Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Poisoning [Guide]

Do you struggle with excessive drinking? Or perhaps you have a loved one who drinks excessively? No matter which one of these applies to you, it is important to understand the risks of heavy drinking, and one of the biggest is alcohol poisoning. 

This article will explain what alcohol poisoning is and what causes it, how the body processes alcohol, and what variables affect its ability to do so, symptoms and side effects associated with alcohol poisoning, and the warning signs and treatment options. Hopefully, if you or a loved one are struggling with excessive drinking, you will look into treatment immediately. You can call (405) 583-4390 to speak with an alcohol treatment expert today!


Read on to find out more about alcohol poisoning and the risks of excessive drinking. Be sure to also reach out to our treatment experts with any questions.

Alcohol Poisoning and The Causes

Alcohol overdose, or alcohol poisoning, is when the concentration of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream is so high that it becomes toxic to the body. A high enough blood alcohol level can cause the areas of the brain that control vital functions to shut down. These functions include regulating breathing, heart rate, and body temperature control. 

Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is the standard measurement when analyzing alcohol overdose. While a person will be somewhat impaired when their BAC reaches a level of .08 or higher, they are increasingly at risk of alcohol overdose as it approaches 0.2. When someone’s BAC reaches these high levels, amnesia (blackouts), loss of consciousness (passing out), and even death can occur. It is important to know that even if a person has stopped drinking or has passed out, their BAC can still climb for 30-40 minutes.

It’s Not How Often. It’s How Much

Binge drinking is the cause of alcohol overdose. The risk of alcohol overdose doesn’t just affect those who are addicted to alcohol; rather, it results from excessive consumption on a single occasion, which can happen to nearly anyone.

Alcohol overdose usually happens where people get together and celebrate—sometimes letting loose leads to having more and more drinks. As the number of drinks keeps increasing, so does the impairment of judgment and motor skills. The faster someone drinks, the higher their BAC becomes. Drinking quickly can cause BAC to increase to a toxic level in a short amount of time. Soon it could lead to a person who just wanted to have a good time needing serious medical attention. 

One of the major demographics for alcohol overdose is young people ranging from high school to university age. Many students in this period of time like to engage in partying and drinking. Drinking games also factor in since they can easily push a person to drink more than they were planning to. And of course, most students are young and don’t have experience with alcohol. So they may not know how to drink responsibly and may not understand how serious excessive drinking can be.

How The Body Processes Alcohol

The body processes alcohol in a number of ways. Around twenty percent of a person’s alcohol consumption is absorbed through the stomach, then enters the bloodstream. Eighty percent of a person’s alcohol content is absorbed through their small intestine. From there, once alcohol is in a person’s bloodstream it is broken down by the liver.  The liver can only metabolize so much alcohol at a time, so the remainder will leave the body through a person’s sweat, urine, and saliva.

How Long Does It Take?

One of the main concerns people have is the amount of time alcohol will remain in their system. Many variables determine this, but studies have shown that the liver can process one ounce of alcohol on average every hour. This means that the best way to drink responsibly is only to consume one standard drink of alcohol per hour. One of the reasons alcohol overdose occurs is that people will have more than one drink per hour. This will then begin to overload the liver and cause alcohol to circulate in a person’s bloodstream for a longer period.

The other factors that contribute to how the body processes alcohol include the following:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Food
  • Body size
  • Medications

An older person can have alcohol remain in their system for a longer period due to their slower blood flow. For women, alcohol tends to stay in the body longer as compared to men; one of the reasons for this is that women, on average, have more body fat and less body water than men.

Other Factors

The amount of food consumed will determine how alcohol is processed. For example, if a person drinks on a full stomach, then alcohol will be absorbed much more slowly. Those with a larger body frame will be able to handle more alcohol than someone with a smaller body frame. Also, certain medications can affect the processing of alcohol, and in most cases, they can cause a person to have an increased risk of alcohol overdose.  Some of these medications are anti-anxiety medication, antibiotics, allergy medication, and diabetes medication. 

With this being said, following the general rule of one drink per hour is still the safest course for everyone who consumes alcohol. It all but eliminates the risk of drinking too much and having an overdose.  

Symptoms and Consequences of Alcohol Poisoning

It is highly important that everyone knows the symptoms of alcohol poisoning.  The critical signs of alcohol overdose include:

  • Confusion
  • Difficulty remaining conscious
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing (fewer than 8 breaths per minute)
  • Slow heart rate
  • Clammy skin
  • Dulled responses (such as no gag reflex)
  • Extremely low body temperature

The symptoms of alcohol poisoning leave the person in a vulnerable state in which anything can happen to them without them realizing it. One example of this is the gag reflex not operating properly, which can cause them to choke on their own vomit and die from lack of oxygen (asphyxiation). Unfortunately, these symptoms often require medical professionals’ help, but if you see them in a loved one or friend, you will need to look after them as best you can until help arrives.

Understanding these symptoms will ultimately save lives, as the side effects of alcohol poisoning are potentially deadly. Death from alcohol poisoning is more common than the average person may think it is. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are “2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths in the United States each year – an average of six alcohol poisoning deaths every day.”

And it’s not just reckless students: those that make up these deaths range from 35 to 64 years of age. Remember, you don’t have to be addicted to die from alcohol poisoning; alcoholics account for only about 30% of deaths. This is what makes alcohol a particularly tricky substance because everyone who drinks a large amount, no matter how occasionally, is at risk for overdose. Drinking responsibly and with responsible people is a surefire way to reduce the risks of alcohol-related deaths.

Signs To Look Out For and Treatment

As mentioned, signs of alcohol poisoning warrant medical treatment, but you may still end up in a situation where understanding these signs will help you save a life. Ambulances take time to arrive, and someone will have to act quickly. You may even be able to help your friend or loved one recover without them having to go to the hospital, although this is by no means something to assume.

Some of the signs you may start to see in a person who is at risk for alcohol poisoning: first and foremost, if you see them consuming a high quantity of alcohol in a short amount of time. Suppose a person has consumed a large quantity of alcohol. In that case, you may start to see them unable to care for themselves, such as being unable to walk, becoming more clumsy or reckless, and lacking self-awareness or awareness of their surroundings. They may speak incoherently, and they may lay down somewhere, beginning to pass out. 

What to Do

These signs may sound like a person who is just drunk, but they can cross over into dangerous territory very quickly.  If you notice this happening to someone, it is best to cut them off from alcohol for the remainder of the occasion and regularly check them.

If no one noticed the signs of alcohol poisoning and someone is affected by it, you need to take steps that could be vital to their safety. First and foremost, call an ambulance immediately. But until medical professionals arrive, you must stay with the person, sit them in an upright position, keep them awake, and try to give them some water to drink if they can handle it.

What Not to Do

Once again, these tips are for a while you are waiting for help to arrive. Do not try and take the situation into your own hands; some people think that they can play doctor when, in fact, they end up making things worse. Some of the don’ts of this situation are: do not leave the person alone, do not give them coffee to drink, do not lie them down, and do not try to get them to walk it off. It can be scary to see someone affected by alcohol poisoning, but it is best to remain calm and focus on helping the person.

Make sure when the ambulance does arrive to inform them of any medical conditions that the person has, the amount of alcohol the person drank, any other substances that they took as well as any medications that they might be on. Following all of these guidelines will give your friend or loved one their best chance of recovering from alcohol poisoning.

Reach Out for Help

Alcohol overdose is an ever-increasing problem in our society. Unfortunately, people don’t understand the dangers of alcohol, or simply ignore them just to have a “good time.” Just because you are celebrating does not mean you can’t practice drinking safely.  Taking into account all of this information should help prepare you the next time you go to an event where alcohol is being served.  Even just one person who understands alcohol poisoning and knows what to do in a situation where someone is affected by it can make all the difference. 

If you realize that you may have a problem with drinking to excess, hopefully, you are inspired to be more careful and consider treatment. If you know someone else who does, please make sure this information reaches them. There is always help for those who have alcohol abuse problems; there is almost certainly a rehab center in your area offering it right now. 

If you or a loved one have alcohol abuse problems, please speak with one of our addiction specialists today at (405) 583-4390. We can help you find the best treatment and make your risk of alcohol poisoning a thing of the past.

Written by Irfan Jeddy


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