What Is Alcohol Poisoning And What Causes It?

Alcohol poisoning occurs when the body is unable to effectively process the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream, causing various organs and body systems to start shutting down. This condition is also referred to as alcohol overdose.

The rate at which your body processes alcohol is known as alcohol metabolism. This rate varies from person to person and is based on factors such as:

  • Genetics
  • Overall health
  • Amount of alcohol consumed

Enzymes within the body and the liver metabolize alcohol. Therefore, if a person consumes an excessive amount of alcohol within a short period, the liver is unable to keep up with the strain of metabolizing it. This overwhelms the body, and the resulting symptoms can be life-threatening.

Symptoms Of Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is a severe condition, and failure to seek immediate treatment can result in coma or death. However, recognizing the signs of alcohol poisoning can help you take immediate action.

Some signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Slow breathing
  • Decreased or slow heart rate
  • Clammy skin
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Inability to wake up
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Mental stupor or confusion
  • Choking or loss of gag reflex
  • Extremely low body temperature that results in pale or blue skin

If you think someone is showing signs of alcohol poisoning, stop reading and call 911 immediately.

Who Is At Risk?

Certain behavioral and lifestyle factors can increase your risk of alcohol poisoning, including:

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is a pattern of excessive and rapid alcohol consumption where the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is .08% or higher. In men, this is the equivalent of five or more drinks on one occasion. For women, it is the equivalent of four or more drinks on one occasion. Binge drinking overwhelms the body’s ability to metabolize alcohol effectively.

High-Intensity Drinking

Like binge drinking, high-intensity drinking limits the body’s effectiveness at metabolizing alcohol. High-intensity drinking is considered another risk factor for alcohol poisoning and is characterized as consuming two or more times the binge-drinking amount for both women and men. In other words, the more alcohol you consume, the more at risk you are for alcohol poisoning.

Mixing Alcohol With Other Substances

Mixing alcohol with other substances, such as Opioids and Benzodiazepines, can also increase your risk for alcohol poisoning. These substances may exacerbate the effects of one another and can significantly disrupt the body’s ability to regulate temperature, heart rate, and breathing. If you are taking other medications or substances, it’s important to speak to your doctor about the risk of drinking alcohol while taking your medication.

What Is A Standard Drink?

A standard drink is defined as:

  • A 12-ounce beer that has roughly 5% alcohol concentration.
  • A 5-ounce glass of wine that has approximately 12% alcohol content.
  • An 8- to 10-ounce glass of malt liquor with approximately 7% alcohol.
  • 5 fluid ounces of distilled liquor, which is roughly 40% alcohol.

Despite what many people may believe, alcohol poisoning can occur regardless of the type of alcohol consumed. Excessive consumption of beer, wine, or liquor can all lead to alcohol poisoning because they all increase your BAC, particularly if you consume the beverages quickly.

Alcohol Poisoning Complications

Alcohol poisoning and overdose is a medical emergency that can cause permanent brain damage or death. Drinking too much alcohol causes your body to shut down, slowing your heart and breathing rates to dangerous levels.

Other potential complications of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Death by choking caused by alcohol-induced vomit.
  • Seizures caused by low blood sugar.
  • Severe dehydration from vomiting.

Emergency Action For Alcohol Poisoning

If you suspect someone is experiencing an alcohol overdose, you should call 911 immediately. Do not assume that the person has passed out and will wake up on their own eventually or that the person will sleep it off.

When you call 911, provide as much detailed information as you can. Be prepared to:

  • Tell the dispatcher and emergency responders about the person’s pattern of alcohol consumption, including type and amount.
  • Stay with the person, and do not try to induce vomiting as their gag reflex may be impaired. Trying to induce vomiting can lead to choking.
  • If the person is vomiting, make sure their head is turned to the side if they are lying down to prevent choking. Try to keep them sitting upright.
  • Try to keep the person conscious and awake.

Treating Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning must be treated by healthcare professionals in a hospital setting. At the hospital, clinicians will administer IV fluids and oxygen. They may utilize stomach pumping to clear the stomach of toxins. In severe cases where kidneys fail, dialysis may be started to support blood filtration.

Preventing Alcohol Poisoning

Prevention is another protective factor against alcohol poisoning. Fortunately, you can take action to reduce your risk of alcohol poisoning. This includes:

  • Not mixing alcohol with other substances.
  • Drinking slowly.
  • Alternating between an alcoholic drink and water.
  • Limiting your alcohol consumption to one standard drink per hour.
  • Listening to your body (your body processes alcohol more slowly when you feel fatigued or ill).
  • Avoiding drinks with high alcohol content.
  • Not participating in drinking games, as they tend to promote fast and excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Eating food before and during alcohol consumption.
  • Setting a limit on your alcohol consumption before you start drinking.

Having an awareness of your drinking patterns can help you reduce your risk of alcohol poisoning.

Get Help For Alcohol Addiction Today

Alcohol poisoning is a dangerous, life-threatening condition solely caused by alcohol misuse.

If alcohol misuse is a recurring problem for you, it may be time to contact a treatment provider. They can answer any rehab-related questions and discuss available treatment options to get you started on your journey towards a healthier, addiction-free future.