suffering from an alcohol overdose. The symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Smelling like alcohol
  • Severe confusion
  • Difficulty staying awake
  • Vomiting 
  • Seizures
  • Slowed breathing
  • Long pauses between breaths
  • Slowed heartbeat
  • Low body temperature (hypothermia)
  • Bluish and pale skin 
  • Slow response time 
  • Bladder or bowel incontinence 

Alcohol intoxication is measured by an individual’s blood alcohol content (BAC). While 0.08% is considered too intoxicated to drive, people with alcohol poisoning usually test at 0.250% or higher. Any BAC higher than 0.40% is known to cause the onset of a coma and death by respiratory arrest.[3]

In severe cases of alcohol overdose, individuals may experience:

  • Choking on their own vomit 
  • Trouble breathing due to vomit in the lungs 
  • Severe dehydration
  • Hypothermia 
  • Brain damage
  • Seizures 
  • Coma
  • Heart attack
  • Death 

How to Prevent Alcohol Overdose

The best way to prevent alcohol poisoning is to drink one drink per hour, alternating alcoholic beverages with glasses of water. Additionally, individuals must never drink alcohol on an empty stomach, as this can increase the adverse effects. 

Additional ways to prevent alcohol poisoning include:

  • Avoid playing drinking games 
  • Drink water while consuming alcohol
  • Pay attention to the number of drinks consumed
  • Avoid events where heavy alcohol consumption is expected 
  • Always eat before going out to drink 
  • Only drink one alcoholic beverage per hour 

Alcohol poisoning is life-threatening in most cases, requiring immediate medical attention. Due to this, individuals who plan on drinking should always pay attention to how much alcohol they are consuming. If someone is displaying the signs of alcohol poisoning, contact emergency medical services immediately.

Treatment for Alcohol Poisoning 

If someone begins to suffer from an alcohol overdose, 911 should be contacted immediately. While waiting for emergency medical services to arrive, it is important to keep the individual awake. Additionally, turning them on their side will prevent them from choking on their own vomit.

Once the individual is transported to the hospital, healthcare professionals will:

  • Provide IV fluids to prevent dehydration and increase blood sugar levels
  • Give oxygen using a nasal tube or a tube in the windpipe to stabilize breathing
  • Pump the individual’s stomach to clear them of toxins, including alcohol 
  • Start dialysis to help the kidney function properly by filtering alcohol from the blood

Individuals who experience alcohol poisoning might be suffering from an alcohol use disorder. In this case, attending an alcoholism treatment program after being medically stabilized in the hospital is highly recommended.

Finding Help for Alcohol Abuse and Addiction

Alcohol abuse and addiction are prevalent in the United States. If you or a loved one struggles with alcohol addiction, you are not alone. Attending a professional alcoholism treatment program will prevent you from experiencing medical emergencies – like alcohol poisoning – in the future.

Contact Moving Mountains Recovery Center today for more information on our alcohol addiction treatment programs.


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