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What are the symptoms of alcohol poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning is never something to joke about; it is a brutal and deadly consequence of drinking excessive alcohol within a short period. According to the CDC, there are 2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths each year in the US. Consuming large quantities of alcohol too quickly can affect your nervous system and brain, which can cause symptoms such as:

  • Irregular or slow breathing
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Fluctuating body temperature
  • Gag reflexes
  • Potential of a coma
  • Death

Alcohol poisoning ultimately means that your BAC (blood alcohol concentration) levels are too high, resulting in parts of your brain temporarily shutting down. Others may refer to alcohol poisoning as alcohol overdose.

An individual experiencing alcohol poisoning will need immediate medical attention due to the severity of the overdose leading to possible permanent brain damage or death. If you ever suspect that someone has alcohol poisoning, always call for medical intervention right away.

Critical signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning

It is unwise to assume that an individual who has become unconscious due to the amount of alcohol they have drunk will simply ‘sleep it off.’ Alcoholic substances, when in the intestines and stomach, will continue to be absorbed into the bloodstream and circulate the individual’s body.

A potential danger of leaving an unconscious individual to ‘sleep it off’ is that there is a significant increase they will choke on their vomit. When the BAC levels are significantly increased, vital signals in the brain that control the automatic responses, such as the gag reflex, can be hindered. If an individual’s gag reflex has been delayed or has no gag reflex, a person who has drunk to the point of becoming unconscious is in severe danger of choking on their vomit or dying through lack of oxygen. If an individual survives alcohol poisoning like this, there is still a potential for permanent brain damage.

Further critical signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning can include but are not limited to:

  • Clammy skin
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slurred speech
  • Irregular or slow breathing
  • Mental confusing
  • Nystagmus – an individual’s eyes making uncontrollable and repetitive movements
  • Difficulty remaining conscious
  • Dull responses
  • Inability to wake up
  • No gag reflex
  • Significantly low body temperature
  • Pale skin

How to help until a medical team arrives

Once you have contacted the emergency services, several actions can be completed to assist an individual suffering from an alcohol overdose while waiting for help to arrive. This can include:

  • Keep the individual sitting upright at all times. It is best to sit them on the ground to avoid them falling.
  • Avoid them from lying down at all times.
  • If the individual is unconscious and you cannot get them to sit upright, lay them on their side.
  • Stay with the individual until help arrives.
  • If the individual is fading in and out of consciousness, try and capture their attention. Keep their eyes open.
  • Be prepared to provide the first response with as much information in detail as you can about the individual.

How much alcohol is too much?

Alcohol is absorbed at a rapid rate, long before food or other nutrients. Ironically, it takes the body a lot longer to rid the toxins you have consumed. The majority of alcohol that an individual drink is metabolized by their liver. However, the liver can only process so much alcohol at one given time. When the liver becomes overwhelmed by the excessive amount of alcohol, it begins to shut down—Resulting in alcohol poisoning.

The more you drink, the greater the risk of an alcohol overdose or alcohol poisoning. One drink usually is:

  • 12 ounces of beer is equal to roughly 5% of alcohol
  • Five ounces of wine is equal to roughly 12% of alcohol
  • 1.5 ounces of hard liquor is equal to about roughly 40% of alcohol

1 – 2 units of alcohol

Around this level of alcohol, your heart rate will begin to speed up, along with your blood vessels expanding. You will become more sociable within this range of drinking.

4-6 units of alcohol

When at the level of 4 -6 units of alcohol, your decision-making and judgments will begin to be affected, this will result in your inhibitions lowering and you becoming slightly more reckless without thinking of any consequences. Your coordination will become considerably affected, resulting in your reaction time being decreased.

The cells within your nervous system will begin to become affected, which will result in you feeling lightheaded.

7-9 units of alcohol

When you reach 7-9 units of alcohol, you will notice your speech becomes somewhat slurred, your vision will also begin to lose focus, and your reaction times are now at half the speed they usually would be. You are now at the stage where your liver will be unlikely to remove all of the alcohol within your system overnight, resulting in you most likely waking up with a hangover.

Once you have reached this stage, you should seriously consider not drinking any more alcohol.

10 – 12 units of alcohol

Reaching 10 – 12 units of alcohol is considered dangerous for the body. By this stage, your coordination will have severely been impaired, which places you at an extremely high risk of having an accident. You may feel relatively unstable on your feet as well as feeling dizzy or drowsy.

The amount of alcohol within your body will begin to reach a toxic level. As your body attempts to remove the poisonous substance, you may need to use the bathroom more frequently, contributing to your feeling dehydrated in the morning.

The excessive alcohol within your body may cause you to begin vomiting, have indigestion, or have diarrhea.

12+ units of alcohol

At this stage, you are at an extremely high risk of developing alcohol poisoning. The alcohol within your body will begin to hinder your automatic functions, such as your gag reflex, heart rate, and breathing. You are at significant risk of losing consciousness.

Alcohol poisoning treatment

Treatment for an individual who has to succumb to alcohol poisoning will take to the emergency care unit, designed to help individuals manage their symptoms and avoid deadly complications when intoxicated. Emergency teams will take specific steps to analyze and ensure a person is stable and within a safe position to help them recover and survive the situation.

Treatment can include but is not limited to:

  • 24/7 observation until the individual is conscious
  • Close monitoring while the individual is conscious
  • Glucose administration if the individual’s glucose levels are low
  • Fluid hydration via IV
  • Frequent breathing assessment
  • Administering medication

When an individual starts to become slightly sober, the medical team will begin to evaluate for any alcohol or substance use disorder, which will help the staff identify the appropriate next steps. This can include referring an individual for further treatment and evaluation.

Final thoughts

Alcohol poisoning is extremely dangerous and can lead to lifelong complications and death. Alcohol poisoning or alcohol overdose is very often associated with alcohol use disorder. If you or a loved one is experiencing alcohol addiction, Shoreline Sober Living can help.

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If you think you need to see a specialist about your symptoms, please do not hesitate. They are there to help and give impartial advice on how you can tackle alcohol addiction. At Shoreline Sober Living, we offer alcohol sober living facilities that help you tackle and overcome alcohol addiction.