A person has alcohol poisoning if they have consumed a toxic amount of alcohol, usually over a short period. It occurs when their blood alcohol level is so high it is toxic (poisonous).
The person can become extremely confused, unresponsive, disoriented, have shallow breathing, and can even pass out or go into a coma.
Alcohol poisoning can be life threatening and usually requires urgent medical treatment.
Consistent heavy drinking is a common cause of alcohol poisoning. However, it can also occur if somebody intentionally or unintentionally drinks alcohol-containing household products.
This article discusses the signs, symptoms, and causes of alcohol poisoning.
Even when someone stops drinking, blood alcohol concentration (BAC) can continue to rise for 30-40 minutes, resulting in worsening symptoms.
The following signs and symptoms may indicate a progression from being drunk to alcohol poisoning:
- hypothermia (the person’s body temperature drops)
- pale skin
- the individual is unresponsive but conscious (stupor)
- the individual passes out
- abnormal breathing
- very slow breathing rate
In serious cases:
- breathing might stop completely
- a heart attack may occur
- there is a risk of choking on their own vomit
- if the individual loses too much fluid (severe dehydration), there is a risk of brain damage
- if blood glucose levels drop (hypoglycemia), they might develop seizures
If the alcohol poisoning is extreme, the patient can go into a coma and potentially die.
This article focuses on the medical aspects of alcohol poisoning, rather than other environmental dangers of alcohol abuse such as getting into fights, losing possessions, or having problems with the law.
Alcohol poisoning is a significant medical condition. It requires immediate treatment.
If a person suspects someone has alcohol poisoning they should call an ambulance. They should
- try to keep the individual awake
- try to keep them in a sitting position, not lying down – if they do lie down, turn their head to the side
- if they can take it, give them water
- if the person is unconscious, put them in the recovery position and check they are breathing
- do not give them coffee; caffeine may worsen the dehydration
- do not lie them on their back
- do not give them any more alcohol to drink
- do not make them walk
In the hospital, depending on the patient’s BAC level and severity of signs and symptoms, staff may just monitor them until their alcohol levels gradually drop. However, depending on the severity of symptoms, other treatments may include:
- a tube inserted into their windpipe to help with breathing
- an intravenous drip to manage hydration, blood glucose, and vitamin levels
- a urinary catheter if they become incontinent
- in some cases, the patient’s stomach may be pumped – fluids are flushed through a tube that goes down their mouth
If the person – who may sometimes be a child – has unintentionally drunk methanol or isopropyl alcohol and has alcohol poisoning they may need dialysis to speed up the removal of toxins from their system.
When somebody consumes an alcoholic drink, their liver has to filter out the alcohol, a toxin, from their blood.
We absorb alcohol much more quickly than food – alcohol gets to our bloodstream much faster.
People are at a high risk of alcohol poisoning if they consume 12 or more units of alcohol, especially in a short space of time. This is equivalent to just under 6 medium glasses of wine, or around 7 bottles of 5% beer.
The faster someone drinks, the higher the BAC becomes. Rapid drinking can bring BAC so high that mental and physical functions are negatively affected. If BAC is high enough,
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are 2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths in the United States each year.
Men ages 35-64 are the most common demographic in alcohol poisoning-related fatalities.
During recovery from alcohol poisoning, the individual may experience:
It is important to keep hydrated and avoid drinking any alcohol.
Alcohol poisoning occurs when a person’s blood alcohol level is so high it becomes toxic. This typically occurs when people consume excessive amounts of alcohol in a short space of time.
Alcohol poisoning can cause the body to shut down vital functions. It is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. Common symptoms include loss of motor function, loss of consciousness, and abnormal breathing.