Alcohol Poisoning

Learn to Avoid Death by Alcohol

Table of Contents

What is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning occurs when the level of alcohol in the blood is so high that it begins to shut down the basic functions of the body, such as heart rate, body temperature, and breathing. Alcohol acts as a sedative on the brain, so the higher the amount of alcohol in the blood, the more the body’s functions are slowed down. When alcohol poisoning occurs, these functions are slowed to dangerously low levels, leading to possible brain damage or death.1

The amount of alcohol required to put a person at risk for alcohol poisoning varies depending on the person’s size, gender, amount of food eaten before drinking alcohol, medications, how fast alcohol is consumed, and tolerance to alcohol.

Binge Drinking and Alcohol Poisoning

Binge drinking increases the risk of developing alcohol poisoning. The definition of binge drinking is consuming enough alcohol to bring the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to .08 or higher. This amount of alcohol in a short time period will overwhelm the body’s ability to clear alcohol from the bloodstream. Although this will vary from person to person, it typically averages 4 drinks for women or 5 drinks for men within a 2-hour time period.1

On the 2019 National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 25.8 percent of adults age 18 and older reported that they engaged in binge drinking in the past month.2

The Link Between Alcohol Tolerance and Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol tolerance occurs when the brain adapts to the effects of alcohol. The result of this is frequently needing to drink more alcohol to get the same pleasurable effects that used to occur from lower amounts of alcohol.

Since tolerance often results in drinking significantly larger amounts of alcohol in search of the “buzz” that alcohol provides, it also can lead to too much alcohol and alcohol poisoning.3

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning

The signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:1

  • Confusion, stupor
  • Difficulty waking up
  • Vomiting
  • Slowed breathing rate – less than 8 breaths per minute
  • Irregular breathing
  • Clammy skin
  • Dulled responses, including no or impaired gag reflex
  • Slow heart rate
  • Low body temperature
  • Pale skin or bluish skin color
  • Seizures

Seizures Due to Alcohol Poisoning

The risk for seizures as a result of alcohol poisoning lies is because alcohol raises the threshold for seizures. If a person binge drinks to the point of alcohol poisoning, they have raised their body’s seizure threshold very high.

When alcohol leaves the body, the seizure threshold lowers. Therefore, the risk of seizures during an episode of alcohol poisoning occurs between 6 and 48 hours after drinking has stopped.4

Treatment for Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is life-threatening and should be considered a medical emergency. If alcohol poisoning is suspected, bystanders should call for emergency medical help. While waiting for help, the affected person should be kept sitting or partially upright on the floor to prevent falling.

It’s important for someone to stay with the person to help them clear any vomit that occurs. If the person is unconscious, they should be placed laying on their side, head positioned with an ear toward the ground to prevent choking.1

Treatment for Alcoholism

People who drink so much alcohol that they experience alcohol poisoning more than once may be alcohol dependent and should seek treatment.

A comprehensive inpatient or outpatient treatment program including medically supervised detoxification, behavioral treatment, support groups, and community reintegration is the best way to make sure recovery from alcoholism is successful after treatment. If you or someone you love drinks excessively, get help today.

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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