Want to learn more about alcohol poisoning, its causes, and what it looks like?
In this article, you will find all the information that you need to know about alcohol poisoning, including what you should do to help a loved one recover from this potentially-fatal issue.
What is alcohol poisoning?
People tend to experience alcohol poisoning when the level of alcohol that's in their blood makes it hard for their brain to operate.
Alcohol impacts the brain in a way that hinders your ability to stay balanced, use your motor skills, speak coherently, or even remember particular events.
Alcohol poisoning occurs when the brain starts to struggle at performing basic life-support functions, which could cause permanent damage or death.
With that in mind, understanding the dangers of an alcohol overdose will allow you to immediately identify and prevent a possible tragedy.
The amount of alcohol that leads to poisoning varies from one person to another, and it's largely influenced by the following factors:
- Age: Younger people's bodies store more water, contain less fatty tissues, and are able to get rid of alcohol faster than their older counterparts, which makes them less prone to alcohol poisoning.
- Weight: Simply put, the heavier that an individual is, the more alcohol that their bloodstream can tolerate without experiencing negative effects.
- Gender: Men have bigger bodies that contain more blood than women. Therefore, a male is less likely to suffer from alcohol poisoning than a female, even if they drink the same amount.
- Food: Eating before or while drinking (in comparison to doing so on an empty stomach) makes your body absorb alcohol at a slower rate. In turn, this reduces your blood alcohol content (BAC).
- Alcohol Tolerance: Over time, drinking increases your tolerance and the amount of alcohol that you need to start feeling its effects. As a result, people who drink regularly can handle more alcohol without getting an overdose than those who drink less frequently.
Having said all that, drinkers that engage in certain habits or activities are at a higher risk of going through alcohol poisoning. This is regardless of their age, weight, gender, and tolerance levels.
What can lead to alcohol poisoning?
Binge drinking is the most prominent cause of alcohol poisoning. To clarify, binge drinking entails having too much to drink within a short period of time.
For example, drinking five beers or shots within less than an hour is considered extreme binge drinking.
Those who take some medications are also susceptible to alcohol poisoning, especially opioids, sedatives, and hypnotics.
If you and/or a loved one frequently binge drink or take medications while drinking, you want to keep a close eye on the potential signs of alcohol poisoning.
Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning
Upon experiencing alcohol poisoning, patients will show one or more of these symptoms:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slow heart rate
- Slow breathing (in which they take less than eight breaths per minute)
- Irregular breathing (where each breath is separated by 10 seconds or longer)
- Very low body temperature
- A lack of gag reflex (which crucially prevents choking)
- Clammy, sweaty, and wet skin
If you or a loved one are going through some of these symptoms, you need to call 911 right away. Keep in mind that a person may suffer from an alcohol overdose even when they don't show all of the signs.
These symptoms manifest themselves as a person consumes more alcohol, and they don't appear when they initially start drinking.
Stages of Alcohol Intoxication
In the following order, here are the different stages of alcohol intoxication and what each of them entails:
Sobriety (or Subclinical Intoxication)
This occurs when you're entirely sober or have had less than one drink. In this stage, you typically experience little to no effects from the alcohol.
Your BAC during this phase may be between 0% and 0.05%.
After having their second drink, a person will go through a euphoric phase that's characterized by an increase in confidence, talkativeness, and an overall sense of happiness and joy.
By the time they finish their fourth or fifth glass, a drinker begins to lose their balance, coordination, and sense of judgment. They might also become forgetful and slurry-speaking.
Other common signs that someone is in the excitement stage include a mildly impaired memory, aggression, and taking certain risks (particularly those that could lead to injury).
When you're in the euphoria and excitement phases, your BAC may range between 0.06% and 0.15%.
At this point, the drinker's BAC can reach up to 0.30%.
Here are a few of the signs that a friend or family member is going through the confusion stage:
- Confusion (as the name implies)
- Lack of awareness of one's surroundings
- Being incapable of speaking coherently
- Inability to pay attention
- Slow reaction times
Most people blackout (which means that they stop remembering events) at some point during the excitement or confusion phases.
In short, the stupor stage is characterized by vomiting, the inability to stand or walk, and passing out. The latter two are particularly likely when the BAC surpasses 0.31%.
If you suspect that a friend or family member is at this point, you want to closely monitor their condition and ensure that they receive medical attention when needed.
This phase is very dangerous. Those who are in an alcohol-induced coma may have difficulty breathing and their body might struggle at delivering blood to its different parts.
Tragically, a person is likely to pass away when their blood alcohol level (BAC) goes above 0.45%.
The most common complications from alcohol poisoning that lead to death are related to respiratory and breathing problems.
This underlines how important it is to step in at an early stage when a loved one manifests the initial signs of alcohol poisoning.
What to do for alcohol poisoning?
Whether or not symptoms are present, you still want to take action when you're worried that someone is going through alcohol poisoning.
After all, being cautious and acting ahead of time is a much safer approach than waiting for the serious signs to appear.
Here is what you need to do when you suspect that a friend or family member has alcohol poisoning:
- Call 911 and don't try to diagnose or treat them at home. As mentioned earlier, an individual could be at risk of dying without having to display all of the symptoms.
- Provide detailed information about the patient, such as how much they drank, the medications that they are taking, food or drug allergies, and any health conditions that they may have.
- Don't be embarrassed to give accurate details, even if you have to reveal that a loved one had too many drinks, is under the legal drinking age, or consumed drugs alongside alcohol.
- Assist and care for them when they vomit by having them sit in a forward-leaning position that prevents them from choking.
- Stay with the intoxicated person since they might fall or injure themselves. To avoid choking, have your friend/family member sit on the ground in an upwards-leaning position.
- Never leave an unconscious person alone. Instead, you want to roll them to the side of their body with their ear pointing towards the ground so that they don't choke.
- In the same vein, keep your friend or family member awake and don't let them pass out.
Oftentimes, people mistakenly believe that taking a shower, having some coffee, and/or going on a walk can improve the symptoms.
Not only is this wrong, but it could also stop you from getting your loved one the urgently-required and life-saving medical support that they need.
In other words, call 911. Once the doctor or health care team arrives, they will focus on helping the patient recover.
Recovery From Alcohol Poisoning
The doctor and/or medical professionals may administer one or more of the following procedures to allow your friend/family member to recover from alcohol poisoning:
- Pumping the Stomach: Referred to as a gastric suction, stomach pumping entails inserting a long, thin tube into the nose or mouth and all the way to the stomach in order to empty it out until the patient recovers.
- Extra Oxygen: Because alcohol poisoning disables respiratory functions, health care professionals supply patients with oxygen through a ventilator or oxygen mask.
- Flushing the Toxins: In short, the doctor gives your loved one medications that cleanse their system and flush out the alcohol-related toxins. This is regularly done via an IV injection.
- IV Therapy: This method can work wonders. Alongside its instant effects, IV therapy is used to supply a patient with the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that their body is deprived of as a result of alcohol poisoning.
As a matter of fact, IV therapy is even efficient for recovering from hangovers and the side effects of mild drinking.
It is suitable for women and men in most age groups. Additionally, IV therapy may be administered before, after, and while you drink, regardless of which stage of drinking you're in.
Now that you're aware of what alcohol poisoning is and how to identify it, you can be a safe and responsible drinker. Above all, you will know how to immediately act when the need arises.