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Alcohol poisoning can be dangerous or deadly. Also known as an alcohol overdose, if you experience this health condition, it’s an emergency requiring treatment at the moment. Beyond that, if you go through an alcohol overdose, it could indicate a more significant problem with alcohol addiction.

Below, we go into the key things to know about alcohol poisoning.

What is An Alcohol Overdose?

If you drink too much, too fast, it can cause significant impairment. Even without technically overdosing on alcohol, you could have symptoms like problems with motor coordination, impulse control, and decision-making. 

If you were to reach the point of significant impairment and continue drinking, there are severe risks of excessive alcohol consumption that can occur. 

If there’s too much alcohol in your bloodstream at any given time, it affects the parts of your brain controlling essential functions. These functions include temperature control, heart rate, and breathing.

Rising Blood Alcohol Concentration

Blood alcohol concentration or BAC refers to the percent of alcohol in your bloodstream. If you have a BAC of 0.10%, your blood contains one part alcohol for every 1000 parts. 

You’re considered legally intoxicated in most states if your BAC is 0,08% or higher. Factors that affect your BAC or blood alcohol level are somewhat unique to you and can include:

  • Gender

  • The number of standard drinks you consume 

  • The space of time in which you consume drinks

  • Water composition

  • Bodyweight

  • Enzyme production

  • Whether you eat before you consume alcoholic drinks 

As your BAC goes up, the negative consequences of alcohol do too, as does the risk of harm from excessive drinking. 

  • Even slight increases in your BAC can decrease your coordination, make you feel sick, or impact your judgment. 

  • When your BAC increases, even more, there are growing risk factors for accidents or engaging in dangerous situations.

  • You could blackout from more significant amounts of alcohol, which is when you have gaps in your memory. 

  • You can also lose consciousness.

Your BAC can keep going up, even after you stop drinking or lose consciousness. 

  • According to health professionals, there’s still alcohol in your stomach and intestine that goes into your bloodstream and circulates in your body. 

  • It can become risky when the people around an unconscious person decide they should just sleep off large amounts of alcohol. If an unconscious person is left to sleep it off, they might choke on their own vomit.

  • Consuming alcohol at high levels impacts brain signals responsible for controlling automatic responses like your gag reflex. If you don’t have a gag reflex, you can choke on vomit and then die from lack of oxygen.

  • Even for survivors of alcohol overdoses, there can be long-term brain damage and negative effects.

 

Signs of Alcohol Poisoning

Warning signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning can include:

  • Stupor or mental confusion

  • Problems staying conscious

  • Inability to wake up

  • Vomiting

  • Slow breathing

  • Irregular breathing

  • Seizures

  • Slowed heart rate

  • Clammy skin

  • No gag reflex

  • Low body temperature

  • Bluish skin

  • Pale skin 

 

Alcohol Poisoning and Binge Drinking

The risk of acute alcohol poisoning is higher when someone binge drinks.

Binge drinking for women is typically four or more drinks, and for men, it’s five or more in a period of time, around two hours.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, around 66 million people, or 24% of individuals 12 and older, reported alcohol consumption patterns meeting the criteria for binge drinking in the previous month. 

While someone in any age group can binge drink, it appears to be most common in certain groups, including:

  • Preteens and teens—binge drinking among 12- to 17-year-olds is declining but remains higher than other groups. In 2019, nearly 5% of young people in this demographic reported binge drinking in the previous month.

  • Young adults—college-aged young adults have exceptionally high prevalence rates of binge drinking. Nearly 28% of young people between the ages of 18 and 22 not enrolled in college full-time say they’ve engaged in binge drinking in the past month. Thirty-three percent of full-time college students in the same age group reported binge drinking.

  • Older people—binge drinking among older adults is increasing. Among adults ages 65 and older, in the same survey, 10% said they’d engaged in binge drinking in the past month. When older adults binge drink, it can be especially problematic because they may take other medications that can intensity or worsen the effects of alcohol.

  • Women—research shows that women’s binge drinking rates have increased.

There’s another term to be aware of—high-intensity drinking. 

  • High-intensity drinking is alcohol intake that is at least two times more than the gender-specified threshold of binge drinking. 

  • That would mean eight or more drinks if you’re a woman on one occasion. 

  • For men, it would be ten or more drinks.

  • High-intensity drinking tends to be most common in college and peaks around the age of 21.

  • These patterns of high-intensity drinking can lead to severe health effects. 

  • High-intensity drinking can put you at risk of long-term effects like liver disease, in addition to the shorter-term risk factors it creates. 

There are also more considerable risks of excessive drinking when other substances are being used simultaneously. This could include prescription or illegal drugs. These can heighten the body’s response to alcohol even more. 

Complications of Alcohol Poisoning

When someone overdoses on alcohol, it is a serious medical situation. Potential complications include:

  • Choking on vomit

  • Asphyxiation, meaning someone stops breathing

  • Severe dehydration leading to low blood pressure and increases in heart rate

  • Seizures due to drops in blood sugar levels

  • Hypothermia, which is a decline in body temperature that can lead to cardiac arrest

  • Irregular heartbeats

  • Irreversible, permanent brain damage

  • Death

 

An Alcohol Overdose Is an Emergency

If you’re around someone you think is experiencing poisoning from alcohol, it’s a medical emergency requiring care right away. 

  • You should contact 9-1-1 or your local emergency services number. 

  • Don’t assume the person can sleep off the alcohol. 

  • You shouldn’t leave someone alone if they’re unconscious, and don’t try to force them to vomit.

  • If someone is vomiting after heavy drinking, try to keep them upright. 

  • If the person has to lie down, turn their head to the side to help prevent choking.

Again, alcohol poisoning deaths can and do occur. 

Follow-Up Care After An Alcohol Overdose

If someone experiences alcohol poisoning, after receiving immediate medical attention, they may need treatment for alcohol withdrawal and addiction to alcohol. If someone has extreme drinking habits, this can be a red flag of something more. 

Not everyone who binge drinks or experiences an alcohol overdose is addicted or alcohol dependent, but some are. 

We tend to overlook these common signs and harmful drinking patterns, especially in younger people. Then, the problematic drinking behavior can become more severe because alcohol use disorder is a progressive condition. 

Severe alcohol misuse is something as a society we tend to view as a rite of passage, or we normalize these drinking patterns. This normalization prevents people from getting help when they need it.

Someone with a family history of alcohol dependence may be more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder. If that’s the case, red flag behaviors, including binge drinking, may be something that needs attention or behavioral therapy. 

We encourage you to reach out to The Right Time Recovery team by calling 800-630-1218 for yourself, or perhaps on behalf of your loved one if you’re worried. We can provide you with more information about alcohol withdrawal and detox and alcohol addiction treatment programs.

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