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Overview Of Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol use is popular in many cultures, but not a lot of people understand the risks and consequences that come with it. Responsible drinking can be safe, but often people engage in unsafe behaviors that can lead to serious problems.  Alcohol poisoning is common and can be deadly when it’s not handled appropriately.

Alcohol is an intoxicant that can be used recreationally, but it also has negative side effects on your body, even when you drink in small amounts. 

Scope of Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is the result of drinking too much alcohol in a short period and can cause a wide range of problems. Usually, alcohol poisoning is specific to drinking too much alcohol quickly, as opposed to alcohol-use syndromes that come from drinking alcohol frequently and in large amounts over time.1

Alcohol poisoning is the result of drinking too much alcohol in a short period and can cause a wide range of problems. Usually, alcohol poisoning is specific to drinking too much alcohol quickly, as opposed to alcohol-use syndromes that come from drinking alcohol frequently and in large amounts over time.2

What Are The Dangers Of Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning is a serious condition that has a lot of potential dangers, especially when left undiagnosed and untreated. Here are some of the dangers of alcohol poisoning:

  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow or Irregular Breathing
  • Blue-Tinged Skin
  • Low Body Temperature
  • Passing Out
  • Death

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How Does Alcohol Poisoning Happen?

In most cases, alcohol poisoning is the result of binge drinking, which most commonly occurs in social situations. In men, binge drinking is having five or more drinks in less than two hours, while for women, binge drinking is having four or more drinks in the same amount of time.3

However, binge drinking doesn't always result in alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning is the result of several factors, including someone's size, metabolism, tolerance, other medications, and even how much they've had to eat that day. Some people can get alcohol poisoning from as little as two to three drinks, depending on the strength of the drink, the medications they take, and their overall health.

What Are The Symptoms And Causes Of Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol is almost always caused by excessive drinking and binge drinking. In most cases, alcohol poisoning can be identified using the blood alcohol concentration of the person, which is also the measure used to determine if someone is intoxicated for legal purposes.

Blood Alcohol Concentrations

Different blood alcohol levels come with varying side effects and risks of blood alcohol poisoning. Remember, these are just guidelines, and medications, health, and other factors can change your experience.

  • Between 0.0 and 0.05%: At this level of blood alcohol concentration, you will have little or no impairment, and likely won't be feeling the effects of the alcohol. This can happen from eating foods with a small amount of alcohol or several other reasons.
  • Between 0.06 and 0.15%: This is the range where you start to become impaired. At the low end, you’re likely to feel euphoria and relaxation, at the high end you may have impaired reasoning, be more likely to take risks, and you will have slight impairment of balance, reflexes, and speech.
  • Between 0.16 and 0.30%: This is roughly when alcohol begins to be more harmful, higher levels of impairment are common, and you start to experience a major loss of balance. You may start feeling sick and are likely to get queasy or begin vomiting. People are at risk of alcohol poisoning in this range, depending on their risk factors and tolerance.
  • Between 0.31 and 0.45%: This level of intoxication is very dangerous, and will likely result in alcohol poisoning. It may also result in coma or death due to respiratory arrest if not treated by medical professionals.

Symptoms Of Alcohol Poisoning:

Alcohol poisoning can come with a wide range of side effects, including but not limited to:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty walking
  • Trouble speaking
  • Coma
  • Seizures

What Kind Of Diagnosis and Tests Are Available?

There are a few different testing options available to tell if someone has too much alcohol in their system. Breath analyzers can give you an estimate of someone’s blood alcohol content, but they aren’t as accurate as other methods. Urine and blood tests are more accurate.

When it comes to figuring out your limits or knowing when someone has had too much, it can be hard to tell at the moment. When someone is showing signs of alcohol poisoning, it's likely already too late. However, you can monitor your level of impairment, or the impairment of others, for early warning signs that they might need to slow down or stop drinking to avoid alcohol poisoning.

When to Seek Medical Assistance?

If someone is having a hard time staying awake, cannot walk on their own, or is showing any other signs of alcohol poisoning, it’s time to get medical attention. If they are seizing, have fallen asleep and you can’t wake them up, or are having trouble breathing, you should call 911.

What Is The Best Possible Alcohol Poison Treatment?

Alcohol Poisoning

Medical professionals may give you medications to help counteract the alcohol in your system, or they may try to make you throw up, but most alcohol poisoning care is supportive rather than curative. That means that medical professionals will try and give you everything you need to get through the crisis, but they can’t cure the immediate problem.

IV fluids are a common first step. You may also be given oxygen, and they may pump your stomach if they suspect that you still have unabsorbed alcohol in your system or if your blood alcohol concentration is continuing to rise. As a last resort, you may be put on dialysis to remove the alcohol from the blood if your levels are too high or your kidneys aren’t removing the alcohol.

What to Do If Someone Has Alcohol Poisoning

If someone you know has alcohol poisoning and you’re waiting for first responders, you should:

  • Keep the person awake
  • Make sure they have something hydrating to drink (water is best)
  • Keep them warm
  • Explain what you’re doing and why
  • If they pass out, turn them on their side so they don’t choke.
  • Give first responders all the information you can about the person, how much they drank, and the symptoms they’ve shown so far.

After alcohol poisoning, it’s important to follow up with your primary care doctor for more information and help.

Is There A Way To Prevent Alcohol Poisoning?

There are a few things you can do to prevent alcohol poisoning. Here are some tips:4 

  • Drink in moderation
  • Never drink on an empty stomach
  • Don’t mix drugs and alcohol
  • Consult with a pharmacist about the safety of drinking alcohol with your medications before drinking
  • Stay well hydrated while drinking

Remember, if you’re at your limit, no one should try to convince you to drink more or pressure you to have another drink when you don’t want one. If they do, it might be a sign that it’s time to get out of that situation.

What Is The Best Outcome You Can Expect From Alcohol Poisoning?

The best outcome from alcohol poisoning is that you make it through the crisis with only a hangover and few other side effects.

However, alcohol poisoning can cause liver and kidney damage, may cause brain damage, and can have widespread effects on the rest of your body. Depending on the severity of the damage, you may have to manage the side effects and symptoms of alcohol poisoning for months or years.

What Does Life After Alcohol Poisoning Look Like?

After alcohol poisoning, most people can live mostly normal lives. Many people choose to enter recovery or treatment programs after getting alcohol poisoning, while other people change their behaviors on their own to avoid future alcohol poisoning. 

In the case of acute poisoning, the symptoms are usually treatable. The biggest risks are not getting enough oxygen, either because of the blood alcohol levels themselves, or because the person chokes on their vomit. However, there can be a lot of other health effects from poisoning, even if your case wasn’t too severe.

Don’t Hesitate to Reach Out

If you’re struggling with alcohol use and alcohol poisoning, don’t be afraid to ask for help from your social circle, medical professionals, and treatment centers. Remember, since alcohol affects your brain and blood, it can affect just about every part of your body and has a wide range of side effects.