What Is Alcohol Poisoning?
The Dangers of Alcohol Poisoning
Alcohol poisoning is the dangerous result of consuming too much alcohol over a short period of time. If you drink too much alcohol too quickly, it can be life-threatening. No matter a person’s alcohol tolerance, weight, age or gender, alcohol poisoning can affect anyone.
As you drink more, your blood alcohol content (BAC) level continues to climb. Eventually, it becomes so high that your basic mental, physical and emotional functions are no longer able to work properly. However, a person can feel the effects of alcohol abuse and potentially trigger alcohol poisoning, even after they’ve stopped drinking. Your BAC levels keep increasing for up to 40 minutes after your last drink.
The consequences of alcohol poisoning can be aggressive and fatal. Do not try to self-treat the symptoms of alcohol poisoning, as you can cause more harm than good. If you or a loved one are experiencing the signs of alcohol poisoning, act quickly and call 911. Emergency medical technicians will be able to provide immediate treatment and get a person the professional medical assistance they need.
How Much Does It Take to Get Alcohol Poisoning?
When alcohol is consumed, it has a very quick and aggressive effect on your body. In fact, it takes roughly one hour for the body to metabolize 0.25 ounces of alcohol. Because of this, alcohol can be absorbed into your bloodstream in as little as 30 minutes after drinking.
When you drink a large amount of alcohol in a short amount of time, your body is unable to process the alcohol contents fast enough. Additionally, it takes a while for your body to break down the toxins found in alcohol, causing you to feel drunk longer.
There are a number of factors that play a role in a person’s alcohol consumption limit such as gender, weight and tolerance level. Since every person is different, there is no way to determine how much a person can drink before they’re at risk of alcohol poisoning. One of the most common causes of alcohol poisoning is binge drinking. Consuming an excessive amount of alcohol in such a short timeframe significantly increases your chances of harmful consequences, like alcohol poisoning.
One drink refers to an alcoholic beverage that contains approximately 14 grams of pure alcohol. The following are examples of a standard drink:
- Beer: 12 fluid ounces (one can of beer)
- Wine: Five fluid ounces (one glass of wine)
- Hard liquor: One and one-half fluid ounces (one shot of liquor)
The chart below organizes a person’s BAC level based on their weight and the number of drinks they’ve consumed.
|Weight (lbs)||Number of Drinks|
For a person to be considered a drunk driver by law, their BAC level must be 0.08 percent or higher. However, alcohol can start to impair your coordination and memory between 0.10 to 0.12 percent. Anything higher than that will increase the harmful side effects such as blacking out, choking on vomit, seriously injuring yourself, suddenly passing out and extremely slowed breathing.
Remember, alcohol affects people in different ways, so this chart should only be used as a guideline.
On average, six Americans die each day from alcohol poisoning. That equates to roughly 2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths each year.
In an estimated 30 percent of alcohol poisoning deaths, alcoholism was identified as a leading factor.
About three of every four alcohol poisoning deaths affect individuals ages 35 to 64.
Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning
There are various warning signs and symptoms associated with alcohol poisoning. However, you should not wait to experience severe side effects before seeking medical attention. Finding help sooner rather than later can make the difference between their speedy recovery or life-threatening complications.
The most common symptoms of alcohol poisoning are:
- Irregular breathing
- Pale, clammy and bluish-tinged skin
- Low body temperature
These warning signs and symptoms can put your life in danger if left untreated for a substantial amount of time. Don’t wait to get help. If you suspect potential alcohol poisoning, call 911 to get medical attention immediately.
Who Is at Risk?
Alcohol poisoning can affect anyone who has consumed an excessive amount of alcohol in a short amount of time. However, certain groups of individuals are more susceptible to overdrinking that may potentially lead to alcohol poisoning, including college students and middle-aged adults.
When young adults head off to college and live on their own for the first time, they feel more free and independent. Social events, sports games and other gatherings are several activities that include heavy alcohol consumption and binge drinking. Students may face peer pressure to participate in drinking games to feel the effects of alcohol much faster.
Middle-aged men have been most affected by alcohol poisoning deaths in the United States. While many factors can contribute to the risk of alcohol abuse, individuals who start drinking in their adolescent years are more likely to suffer from alcoholism later on in life. Other influences such as stress and depression can also lead to chronic alcohol use, and possibly alcohol poisoning.
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How to Help Someone With Alcohol Poisoning
Any indication of alcohol poisoning is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate attention from medical professionals. If you believe someone is experiencing the symptoms of an overdose, call 911 right away.
Until an ambulance arrives on-scene, professionals advise you do the following:
- Stay alert and don’t panic
- Keep the person in an upright sitting position
- Make sure the person stays awake
- Sit near the person and don’t leave them alone
- Be ready to provide emergency medical responders with information about the person, what happened and other details you may remember
Once the individual has been transported to the hospital, medical staff have a number of ways to treat alcohol poisoning. The type of treatment often depends on the person’s BAC level and the severity of their symptoms. For example, when a person is having trouble breathing due to alcohol poisoning, a windpipe can be inserted to help restore normal breathing. Excessive alcohol consumption may also lead to dehydration and a drop in blood glucose levels. In these cases, medical professionals generally give the person an intravenous drip to help their body remain hydrated and strong.
In life-threatening cases of alcohol poisoning, a person’s stomach may be pumped in order to quickly remove the toxins from their system. This speeds up the process of eliminating alcohol from the bloodstream, reducing the risk of possible fatal consequences.
Effects of Untreated Alcohol Poisoning
If the symptoms of alcohol poisoning are ignored and left untreated, they can be detrimental to a person’s health. This is why it’s crucial to seek medical treatment immediately at any sign of alcohol poisoning. Not properly treating alcohol poisoning can lead to a number of short- and long-term side effects. In addition, you may be more likely to continue the dangerous pattern of excessive drinking, increasing the likelihood of over-consuming again.
A lack of alcohol poisoning treatment can lead to:
- Permanent brain damage
- Irregular breathing
- Abnormal heartbeat
Alcohol poisoning should not be treated lightly, as it is a serious condition with deadly effects. You can make the difference in someone’s life by recognizing the warning signs of alcohol poisoning and seeking out immediate help.
It’s Ok to Ask for Help
If you or someone you love is struggling with a drinking problem, don’t be afraid to ask for help. We can answer any questions you may have about the recovery and treatment process.
Get in touch with a treatment provider now, and get started on your road to recovery.
Clinical Reviewer — Last Reveiwed: March 21, 2019
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2016). Alcohol Poisoning. November 2016. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-poisoning/home/ovc-20211589
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Facts About Alcohol Overdose (or Alcohol Poisoning). November 2016. https://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/parentsandstudents/students/factsheets/factsaboutalcoholpoisoning.aspx
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2015). Alcohol Overdose: The Dangers of Drinking Too Much. November 2016. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/AlcoholOverdoseFactsheet/Overdosefact.htm
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Alcohol Poisoning Deaths. November 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/alcohol-poisoning-deaths/
Nolo. Blood Alcohol Level Chart. Are you Legally Drunk? November 2016. http://dui.drivinglaws.org/drink-table.php#
University of Washington Tacoma. Alcohol Poisoning. October 2016. https://www.tacoma.uw.edu/studentaffairs/SHW/documents/Health%20topics/Alcohol%20Poisoning.pdf
Alma College. Alcohol Poisoning: Effects/Risks, Signs, & Response. October 2016. https://www.alma.edu/live/files/1032-alcohol-poisoning
University of Texas at Austin, University Health Services. Alcohol Overdose. October 2016. https://www.healthyhorns.utexas.edu/alcoholpoisoning_whattodo.html
Mayo Clinic. (2016). Alcohol Poisoning: Self-Management. October 2016. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-poisoning/manage/ptc-20211672
Leonard, Kimberly. (2015). 6 Americans Die Daily from Alcohol Poisoning. October 2016. http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/data-mine/2015/01/06/6-americans-die-every-day-from-alcohol-poisoning
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