Alcohol Overdose

Alcohol is one of the most common causes of overdose. Learn how to spot the symptoms and prevent yourself from an alcohol overdose.

alcohol overdose

Table of Contents

What is an Alcohol Overdose?

Alcohol dependency and abuse affect millions of people per year.1 In America, six people per day experience an alcohol overdose. An alcohol overdose happens when a person either binge drinks or drinks frequently. The overdose causes bodily systems to shut down, allowing toxins to enter the bloodstream. Understanding the difference between moderate drinking and abuse is critical for preventing further alcohol overdoses. 

What is a Standard Drink?

A standard alcoholic beverage is usually defined as three to four drinks per drinking session for a male and two to three for a woman. The alcohol concentration of the drink can vary from 5% (beer) to 40% (liquor).2Although the effects of alcohol will vary based on diet, size, and gender, exceeding the standard above will result in adverse side effects. 

How Much Alcohol Does It Take to Overdose?

Depending on tolerance and size, it may not take much to overdose on alcohol. Typically, any blood alcohol concentration above 0.40 can be fatal, but that amount can vary.3

Binge drinking, characterized by intense alcohol consumption in a short amount of time, can cause alcohol overdose or severe complications to other bodily systems that can result in death related to but not considered alcohol overdose. 

What Causes Someone to Overdose on Alcohol?

The cause of alcohol overdose can vary. Some people are more sensitive to alcohol whereas others may have an inclination towards alcohol abuse. There are also cases of poor nutrition or underlying causes that can make someone more susceptible to the signs of alcohol overdose. Take note as well that not everyone that abuses alcohol shows signs of alcoholism.

For example, binge drinking frequently occurs among college-aged people, at celebrations, sporting events, etc. but may not be a sign of or cause further alcohol abuse. Nevertheless, even without a history of alcohol abuse, binge drinking can still result in severe side effects, including death. 

Dangers of Alcohol Abuse

When talking about signs of alcohol overdose, consideration must be given to injuries sustained due to intoxication. For example, loss of physical coordination can lead to falls, cuts, scrapes, and other bodily trauma. Consider the likelihood of drunk driving, further abuse of other drugs, and social faux pas committed during drunkenness. All of these aforementioned factors can lead to severe injury, impaired mental health, and further alcohol abuse in the worst of cases. 

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)

Alcohol takes time to filter out of the body. In the meantime, it stays in your blood. Your blood alcohol concentration level, or BAC, measures how much alcohol is in your blood – not necessarily how much you have had to drink, which means that in the right circumstances, one drink can make you drunk. Legally, 0.08 BAC is considered intoxication. 

The Facts on Alcohol Overdoses

Alcohol overdose statistics are compiled using hospital data but still may not fully reflect the high abuse and overdose rates. As many people are unable or unwilling to seek treatment, these numbers should serve as a baseline, not a precise picture.

  • Alcohol overdoses usually occur between ages thirty-five to sixty-four.4
  • Only 30% of alcohol overdoses are attributed to alcoholism, meaning a majority of deaths occur from non-alcoholic persons engaged in binge drinking.4
  • Middle-aged white males are at the most significant risk for signs of alcohol overdose.4
  • Alcohol overdose statistics show 2,200 people die from the condition each year.

What Happens to Your Body When You Have Alcohol Poisoning?

During an alcohol overdose, the central nervous system or CNS begins to slow down. This slowed nervous system causes breathing troubles that can lead to hypoxia, a condition where the body cannot absorb oxygen.5 Symptoms of alcohol overdose raises blood pressure which can result in hypertension.

In addition, the liver begins to shut down. The result of alcohol-induced liver failure is cirrhosis, which causes scarred liver tissue. Complications from cirrhosis lead to chronic fatigue and nausea.6 Symptoms of alcohol overdose can also cause a person to enter a state of delirium characterized by extreme confusion and a disconnect from reality.

Critical Signs and Symptoms

Some of the most common symptoms to occur when someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning include the following:8

  • Severe confusion
  • Inability to speak clearly
  • Shallow breathing
  • Shakiness
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pains
  • Inability to stay awake 


Complications related to an alcohol overdose may include physical trauma, ruined relationships, acute illnesses, undue stress on the body, memory loss. Moreover, alcohol abuse makes it difficult for a doctor to diagnose other illnesses someone may be suffering from. 

What Should You Do If You Think Someone May Have Alcohol Poisoning?

  • Call 911: Calling 911 is a paramount act for surviving an alcohol poisoning. Give the dispatcher your location and any pertinent information as quickly as possible.
  • Do Not Leave the Person Alone: Alcohol poisoning can cause choking and delayed breathing. Stay with the person and monitor their respiration and be sure to keep the airways clear. However, if the individual is combative, give them as much space as possible.
  • Help Sit Up the Person: If possible, and to prevent choking, sit the person up. Encourage them to take deep breaths and stay awake.

Is There Treatment For an Alcohol Overdose?

There are three main methods to treat alcohol poisoning. These treatment methods include the following. 


Alcohol detoxification allows an individual the time and medical resources needed to withdraw from alcohol. Unlike most other drugs, alcohol withdrawal can be fatal. Doing this process in a safe environment can improve the odds of success and lower the chance of relapse. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome and alcohol withdrawal stages are some of the main reasons that it is so difficult to recover from an alcohol addiction alone. 


Therapies can help uncover the root cause of alcohol abuse and instill healthy coping mechanisms to prevent further misuse. In addition, therapies allow one to make lasting social connections with people that understand the journey towards recovery. 


Rehab combines both detox and therapies but does it in an isolated environment. For some individuals, leaving their home life is the only way to achieve sobriety. Rehab is perfect for people that need healthier influences.  

How Can You Prevent Alcohol Overdose?

Alcohol overdose statistics show that this illness is preventable. For the most part, it is helpful to be aware of and limit alcohol consumption and to avoid drinking while on medication. Here are a few other tips to prevent the signs of alcohol overdose. 

Drink in Moderation

Drinking in moderation varies between three to five drinks per session and typically not more than two times per week. Keep in mind that drinking frequently, even if one does not get drunk each time, is considered to be a precursor to alcohol dependency. 

Do Not drink on an Empty Stomach

Drinking on an empty stomach amplifies the effects of alcohol. This issue happens because alcohol is absorbed quicker on an empty stomach. Food slows down absorption and helps balance the BAC.

Talk to Teens

It is best to educate teens about the dangers of alcohol. Explain the importance of moderate drinking and the dangers associated with alcohol. It is almost a guarantee that a teen will have alcohol at some point in their lives, but ensuring they understand the signs of alcohol overdose can prevent them from following the same path. 

Store Products Safely

Keep alcohol out of reach of young children and preferably out of sight should you have a house guest in the early stages of recovery. 

Receive follow Up Care

A person who experiences alcohol poisoning should seek follow-up care in medical treatment and therapy. Many times, an alcohol overdose is not a sign of an overarching alcohol dependency. However, it is best to err on the side of caution and seek immediate treatment. 

Getting Treatment for Alcoholism After an Overdose

Getting help for alcoholism is the first step in a journey of recovery. If you are or someone you know is suffering from alcoholism it’s best to get them or you help sooner rather than later.  

Seek Professional Help

Seek professional help if symptoms of alcohol poisoning, dependency, or abuse are present. There is a lot that goes into alcohol recovery and it is designed to help a person achieve and maintain sobriety. You do not need to go through this process alone. Professional medical help can tailor treatment to your needs and urges and increase the odds of a person overcoming their illness.   

Treatment for Alcoholism at The PAC Program

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatments allow a patient the time and calm, structured environment needed for recovery. The biggest benefit of inpatient treatment is that it allows a person to focus solely on recovery and building the habits they need for sustained sobriety.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment lets a patient live their day-to-day life with little change to their routine. There will be check-ins and medical monitoring before a patient returns home. The main draw to outpatient treatment is the ability to maintain a somewhat normal life during recovery.


Therapies for alcohol dependency should be attended indefinitely. They can take the form of talk therapy/group therapy or more one on one settings. It is hard to explain the ups and downs of recovery to a person that has little connection to it. Therapy is an individual’s chance to talk to relatable individuals and work through their issues together. 


If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at
623-523-4748 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.

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