Alcohol Poisoning

alcohol poisoning

It’s a beautiful summer day and you’re on the boat, enjoying the sun with a cooler full of alcohol. Everyone is drinking and having fun, and then you notice that one of your friends has passed out. You assume they’re just really drunk and try to wake them up, but you find that their skin feels clammy and their breathing is slowed. What’s going on?

It sounds like your friend may have alcohol poisoning, which can happen to anyone who drinks a large amount of alcohol in a short amount of time. Binge drinking is often thought to be a college problem, but roughly 16.7 percent of Arizona adults over 18 binge drink at least once per month. The most active binge drinkers do so nearly four times per month.

Recognizing the signs of alcohol overdose can help save lives. No matter how old you are, it’s important to know the signs of a potential overdose and how to respond. Keep in mind that if the individual does have an alcohol use disorder (AUD), poisoning can happen again. The only way to stop the cycle is by entering an alcoholism treatment program.

Let’s learn more about alcohol overdose, the signs and symptoms to watch for, and how to take emergency action.

What Is Alcohol Poisoning?

Each year, there are more than 2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths in the United States. Most of these deaths are in non-Hispanic white men between the ages of 35 and 64 years old. Alcohol dependence is identified in roughly 30 percent of these deaths.

Alcohol overdose can occur in someone with or without AUD. It happens when you drink a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time. High levels of alcohol can shut down critical parts of the brain responsible for breathing, heart rate and body temperature, resulting in death.

If you think that someone is experiencing an alcohol overdose, it’s important to get help right away. This is a medical emergency that can have fatal consequences.

How Does Alcohol Overdose Happen?

When a person drinks too much, the alcohol builds up in their body and causes areas of the brain to shut down. How much a person can drink before they experience poisoning varies based on age, gender, weight, tolerance and other factors. Generally speaking, once your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is over 0.40 percent, it’s dangerous territory. At this level, you run the risk of coma or death.

If your BAC is between 0.08 and 0.40 percent, you’re likely to be impaired. As a general rule, each drink increases your BAC by 0.02 percent.

One standard drink is the equivalent to:

  • 12 ounces of beer (at least 5 percent alcohol)
  • 5 ounces of wine (at least 12 percent alcohol)
  • 1.5 ounces distilled spirits

Most people who experience an overdose do so because of binge drinking. However, it’s important to know that this can occur in adults and children who accidentally or unintentionally drink household products that contain alcohol.

recognizing signs of alcohol poisoning

Alcohol Poisoning: Signs and Symptoms to Look Out For

The signs of an alcohol overdose can be subtle. Sometimes, all you may notice is that a person is passed out and not waking up. Seek immediate medical attention if you notice these signs and symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slowed breathing
  • Skin that looks blue, gray or pale
  • Low body temperature
  • Trouble staying awake

Emergency Action for Alcohol Overdose

Because a person can die from alcohol poisoning, it’s crucial to get help immediately. By taking action, you can get the person help and save their life. Even if they are underage, the results of not getting help are far more serious.

Here are the steps to follow if you believe that someone is experiencing an alcohol overdose:

  • Call 911 – people with poisoning cannot sleep this off.
  • Be prepared to give information, such as how much the person drank, what they were drinking and if they took any other substances.
  • Don’t leave the person alone. Someone with poisoning symptoms can vomit and choke.
  • If the person is vomiting, help them. Try to keep them sitting up. If they can’t sit, turn their head to the side to prevent choking.
  • Try to keep the person awake.

Health Risks of Poisoning from Alcohol

There are many risks associated with heavy drinking. As blood alcohol concentration increases, so do the side effects of alcohol. Even a small amount of alcohol can decrease motor coordination, cloud judgment and make a person feel sick. This puts them at risk for accidental injuries such as car accidents, slips and falls, acts of violence or unprotected sex.

Something else to consider is the risks associated with non-fatal alcohol overdose. Just because a person survives their overdose does not mean that they won’t have long-term complications. A non-fatal alcohol overdose can result in a number of problems such as:

  • Brain damage
  • Organ damage
  • Mental disorientation
  • Poor motor skills
  • Slower reaction times
  • Heart complications
  • Nerve damage
  • Neurological problems
  • Seizures

Preventing Alcohol Overdose

Fortunately, poisoning from alcohol is completely preventable. Abstinence is the best and most effective way to avoid overdose and other associated risks with drinking. However, if a person does choose to drink, they should do so responsibly. This involves:

  • Eating before and while drinking
  • Sipping instead of chugging
  • Having no more than one drink per hour
  • Avoiding ‘mega drinks’ like long islands or margaritas
  • Using a designated driver
  • Not participating in drinking games

Also, remember that there is no fast cure for sobering up. Everyone’s BAC rises at different levels, but everyone sobers up at approximately the same rate. Time is the only thing that removes alcohol from the body. Cold showers, coffee, food, etc. will not sober up a person faster.

emergency response to alcohol overdose

Getting Help For Alcohol Poisoning or Alcohol Use Disorder in Arizona

Since many people who experience poisoning have an underlying alcohol use disorder, it’s important to address this root cause. AUD responds well to the following treatments:

  1. Medications. The FDA has approved several medications to treat alcohol use disorder. These medications work by decreasing cravings and maintaining abstinence.
  2. Behavioral therapies. Counseling, or talk therapy, can help individuals change their behaviors so that they are less likely to drink. Behavioral therapies also help people understand the reasons for their drinking and healthier ways to cope.
  3. Support groups. Group meetings with others who have AUD can help people stay sober. Alcoholics Anonymous groups are in most communities and free, but there are others to explore as well.

Wolf Creek Recovery in Prescott, AZ offers a comprehensive treatment for alcohol use disorders. We can refer you to a local detox center to start your recovery, and then you can transition to our residential or intensive outpatient recovery program. We have a caring, compassionate environment with plenty of activities to keep you busy, such as disc golf, pickleball, basketball and softball. Reach out to our intake specialists at 833-732-8202 to take the next step to recovery.