Substance Use

Can I Overdose on Alcohol? What Happens Next?

TABLE OF CONTENTSTable of Contents

man asleep head leaning on arm table with liquor bottle and glass

Given the rampant opioid epidemic sweeping the nation, it’s easy to see why one might overlook alcohol abuse. For starters, it’s legal for recreational purposes; you can walk into your local grocery store and buy a handle of vodka or tequila or whiskey in a matter of minutes. Likewise, you don’t need a prescription to purchase alcohol, which means it can’t be all that bad for you. Right?

Wrong.

The sad reality is that, on average, six people die every single day from alcohol poisoning in the United States, which results in about 95,000 deaths from alcohol-related causes each year. With alcohol being the third leading preventable cause of death in America, it begs the question: how have we as a society become so desensitized to its ever-present dangers?

The Dangers of Drinking Too Much

People who drink heavily have a greater risk of:

  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Cirrhosis
  • Hepatitis
  • Stroke
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Sleep disorders
  • Depression
  • Domestic violence
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Cancer
  • Death

Of the 95,000 alcohol-attributable deaths in the United States each year, binge drinking is responsible for nearly half –– a staggering statistic for a legal substance. The NIAAA defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration to 0.08% grams or above. For men, this typically occurs after consuming five or more drinks within two hours. According to the CDC, approximately 23% of adult men report binge drinking five times a month, averaging eight drinks per binge.

Who’s at Risk of Alcohol Overdose?

While alcohol poisoning deaths affect individuals of all ages in the United States, research has shown that three out of four people killed are men. The common denominator? Yep, you guessed it: binge drinking.

Aside from binge drinking, other common risk factors that can raise the chances of alcohol overdose among men include:

  • Age
  • Height & weight
  • Ethnicity
  • Social class
  • Additional drug use
  • Other health conditions
If you’re concerned about the drinking habits of yourself or a loved one, we’re here to help. As leaders in health and healing, Zinnia Healing meets the highest quality standards for behavioral health programs. Learn more about our substance abuse programs here.

Drinking on College Campuses

While 76% of the men who die from alcohol overdoses are between the ages of 35 and 64, the prevalence of alcohol use on college campuses is not something to be ignored. Studies show that specific demographics may be at a higher risk of encountering and abusing alcohol. For instance, male students in a fraternity tend to drink more than male students who do not participate in the Greek system.

While there are many positive benefits to Greek life, fraternities across the country have a longstanding history of alcohol hazing as part of membership initiation rituals. In recent years, there has been an influx of highly publicized hazing incidents that have resulted in extreme cases of alcohol poisoning, severe accidents, and even death. 

What Is Alcohol Overdose?

An alcohol overdose, or alcohol poisoning, occurs when there is an excess of alcohol in the bloodstream. Because the liver can only process one serving of alcohol per hour, an overdose typically occurs when too much alcohol is consumed over a short period –– aka, binge drinking.

Alcohol poisoning affects the body by slowing brain functions that control balance, coordination, blood sugar, breathing, heart rate, and temperature. Unbeknownst to many, the effects of bingeing continue long after one has ceased drinking. A person can consume a fatal dose of alcohol before passing out. This is because alcohol continues to be released from your stomach and intestines into your bloodstream –– whether conscious or unconscious.

How Many Drinks Cause Alcohol Overdose?

Your blood alcohol content, or BAC, is linked to the number of drinks a person consumes and how intoxicated they are. Of course, alcohol poisoning varies from person to person, depending on several factors. But, in general, the American Society of Addiction Medicine uses the following BAC levels to explain how impairment evolves the more a person drinks:
  • 0.00-0.05%: Mild impairments of speech, balance, attention, and memory. Increased sleepiness and relaxation.
  • 0.06-0.15%: Impairment of balance, attention, and motor function. Increased aggression.
  • 0.16-0.30%: Severe impairment kicks in, including severely impaired speech, balance, reaction time, and memory. Decision-making skills and judgment are also significantly impaired. Blackouts and passing out can occur at this stage.
  • 0.31-0.45%: Once BAC enters this range, it is life-threatening, and alcohol poisoning is imminent; most vital functions are at risk of being suppressed.

Signs & Symptoms of an Alcohol Overdose

Alcohol poisoning is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate medical attention. If someone is experiencing the following signs and symptoms, call 911 right away:

  • Difficulty remaining conscious or unresponsiveness
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow heart rate
  • Abnormal or slowed breathing
  • Pale skin, which may show signs of a bluish shade
  • Clammy skin
  • Extremely low body temperature
  • Dulled responses

After contacting emergency medical help, it’s essential to stay with the individual to prevent accidental injury. If possible, try to keep the person conscious and in an upright position.

If the person is conscious, try to give them small sips of water if they are able to swallow. Whatever you do, do not attempt to give them any form of caffeine to help them “sober up” faster. If the person is unconscious, it’s necessary that you carefully roll them onto their side to prevent them from choking on their vomit. Alcohol poisoning often makes people feel cold, so cover them in a warm blanket until medical personnel arrives.

How Is Alcohol Overdose Treated?

Alcohol overdose is best treated in an emergency room where the person’s vital signs, including heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature can be monitored. If more severe symptoms develop, such as seizures, the doctor may provide additional treatment, such as:
  • Intravenous fluids or medications through an IV
  • Nutrients to prevent further complications of alcohol overdose, including brain damage
  • Supplemental oxygen via a mask or tube inserted in the nose 
  • Medications to stop seizures

Preventing Alcohol Overdose

The easiest way to prevent alcohol overdose is to limit how much alcohol you consume — including not drinking more than one or two drinks or not drinking at all. If you struggle to stay at a reasonable limit or stop drinking, help is available.

Family members need to take action to prevent their loved ones from alcohol overdose. You can do so by talking to your teenagers about the dangers of alcohol overdose. In fact, open communication has been shown to reduce the incidence of teen drinking and alcohol poisoning significantly.  

Zinnia Healing Can Help

Concerned about the potential of alcohol overdose? Or maybe you or a loved one has already experienced an alcohol overdose. Help is available. At Zinnia Healing, we believe in your ability to live a happier, healthier life. And we are looking forward to helping you get there. Contact us today to learn more by email or call us at (855) 430-9439.