Alcohol poisoning is a serious consequence of binge drinking that can result in unconsciousness, liver damage, brain damage, and even death. Drinking more alcohol than your body can absorb in a short period of time is ill-advised. As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol can affect your heart rate, breathing, body temperature, and gag reflex. Any person with alcohol poisoning requires medical attention right away.
Signs of Alcohol Poisoning
Learning to recognize the signs of alcohol poisoning can be the difference between life and death. If you suspect that a person has had too much to drink, keep them away from any more alcohol and monitor their condition. Here are the most noticeable signs of alcohol poisoning to watch out for:
- Low Body Temperature (Hypothermia)
- Slow Breathing (Less than eight breaths a minute)
- Pale or Blue Tinged Skin
- Passing Out (Unconsciousness)
- Awake but Unresponsive
Recognizing the Signs
The level of inebriation can differ from person to person based on their body chemistry and physical makeup. The exact BAC per person can produce varying levels of these signs, more so in people with a lower weight, non-history of drinking, and age.
Normal behavior with full control over motor functions.
Normal sized pupils
Normal social behavior i.e. speech volume, personal space
Doesn’t smell of alcohol
0.02 - 0.06% BAC
More social than usual
Slight smell of alcohol
Minor impairments to motor control and speech volume
0.06 - 0.15% BAC
Glassy eyes or dilated pupils
Smell of alcohol
Lowered judgement and self control
Significant impairment of motor control
Poor balance, vision, and memory
Binge Drinking Behavior (Danger Zone)
0.15 - 0.25% BAC
Dysphoria (Feeling nauseous, loss of control)
Strong smell of alcohol
Significant impairment of motor control (barely functioning)
Significant speech impairment, unintelligible or unresponsive
Alcohol Poisoning Range (Danger Zone)
0.25 - 0.40%+ BAC
Possible death from respiratory arrest or choking on vomit
Overdosing on Alcohol
When alcohol is consumed in low quantities or roughly one drink per hour, the effects can be minimal, and the danger of overdose is low. However, alcohol reduces inhibition and can cause some people to consume more than a safe amount. Over consumption of alcohol is dangerous because it can lead to unconsciousness, or blacking out. When a person blacks out, their frontal lobe goes dark, and they will experience temporary amnesia while they continue to act. This is due to alcohol's effects on neurotransmitters having to do with memory formation and decision making.
When a person consumes too much alcohol, they may overdose. This can be deadly, as drunk people may pass out, vomit, and choke due to blocked airways. Alcohol is toxic, so if too much is absorbed into the bloodstream, a person may experience long-term brain and liver damage. It is dangerous to assume that someone who has passed out from alcohol will be fine as long as they sleep it off. Ethanol will continue to absorb into the body and shut down neurotransmitters, suppressing vital life functions such as breathing and the gag reflex. Moreover, too much alcohol may also inhibit a person’s decision-making skills and lead to them engaging in unsafe behavior.
Alcohol poisoning is a serious — and sometimes deadly — consequence of drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. Drinking too much too quickly can affect your breathing, heart rate, body temperature and gag reflex and potentially lead to a coma and death.
Alcohol poisoning can also occur when adults or children accidentally or intentionally drink household products that contain alcohol.
When to Seek Help
You don’t necessarily need to have all signs of alcohol poisoning to require medical attention. If a person has consumed too much alcohol, the body will retain it and continue to absorb it well past their last drink. Therefore, even a small indication that someone might be experiencing alcohol poisoning is enough to warrant an emergency medical call. Here’s what you should do:
- Call 911
- Try to compile information such as the person’s age, weight/height, how much they have had to drink, what kind of alcohol they consumed etc…
- Monitor the person and make sure their airways remain unobstructed. It is recommended you place them in the rescue position and continue to monitor them.
- If they need to throw up, ensure that they do so downwards so the vomit does not get stuck in their throat.
Effects of Alcohol Poisoning
There are severe complications that can arise from alcohol poisoning. The liver and brain could experience irreparable damage and the person could even die. Here are the most common effects of alcohol poisoning.
- Choking: As alcohol suppresses the gag reflex, a person could potentially vomit and choke to death on their own vomit
- Asphyxiation: Alcohol suppresses the breathing function of lungs. So even if the person doesn’t vomit, their lungs may still shut down.
- Dehydration: Alcohol dehydrates the body. When someone vomits, they lose a significant amount of fluids. If the person undergoes severe dehydration, blood pressure drops and vital organs may shut down.
- Seizures: Blood sugar levels may drop and the person could experience dangerous and life threatening convulsions
- Hypothermia: Alcohol poisoning causes hypothermia which could result in cardiac arrest.
- Liver Damage: The liver may experience a buildup of toxic chemicals and develop alcoholic hepatitis or alcoholic cirrhosis. The latter type of damage is irreversible and could require a transplant.
- Brain Damage: Drinking alcohol causes shrinkage in the brain. Studies on animals have shown that consuming alcohol for more than two days can cause some brain cells to die off. Long term abuse of alcohol can create significant impairments to brain functions related to problem solving, memory formation, and abstract thinking.
How to Avoid Alcohol Poisoning
The only way to truly avoid alcohol poisoning is to avoid alcohol entirely. However, recreational drinkers can take several precautionary measures to stay safe. For example:
- Drink in moderation: If you do choose to drink alcohol, never binge drink. The more alcohol you consume, the less control your frontal lobe has over choosing to drink more. The safest limit is to consume no more than two drinks per hour.
- Don’t drink on an empty stomach: Having food in your stomach can slow down the absorption of alcohol into your body. It won’t prevent alcohol poisoning, but having an empty stomach can speed up the process of developing alcohol poisoning.
- Avoid the hard stuff: Research has shown that the higher alcohol percentage a drink has, the quicker it absorbs into the body. Hard liquor such as vodka, whiskey, and tequila can quickly slip into the bloodstream increase your BAC.
For those suffering an addiction to alcohol, there is hope in the form of drug rehab centers. At Landmark Recovery, we believe in creating a supportive network of love and access to resources that can help you break free from the chains of addiction. Visit our website to learn more about our drug and alcohol recovery program.