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What Is Alcohol Poisoning?
Alcohol poisoning is a serious condition that can cause permanent damage or even death. Caused when someone consumes too much alcohol, alcohol poisoning is often brushed under the rug. Passing out drunk or vomiting has become something that is funny and has become a joke in many movies that glorify binge drinking. What people don’t realize, however, is that alcohol poisoning can be fatal. The guidelines on this page are not a substitute for actual medical aide. If someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, it is best to take them to a hospital immediately where a doctor can see them.
You may not be able to tell initially if your friend has alcohol poisoning if they are suffering from confusion. After all, who isn’t a bit more confused after drinking? Keep in mind, however, that someone’s blood alcohol content will continue to climb after they’ve finished drinking. Consuming alcohol doesn’t affect people immediately. It takes time for our bodies to metabolize whatever we’re drinking. So, if a friend already seems a bit confused, it is likely time to have them slow down or quit drinking altogether, as their condition will continue to escalate after their last drink.
Incoherency and Irregular Breathing
As someone drinks, their motor functions are impaired. This causes them to mumble unintelligibly and have labored, irregular breathing. In these cases, people often think they should get someone a cup of coffee, a famous method to sober people up. The idea being that coffee wakes them up and makes them more alert, making it easier on the person to function and take care of themselves. However, coffee is naturally dehydrating, just like alcohol. Throwing coffee on top of what your friend has already drank can dehydrate them further and actually make the situation worse. Severe dehydration can send someone into shock, and cause permanent brain damage.
The CDC has documented an annual average of 2,221 deaths a year attributed to alcohol poisoning. That works out to 6 deaths every day.
The majority of deaths from alcohol poisoning, 55%, come from the ages of 35 to 54. 15 to 34 year olds only make up 18%.
There is an estimated 88,000 alcohol related deaths every year in the United States. This includes everything from alcohol poisoning to drunk driving.
Low Body Temperature and Pale, Clammy, Bluish-Tinged Skin
One of the most commonly depicted scenes in movies and TV is to sober someone up with a cold shower, but someone suffering from alcohol poisoning will suffer from a lowered body temperature. Giving them a cold shower can lower their internal temperature even more and cause hypothermia. In cases like these, it is best to bundle them with blankets. Remember, this is not a substitute for a hospital. Blankets are perfect to keep them warm, until you can get your friend to an ER.
When someone becomes unresponsive, unable to answer questions, or acknowledge you are there; you may just chalk it up to them being tired. The easiest thing is to put them to bed; however, it is important that they do not go to sleep at this time. As said above, someone’s BAC continues to rise after they’ve stopped drinking, and putting them to bed at this point can lead to them vomiting in their sleep or falling comatose. The best thing you can do in this situation is to keep them awake.
Vomiting, Seizing, and Comatose
If you are around someone who begins excessively vomiting, seizing, or falls comatose then you should call an ambulance immediately. At this point, it is imperative to get them to an Emergency Room before they suffer permanent damage. If you can’t get them there yourself, and are waiting on an emergency vehicle to pick them up, the best thing you can do is bundle them up with a blanket and encourage them to take sips of water. Forcing water on them can make matters worse. It is also important to not force them to vomit. Their gag reflex may not be functioning normally and this can cause them to choke. They may also choke if they fall asleep, so turn them on their side or stomach to prevent them from choking.
- Author — Last Edited: February 5, 2019
Bernstein, Lenny. (2015). Six People Die Each Day of Alcohol Poisoning And Most Are Middle-Aged White Men, CDC Reports. Retrieved on August 28th, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2015/01/06/cdc-six-people-die-each-day-of-alcohol-poisoning-and-most-are-middle-aged-white-men/?utm_term=.a6bb92af8fb4
CDC. (2015). Vital Signs: Alcohol Poisoning Deaths — United States, 2010-2012. Retrieved on August 28th, 2018, from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6353a2.htm
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2017). Alcohol Facts and Statistics. Retrieved on August 28th, 2018, from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
The Recovery Village. (2018). How to Treat Alcohol Poisoning: The Signs, Symptoms & What to Do. Retrieved on August 28th, 2018, from https://www.palmerlakerecovery.com/blog/treat-alcohol-poisoning/