Overdosing on alcohol is a common problem that occurs when people attend parties, cheer for their favorite teams, or enjoy a break from work. Binge drinking, drinking a great deal of alcohol in a short time span, is a major cause of alcohol poisoning.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the United States, excess alcohol use caused about 88,000 deaths every year from 2006 to 2010. Excess alcohol use also contributed to the loss of 2.5 million years of potential life. People who died shortened their lives an average of thirty years.
What Is Alcohol Poisoning?
Also known as an alcohol overdose or alcohol intoxication, alcohol poisoning occurs when an individual consumes too much alcohol in a short amount of time. The excess amount of alcohol causes the blood alcohol level to skyrocket. It shuts down areas of the brain responsible for controlling basic life support functions.
Sadly, alcohol poisoning is often seen on college campuses and other areas or occasions where heavy or binge drinking takes place. Identifying the signs and symptoms associated with acute intoxication and knowing what actions to take after such intoxication may help prevent tragedy.
Known as a depressant, alcohol may impairs individuals’ bodily functions, such as blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate. When alcohol depresses these vital functions, individuals may become unconscious. Depending on the amount of alcohol consumed, it may cause a fatal overdose. People with alcohol poisoning may choke on their vomit and die. Even people who survive alcohol intoxication may suffer irreversible brain damage.
How Does Alcohol Poisoning Occur?
When an individual consumes alcohol, the alcohol is broken down or metabolized primarily in the liver. If people consume too much alcohol, their livers may not be able to process it effectively. A healthy person’s body processes about one ounce of alcohol in an hour, which roughly translates to one beer, one shot of liquor, or one glass of wine. When you drink more alcohol than the body can process, the alcohol remains in the bloodstream, causing the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to spike.
High BACs may negatively impact the body. When people begin drinking, they may feel mild warmth along with euphoria. These are signs of impairment. Every additional drink an individual takes increases the level of impairment.
Slowly, as people continue to drink, the functions of their bodies shut down. Speech, decision-making, reaction times, vision, memory, hearing, and balance may suffer. They may find it difficult to walk. People struggling with the effects of alcohol are said to be sloppy drunk.
When people’s bodies can no longer handle alcohol, their bodies attempt to eliminate the toxic substance by vomiting. The individuals may also suffer from blackouts where there no longer aware of themselves or what they are doing. They no longer are in control and may pass out. They may not remember anything they did the next day.
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Signs of Alcohol Poisoning
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that moderate alcohol consumption involves consuming up to one alcoholic drink per day for women, two for men. Even that amount may be harmful if people consume the drinks too quickly, if they have underlying health conditions, or if they are taking certain medications.Women should not consume alcohol if they are pregnant or trying to become pregnant. Binge drinking, which often involves consuming four or more drinks in two hours for women and five or more drinks for men, is dangerous and should be avoided.
Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning
- Mental confusion, coma, stupor, or inability to wake up
- Irregular breathing, typically ten or more seconds between breaths
- Slow breathing, usually lower than eight breaths in a minute
- Hypothermia characterized by a low body temperature
- Clammy, cold, pale, or bluish skin
- Dulled responses, such as a lack of a gag reflex that prevents choking
How to Prevent Alcohol Poisoning
It is dangerous to believe that unconscious people will recover by sleeping off the effects of their drunkenness. Even after people stop drinking, the alcohol in their stomachs or intestines continues to enter the bloodstream. The blood alcohol concentration may continue to rise even after an individual passes out.
Another danger is that alcohol hinders signals that help control automatic responses such as the gag reflex. When individuals drink until they pass out, they could be in danger of choking on their vomit, something that may contribute to death by asphyxiation. Although individuals may survive these choking incidents, they may have permanent brain damage.
While alcohol poisoning is serious and may produce deadly consequences, it is something that is 100 percent preventable. People may these steps to avoid alcohol poisoning:
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Underage drinking is a big problem and is often associated with alcohol poisoning. Although many teens do not drink as often as adults, when they do, they often drink more than older people. When teenagers binge drink, they consume an average of five drinks on each occasion. Teenage alcohol consumption is especially dangerous because of their inexperience with alcohol, generally lower body weights, and lower tolerance for alcohol.
Treatment for Alcohol Poisoning
If someone is showing signs of an alcohol overdose, immediately call 911 for emergency help. If left untreated, alcohol poisoning may quickly lead to death.
Here is what you should do — and what you should not do — until the ambulance arrives:
- Turn them on their side if the individual is lying down. This reduces the risk they will choke on their vomit
- Do not leave them alone or unattended
- Seek assistance from other people, if available
- Monitor the person’s breathing
- If they are conscious and can swallow, give them water
- Do not allow them to drink more alcohol
- Do not make them walk
When a person experiencing alcohol overdose goes to the hospital, the staff will look at the BAC and monitor it as it begins to drop. Depending on the severity of the person’s symptoms, other alcohol overdose treatment options may be offered. The options may include
- Placing a tube down the windpipe to assist breathing
- Administering an intravenous drip to manage hydration, vitamin levels, and blood glucose
- Inserting a urinary catheter to empty the bladder if the person has trouble controlling their bladder
- Putting a tube through the person’s nose or mouth to flush out toxins
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Recovery from Alcohol Poisoning
While proper support and care may reduce an individual’s alcohol intoxication within a few hours, a severe case of alcohol poisoning may produce lasting internal damage. The risk of coma or even death is real.
During recovery from alcohol poisoning, people may experience anxiety, nausea, stomach cramps, headaches, and tremors. It is also common to experience leg pain after drinking. People should avoid drinking alcohol during recovery and stay hydrated with other beverages.
Drinking water replenishes electrolytes in the body, which may prevent problems such as digestive distress, muscle spasms, dizziness, irritability, and confusion. Consuming fluids that contain minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and sodium may also help restore balance after drinking. Eating a healthy diet also helps the body recover from alcohol poisoning.
Don’t Let Alcohol Poisoning Happen
Do not let yourself or someone else continue to suffer. Seek help to stop dangerous drinking behavior. More than 2,000 people in America die from alcohol poisoning every year. They did not receive help in time.
If you consider seeking treatment today, it may create a foundation for your recovery and sober life. You or a loved one may enroll in a rehab program to start the journey to recovery.
Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.
Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.
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