Skip to content

Alcohol Poisoning Signs

Knowing the signs of alcohol poisoning could save someone’s life. It is a dangerous medical emergency requiring immediate stabilization of the individual to prevent permanent damage or death. Many people are surprised to learn that death can occur from acute intoxication. Most think the worst that can happen is they’ll pass out and have a hangover the next day.

If you encounter a person who exhibits one or more signs or symptoms, call 911 immediately.

  • Stay with the person until professional medical help arrives on the scene.
  • Get the person to the emergency room as soon as possible. It is vital to prevent permanent damage or death.
  • Never consider coffee, a cold shower, or sleep are the answer.

While waiting for 911 emergency transport, you might try gently turning the intoxicated person on their side. Place a pillow in the small of the person’s back to prevent choking on vomit.

In an overdose, these signs and symptoms will include a strong odor of ethanol.

  • Confusion, disorientation, unresponsiveness, or stupor
  • Sudden lapsing in and out of consciousness
  • Vomiting while semi-conscious or unconscious
  • Seizures or severe body tremors
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Cold, clammy, pale, or blue skin/hypothermia
  • Unconsciousness or semi-consciousness
  • Slow breathing (eight or less per minute) or long lapses between breaths of more than eight seconds.

According to the CDC, there are 2,200 liquor poisoning deaths each year. That is an average of nearly 7 per day. Tens of thousands more go to emergency rooms. It is increasing in high schools and college campuses. Here are more statistics;

  • Most people who die are 35-64 years old
  • Most people who die are men
  • Most fatalities are among non-Hispanic whites
  • Native Americans & Alaska Natives have the most casualties

Ethanol is classified as a drug, a depressant. Once ingested, it works to slow down some of the body’s functions, including heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. When the vital centers have been depressed enough, unconsciousness occurs. Further, the amount it takes to produce unconsciousness is dangerously close to a fatal dose. People who survive sometimes suffer irreversible brain damage.

Coma or demise can occur within minutes of someone exhibiting signs unless these treatments are immediate.

  • Never assume that someone who has been bingeing and has passed out will safely “sleep it off.”

Victims may also suffer acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening condition caused by breathing fluids into the lungs. Fluid accumulation in the lungs contributes to the lung’s inability to expand, forcing blood oxygen levels to plummet rapidly. Delirium tremens are a sure sign of an emergency.

Binge Drinking

Bingeing is four or more drinks for women as five or more drinks for men in two hours. It typically leads to a blood concentration exceeding 0.08, the legal limit for driving. U.S. adults who binge consume an average of 8 drinks per episode.

Binging is always the cause. However, public health organizations tend to focus on college students’ dangers of binge weekend. However, more men between the ages of 45 and 54 die than young adults. Seventy-six percent of deaths are men in this age bracket.

While food takes several hours to digest, ethanol enters the bloodstream in minutes of hitting the stomach. Therefore, in addition to body tissues readily absorbing and holding liquor, it takes much longer for the body to eliminate liquor than it takes to eliminate food.

Once the ethanol has infiltrated the stomach and intestines, it circulates throughout the body even though it may have stopped drinking. Since the metabolizing by the liver takes at least one hour, binge drinking severely strains liver functioning and forces it to remain in the tissues and bloodstream for a dangerously long time.

  • Ethanol is a powerful depressant capable of suppressing nerves responsible for maintaining essential life functions such as breathing, heart contractions, swallowing, etc.
  • An overdose inhibits normal nerve functioning where nerves stop working altogether. The result is a coma and death.

Since ethanol irritates the stomach lining, binge drinkers tend to vomit excessively and sometimes uncontrollably. It raises the risk of severe dehydration and shock or choking to death after they have passed out.

Even though a binge drinker may have passed out and stopped, their blood concentration continues to rise. Unfortunately, many fatalities result from friends thinking that binge drinkers are out of danger now that they are unconscious and unable to drink.

Mixing liquor with energy drinks results in higher levels of liquor and obscures the symptoms. Energy drinks contain caffeine, taurine, and guarana. They are chemicals that stimulate the central nervous system, produce euphoria and counteract the depressant effects.

Combining bingeing with energy drinks reduces a person’s ability to feel intoxicated. As a result, they may consume four or more beverages in one or two hours since they don’t feel “drunk.”

Countless studies have shown that youth and young adult binge drinking increases the risk of both fatal and nonfatal injuries. Youth who use liquor before age 15 are five times more likely to become dependent than adults who begin drinking at age 21. Other consequences include;

  • Increased sexual behaviors
  • Poor school performance
  • Higher risk of being a victim of assault
  • Suicide and homicide

According to the NIAAA, two instances of bingeing in the same year may indicate a serious problem. In addition, it provides an assessment survey for those who think they may have a big problem.

See the difference between a hangover and poisoning here.