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Alcohol Poisoning: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Table of Contents

Alcohol poisoning — also known as acute alcohol poisoning or alcohol overdose — is a medical emergency. It occurs when someone drinks so much alcohol in a short period of time that their body can’t process it all effectively. Alcohol poisoning can be life-threatening because it triggers biological responses in the body that are meant to protect against poisons. In this article, we cover what alcohol poisoning is and why it’s dangerous, potential causes for alcohol poisoning, spotting the early signs of alcohol poisoning, home remedies for dealing with alcohol poisoning, and what to do if you think someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning.

What Is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning is a dangerous medical condition that can be fatal if left untreated. When someone drinks too much alcohol, the body tries to protect itself by slowing down the metabolic processes. If alcohol poisoning is left untreated, it can cause cell damage, organ damage, and even death.

Alcohol poisoning is not the same as alcohol allergy, which is a rare and serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. Alcohol poisoning occurs when someone drinks so much that their system can’t process it fast enough. This usually happens when someone drinks too quickly, on an empty stomach, or a lot of alcohol at once.

Early signs of alcohol poisoning include confusion, slurred speech, unresponsiveness, vomiting, impaired coordination, and difficulty breathing. If alcohol poisoning goes untreated for too long, it can lead to seizures, cardiac arrest, coma, and death.

There are more than 2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths in the United States every year.

Why Is Alcohol Poisoning Dangerous?

Alcohol poisoning happens when someone drinks so much alcohol so quickly that their body can’t process it all effectively, which triggers biological responses in the body that are meant to protect against poisons. These biological responses include respiratory depression, vomiting, and changes in blood chemistry that can be fatal if left untreated. If you experience any of these or notice them in someone else, you should seek treatment immediately.

There are two main reasons why alcohol poisoning is dangerous: It can cause seizures and it can increase the risk of death by suffocation. Seizures occur when the brain becomes disrupted by too many chemicals. This can result in uncontrolled muscle spasms and loss of consciousness. Death by suffocation can occur when someone vomits while passed out.

Potential Causes of Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning occurs when someone drinks too much alcohol in a short period of time. Alcohol gets into your bloodstream through your stomach and small intestine. Once it’s in your bloodstream, it travels to every part of your body. The amount of time it takes for alcohol to get into your system depends on your body weight, how much food is in your stomach, how often you’ve eaten recently, and your drinking pattern.

Here are some potential causes of alcohol poisoning:

  • Drinking on an empty stomach: When alcohol goes straight to the bloodstream without passing through the digestive tract, it can be absorbed by your body more quickly.
  • Drinking a large amount of alcohol at once: If you try to drink an excessive amount of alcohol in one sitting, your body will not have time to process it all before becoming intoxicated.
  • Drinking too quickly: Drinking a large amount of alcohol over the course of several hours might not lead to alcohol poisoning.
  • Consuming alcohol with energy drinks or other beverages that contain caffeine: Caffeine can speed up the process through which your body breaks down alcohol. It can also lead people to feel more alert, which gives them the illusion that they are not drunk. As a result, they may continue to drink alcohol longer than they normally would.

Spotting the Signs of Alcohol Poisoning

If you see someone exhibiting symptoms of alcohol poisoning, it’s important to know that they’re not just drunk. They may not even be able to walk, let alone make it home on their own.

Here are some signs of alcohol poisoning you should look out for:
  • Confusion. This can include confusion about what day it is, what time it is, and general confusion about surroundings, people, and events.
  • Unresponsiveness. If someone is passed out and can’t be woken up, they’re at risk of alcohol poisoning. If they are younger than 21 years old and pass out, it’s also possible that they’ve been drinking more than they can handle.
  • Vomiting. When your body can’t process too much alcohol, it often tries to get rid of the excess through vomiting. If someone is vomiting and doesn’t seem to be able to stop, they may be suffering from alcohol poisoning.
  • Impaired coordination. This can include trouble walking, keeping balance, moving, or even keeping one’s eyes open. It’s common for someone suffering from alcohol poisoning to need help staying upright.

Home Remedies for Dealing with Alcohol Poisoning

Unfortunately, there are no home remedies for curing alcohol poisoning. With alcohol poisoning, the most important thing is to get help as soon as you see the warning signs. You should call 911 if you suspect someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning. If you don’t know what to do, don’t hesitate to call an ambulance.

Alcohol poisoning is an emergency and can quickly become fatal if left untreated. If you see someone exhibiting signs of alcohol poisoning, stay with them and remain calm. If you have friends who you think are in danger of alcohol poisoning, keep an eye on them. If they’re in danger of hurting themselves, you may need to intervene. Depending on the severity of the situation, you may want to take them to the emergency room or call an ambulance.

What to Do if You Think Someone is Suffering from Alcohol Poisoning

f you think someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning, it’s important to get them help as soon as possible. If someone is unresponsive and can’t be woken up, call an ambulance immediately. If they’re conscious but exhibiting signs of alcohol poisoning, stay with them and make sure they don’t hurt themselves. If they’re underage, you may also want to call a responsible adult to intervene.

If someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning and refusing help, it’s okay to let them stay where they are as long as they’re safe. You can stay with them and make sure they don’t hurt themselves. If they’re in danger of hurting someone else, you may need to call the authorities even if they don’t want you to.

How to prevent alcohol poisoning while drinking?

There are many ways to drink responsibly and avoid alcohol poisoning. Make sure to stay hydrated, eat a balanced meal before you drink, and stick to one or two drinks per hour if you want to avoid getting drunk. You should also avoid drinking on an empty stomach, as alcohol will go directly to your bloodstream and affect your brain more quickly.

One of the best ways to avoid alcohol poisoning is to avoid binge drinking. Many people binge drink without even realizing it. Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks in two hours for men and three drinks in two hours for women.

What is binge drinking?

Binge drinking is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as consuming five or more drinks in two hours for men and four drinks in two hours for women. Binge drinking is extremely dangerous because it happens so quickly. It’s easy to lose track of how much alcohol you’ve been drinking when you’re in a social setting, taking shots, or playing drinking games, especially if you are drinking several beverages at once.

Binge drinking is the type of alcohol abuse most likely to lead to an alcohol overdose. This is because it raises a person’s blood alcohol level very dramatically. Having a higher blood alcohol concentration is not only associated with alcohol overdoses, but it is also more likely to lead to dangerous consequences like drunk driving.

Binge drinking can be particularly dangerous if you’re consuming alcohol with other drugs. Combining alcohol with other substances—including some over-the-counter medications, energy drinks, and recreational drugs—increases the risk of alcohol poisoning.

What are the other dangers of binge drinking?

Binge drinking is dangerous for a number of reasons. In addition to increasing the risk of alcohol poisoning, binge drinking also increases the risk for other dangerous or even fatal consequences. Binge drinking is a leading contributor to accidental death in the United States. While many of these accidents occur in cars, others happen in the home. Drinking can lead to accidents like burns, falls, and drowning.

Binge drinking is also linked to a number of long-term health consequences, including liver disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, and certain cancers. Binge drinking during pregnancy can cause cognitive and behavioral problems in children after they are born, including lower IQ, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and lower verbal skills.

Dangers of combining alcohol and other drugs

Combining alcohol and other drugs, such as prescription medications, can lead to additional health risks. Alcohol and medications metabolize through the same pathway in the body, so consuming them together can cause one substance to build up in the body and delay the elimination of the other.

Binge drinking is especially dangerous when it involves mixing alcohol with other drugs. Alcohol and other drugs can interact to produce a dangerous and sometimes deadly reaction. Binge drinking combined with prescription medications can increase the likelihood of experiencing negative side effects or cause the medications to metabolize more quickly in the body. This form of substance abuse can disrupt mental and physical functions and even lead to permanent brain damage.

What are the signs and symptoms of high blood alcohol concentration?

The most dangerous early signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain
  • Breathing difficulties and changes in heart rate
  • Seizures and loss of consciousness
  • Low body temperature

How do hospitals treat alcohol poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning is a serious medical emergency. People experiencing alcohol poisoning will typically be evaluated in an emergency department and may need to stay in the hospital to recover. Medical professionals will sometimes pump a patient’s stomach in severe cases. Afterward, they will administer a urinary catheter and an intravenous drip. Until the patient is in a recovery position, doctors will monitor the patient’s vital functions, including their body temperature, blood glucose, and alcohol levels.

If you think someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning, call 911 immediately. Emergency medical personnel will assess the person and administer treatment as necessary. Matching people who are experiencing alcohol poisoning with appropriate treatment can be tricky, which is why it’s important to be aware of the different levels of alcohol poisoning and the treatments associated with each level.

How do I know if I have an alcohol problem?

If you are regularly drinking to the point of alcohol poisoning, it may be time to take a step back and ask yourself if you have an alcohol problem. Alcohol problems are more common than many people think: According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than 5% of Americans over the age of 12 have an alcohol use disorder.

If you’re worried about your alcohol use, you can start by asking yourself a few questions:
  • How often do you drink?
  • How much do you drink?
  • What types of situations lead you to drink?
  • Are you experiencing negative consequences as a result of your drinking?
If you notice that you are drinking too often or too much, or if you have negative feelings associated with drinking, you should seek help.

What are the long-term effects of alcohol poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning can be life-threatening, but many people who experience it don’t realize they can suffer lasting effects. Depending on how much alcohol a person has consumed, the intensity and length of the alcohol poisoning episode, and the person’s biological makeup, the aftereffects can be mild or severe and lasting.

In addition to the immediate dangers of alcohol poisoning, long-term alcohol use can lead to serious health problems. Binge drinking or consuming alcohol heavily over a long period of time can lead to alcohol use disorder, also known as alcoholism or alcohol addiction. Binge drinking can also cause long-term cognitive and behavioral problems in children who were exposed to alcohol in the womb.

What are the short-term effects of alcohol abuse?

When blood alcohol levels rise very quickly, a number of alcohol effects become apparent in a person’s body and behavior. While alcohol affects everyone differently, some of the most common short-term effects of high alcohol consumption include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach
  • Impaired judgment
  • Distorted hearing or vision
  • Worsened coordination and perception
  • Unconsciousness
  • Blackouts (memory lapses)
  • Coma
The more alcohol someone consumes, the more urgently they need alcohol poisoning treatment. Alcohol poisoning can come on suddenly and progress quickly. It can be deadly, especially if the person experiences respiratory arrest. If you suspect someone is experiencing alcohol poisoning, it’s important to get help immediately. Early treatment can prevent or lessen the severity of alcohol poisoning and its aftereffects.

How to recover from alcohol poisoning?

If you are experiencing alcohol poisoning, home remedies like a cold shower are not sufficient. It is important to ensure that a person’s bodily functions and nervous system are in working order and to monitor them to prevent choking. Choking is of particular concern because alcohol poisoning turns off a person’s gag reflex, and they are liable to choke on their own vomit.

Alcohol poisoning is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. If you or someone else is experiencing alcohol poisoning, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Although the symptoms of alcohol poisoning are often easy to spot, it’s important to remember that every person’s body and metabolism is different. You may not exhibit all of the typical signs if you’ve had too much to drink, or you may exhibit them in combination with other symptoms. You should seek medical attention if you’ve consumed a lot of alcohol and are experiencing any symptoms, even if you’re unsure how seriously to take them. If you’ve consumed too much alcohol and are experiencing alcohol poisoning, the most important thing you can do is seek medical attention. Alcohol poisoning is a serious medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.

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Edited by: David Beasley

David Beasley - Design for Recovery

David Beasley is a certified RADT (Registered Alcohol/Drug Technician). David, moved to California from North Carolina after many failed attempts to get sober.

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Charley earned his Masters of Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).He teaches mindfulness to both adults and children in group setting such as schools, corporate workplaces, and medical treatment facilities.

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