Alcohol poisoning: Symptoms, Causes, Complication, Treatments And Prevention
Alcohol poisoning is a serious — and sometimes deadly — consequence of drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. Drinking too much too quickly can affect your breathing, heart rate, body temperature and gag reflex and potentially lead to coma and death.
Alcohol poisoning can also occur when adults or children accidentally or intentionally drink household products that contain alcohol.
A person with alcohol poisoning needs immediate medical attention. If you suspect someone has alcohol poisoning, call for emergency medical help right away.
Alcohol poisoning signs and symptoms include:
Slow breathing (less than eight breaths a minute)
Irregular breathing (a gap of more than 10 seconds between breaths)
Blue-tinged skin or pale skin
Low body temperature (hypothermia)
Passing out (unconsciousness) and can’t be awakened
It’s not necessary to have all these signs and symptoms before you seek help. A person who is unconscious or can’t be awakened is at risk of dying.
A major cause of alcohol poisoning is binge drinking — a pattern of heavy drinking when a male rapidly consumes five or more alcoholic drinks within two hours, or a female downs at least four drinks within two hours. An alcohol binge can occur over hours or last up to several days.
You can consume a fatal dose before you pass out. Even when you’re unconscious or you’ve stopped drinking, alcohol continues to be released from your stomach and intestines into your bloodstream, and the level of alcohol in your body continues to rise.
Severe complications can result from alcohol poisoning, including:
Choking. Alcohol may cause vomiting. Because it depresses your gag reflex, this increases the risk of choking on vomit if you’ve passed out.
Stopping breathing. Accidentally inhaling vomit into your lungs can lead to a dangerous or fatal interruption of breathing (asphyxiation).
Severe dehydration. Vomiting can result in severe dehydration, leading to dangerously low blood pressure and fast heart rate.
Seizures. Your blood sugar level may drop low enough to cause seizures.
Hypothermia. Your body temperature may drop so low that it leads to cardiac arrest.
Brain damage. Heavy drinking may cause irreversible brain damage.
Death. Any of the issues above can lead to death.
Alcohol poisoning treatment usually involves supportive care while your body rids itself of the alcohol. This typically includes:
Prevention of breathing or choking problems
Fluids given through a vein (intravenously) to prevent dehydration
Use of vitamins and glucose to help prevent serious complications of alcohol poisoning
Adults and children who have accidentally consumed methanol or isopropyl alcohol may need hemodialysis — a mechanical way of filtering waste and toxins from your system — to speed the removal of alcohol from their bloodstream.
To avoid alcohol poisoning:
Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger. When you do drink, enjoy your drink slowly.
Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Having some food in your stomach may slow alcohol absorption somewhat, although it won’t prevent alcohol poisoning if, for example, you’re binge drinking.
Communicate with your teens. Talk to your teenagers about the dangers of alcohol, including binge drinking. Evidence suggests that children who are warned about alcohol by their parents and who report close relationships with their parents are less likely to start drinking.
Store products safely. If you have small children, store alcohol-containing products, including cosmetics, mouthwashes and medications, out of their reach. Use child-proof bathroom and kitchen cabinets to prevent access to household cleaners, and keep toxic items in your garage or storage area safely out of reach. Consider keeping alcoholic beverages under lock and key.
Get follow-up care. If you or your teen has been treated for alcohol poisoning, be sure to ask about follow-up care. Meeting with a health professional, particularly an experienced chemical dependency professional, can help you prevent future binge drinking.