Alcohol Poisoning: Everything You Need to Know

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older man in hospital recovering from alcohol poisoning

What is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning happens when someone consumes a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time, resulting in dangerously high levels of alcohol in the body. The excessive alcohol in the system causes a fatal collapse of vital areas of the brain that control breathing, body temperature, and heart rate.

The Unexpected Victims of Binge Drinking

Contrary to popular belief, the largest group of people dying from alcohol poisoning is not young adults. It’s middle aged adults – mostly men – according to a new study by The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Roughly 76 percent of all alcohol poisoning deaths are among individuals aged 35 to 64, and three quarters of total deaths are men.

Despite the risks, more than 38 million U.S. adults report binge drinking an average of four times per month and consume an average of eight drinks per binge. Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men on an occasion. The more you drink, the greater your risk of death.

And “alcoholics” aren’t the only ones at risk of alcohol poisoning. Of all alcohol poisoning fatalities, only 30 percent had an issue with alcohol dependence (and 3 percent had issues with other drugs.) Just because an individual is not suffering from the chronic disease of addiction does not necessarily mean they are immune from the deadly consequences of alcohol poisoning.

Signs of Alcohol Poisoning

The liver can process one serving of alcohol per hour, and any more than that puts individuals at risk of suffering from alcohol poisoning. Because everyone’s tolerance varies greatly, it is impossible to determine exactly how much alcohol will cause dangerous symptoms.

Alcohol Poisoning Symptoms Include: 

  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Irregular breathing (a gap of more than 10 seconds between breaths)
  • Low body temperature
  • Passing out

What to Do If Someone Has Alcohol Poisoning?

There’s a common misconception that someone who has drank an excessive amount of alcohol can simply “sleep it off.” Or that coffee or a cold shower can remedy the symptoms. None of this is true. Alcohol poisoning is extremely dangerous, and in many cases — deadly.

If you suspect that someone has alcohol poisoning, call 911 immediately. 

While you wait for emergency personnel to arrive:

  • Try to keep the person awake and sitting up.
  • If the person is unconscious, lay them onto their side so they will not choke on their own vomit.
  • Cover them with a blanket to keep them warm.
  • Stay with them until medical help arrives.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, Mountainside can help.
Click here or call (888) 833-4676 to speak with one of our addiction treatment experts.