Many people consume alcohol every day, although a surprising number of individuals in the US consume too much. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are approximately 2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths per year, which is around six per day. Because not many people understand the limits of alcohol tolerance in the body, alcohol poisoning can occur rapidly, without much warning.
Alcohol poisoning occurs when a person consumes too much alcohol, which floods the bloodstream and begins to affect areas of the brain that control vital physical functions like breathing, heart rate, and temperature. Depressed or uneven breathing, cool body temperature, and seizures are all potential symptoms of alcohol poisoning.
While alcohol poisoning can occur if a person accidentally consumes ethanol through a household product or other form, for the most part, alcohol poisoning happens when a person drinks too many alcoholic beverages in too short a time. The liver can process one serving of alcohol per hour, with one serving being:
Statistically, 90 percent of binge drinkers who experienced alcohol poisoning were not dependent on alcohol.
Because the liver can only process one serving of alcohol per hour, if a person drinks two servings, there will be an extra unit in the person’s system, which takes extra time to process. Alcohol is typically consumed in liquid form as a drink, so it enters the bloodstream and goes to the brain via digestion in the stomach and intestines. This is one of the slower processes for consuming an intoxicating substance, which means that the number of drinks a person has consumed may not be completely in the bloodstream when the person begins to show symptoms of extreme alcohol intoxication or poisoning. The person could still be affected by continued digestion of alcohol, even if they are already suffering from alcohol poisoning.
Alcohol poisoning affects the body by:
Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:
In the event a person suffers from alcohol poisoning, immediately call 911. Stay with the individual to prevent accidental self-harm or to prevent the person from choking on their own vomit if unconscious. It is vitally important to get emergency medical help as soon as possible, even if the person is conscious and speaking, because there is likely more alcohol in the person’s stomach that will be processed, and this could increase the degree of alcohol poisoning.
After calling 911 for emergency medical help, there are other steps to take to help a person who is experiencing alcohol poisoning. These include:
Urban myths suggest that food, coffee, sudden shocks, or medication can help a person sober up faster. However, when a person is suffering from alcohol poisoning, the only way to help is to get emergency medical attention as quickly as possible.
If you suspect alcohol poisoning, call 911 and take some of the above steps. Do not perform any of the following:
Once the individual is at the hospital, they will receive medical treatment and remain monitored until doctors know the alcohol has been processed out of their system and there is no remaining damage that should be treated.
Professional medical treatment for alcohol poisoning may include:
There are steps everyone can take to prevent alcohol poisoning. These steps include:
If a person experiences alcohol poisoning, it does not necessarily mean an alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism, is present, though people struggling with alcohol use disorder do have an increased risk of experiencing alcohol poisoning. Rehabilitation programs can help those in need to fully recover from alcohol abuse. Medical detox is always needed in cases of alcohol withdrawal since withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening in some instances. Comprehensive therapy should follow medical detox, ensuring the issues behind the substance abuse are fully addressed.