Substance Use

Alcohol Poisoning: Treatment and Prevention

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Alcohol Poisoning: What You Need to Know

Everyone knows the effects of alcohol can be serious. But what exactly is alcohol poisoning? How to treat it? What are the symptoms? Is it fatal? We look to answer all your questions about alcohol poisoning.

Although alcohol consumption is a socially acceptable practice and is safe in moderation, excessive drinking can lead to poisoning and death.

Who is most at risk of alcohol-related poisoning deaths, and how is alcohol poisoning treated? The following article will explain the effects of alcohol poisoning and effective treatment methods.

If you or someone you know has suffered from alcohol poisoning and continues to drink excessively, call Zinnia Health at (855) 430-9439 to learn more about our alcohol abuse treatment options.

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What is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning is also known as alcohol intoxication.

According to Vonghia et al – “Acute alcohol intoxication is a clinically harmful condition that usually follows the ingestion of a large amount of alcohol.”

What Causes Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning occurs when there is too much alcohol in the bloodstream.

This can happen if someone drinks a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time, or, if they drink a smaller amount of alcohol but have a low tolerance.

When there is too much alcohol in the bloodstream, it begins to shut down areas of the brain that control essential life support functions, such as breathing, heart rate, and temperature control.

At its core, the body treats alcohol as a toxin. As soon as a person starts to drink, the body attempts to process the alcohol and quickly eliminate it.

If someone drinks in excess, the body cannot quickly cleanse itself of the toxin, and an individual can die from acute alcohol poisoning.

How to Treat Someone With Alcohol Poisoning

If someone is experiencing alcohol poisoning they will need to be taken to a hospital for urgent medical care.

If you are concerned that someone has had too much to drink, it’s essential to monitor them for more severe signs of alcohol poisoning for at least 40 minutes after they’ve had their final drink.

Alcohol continues to increase in the bloodstream for up to 40 minutes after the last drink.

Do not leave them alone or allow them to “sleep it off.” Home remedies such as cold showers, drinking coffee, or drinking more alcohol will not help someone who has reached this level of poisoning. These things can make alcohol poisoning worse.

Step 1 – Call 911

The first step in treating alcohol poisoning is to call 911, especially for an unconscious person.

Don’t wait to see if they “sleep it off.” Call for emergency medical attention immediately.

Step 2 – Check The Person is Breathing

The second step is ensuring that the person is breathing and has a clear airway.

If the person is not breathing, you’ll need to perform CPR. Once the person is breathing, you will need to roll them onto their side into the recovery position and they will need to be monitored closely.

Step 3 – Keep The Person Warm and Comfortable

The third step is to keep them warm and comfortable. You should also give them sips of water if they’re awake and able to drink.

Step 4 – Hospital Care

Once at the hospital, doctors will provide supportive care, which may include administering IV fluids, oxygen, monitoring vital signs, and treating any underlying medical conditions.

In some cases, patients may need to be placed on a ventilator to help them breathe.

With prompt medical treatment, most people who experience alcohol poisoning can make a full recovery.

How Long Does Alcohol Poisoning Last?

Alcohol poisoning typically lasts for several hours as it can take several hours for a persons body to flush the toxins from their bloodstream.

If complications arise from the alcohol poisoning such as seizures then the person can suffer brain damage and fall into a coma that can last several weeks to months.

Alcohol poisoning might not last long for some and can lead to a sudden death.

What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning?

Symptoms of an alcohol poisoning event may include:

  • Confusion
  • Passing out or having difficulty remaining conscious
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing or gaps in breathing,
  • Slow heart rate
  • Clammy skin
  • Dulled responses (such as no gag reflex)
  • Extremely low body temperature
  • Stupor
  • Unconsciousness
  • Low body temperature
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slowed respiration
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Blue tinge to the skin

Alcohol is a depressant that can cause irregular breathing, asphyxiation, and loss of consciousness.

If you think someone may be experiencing alcohol poisoning, it’s crucial to seek medical help immediately. Left untreated, alcohol poisoning can be fatal.

What Are the Severe Complications of Alcohol Poisoning?

A person can experience severe complications as a result from alcohol poisoning, which may include:

  • Choking – Alcohol poisoning can cause a depression in a persons gag reflex, which increases the risk of choking on their vomit if they are passed out which is also known as foreign body airway obstruction (FBAO).
  • Stopping Breathing – Alcohol poisoning can lead to asphyxiation when a person accidentally inhales their own vomit into their lungs causing a dangerous or fatal interruption of their breathing.
  • Severe Dehydration – Alcohol poisoning can result in severe dehydration, from a person vomiting so much.
  • Seizures – Alcohol poisoning can result in a hypoglycaemia which is dangerous drop in a persons blood sugar levels to levels that can cause seizures.
  • Hypothermia – Alcohol poisoning can result in a person developing hypothermia which can lead to cardiac arrest.
  • Irregular Heartbeat – Alcohol poisoning can cause the heart to beat irregularly or even stop.
  • Brain damage – Alcohol poisoning can cause irreversible brain damage.
  • Death – Alcohol poisoning can cause a person to die.

Is Alcohol Poisoning the Same as an Alcohol Overdose?

No they are not. Alcohol overdose and alcohol poisoning are often used interchangeably, but they are two different things.

  • Alcohol overdose refers to binge drinking, or drinking too much alcohol in a short period.
  • Alcohol poisoning refers to the dangerous side effects that can occur as a result of consuming large amounts of alcohol.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) advises that alcohol overdose and alcohol poisoning can lead to serious health problems. These include permanent brain damage and death.

Is Alcohol Poisoning Dangerous?

Yes, alcohol poisoning is a deadly, dangerous condition. Six people per day in the U.S. die from alcohol poisoning. This means alcohol poisoning can be fatal.

If you suspect alcohol poisoning in a friend or loved one, do not hesitate to call 911.

How Much Alcohol is Too Much? 

How much alcohol is too much depends on several factors, including a person’s weight, gender, and how quickly they’re drinking.

Alcohol poisoning occurs when a person drinks too much alcohol in a short period.

The body then cannot process the alcohol quickly enough, and it begins to build up in the bloodstream. This can lead to serious health consequences, including coma and death.

The CDC recommends that:

  • Men limit themselves to no more than five drinks per occasion
  • Women should limit themselves to four

However, even a small amount of alcohol can be poisonous if consumed too quickly.

If you feel dizzy, nauseous, or have trouble standing up, your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is likely too high, and you should seek medical help immediately.

Who Is Most at Risk for Alcohol Poisoning?

People who binge drink are the most at-risk for alcohol poisoning.

Binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks in two hours for a man and four or more drinks in two hours for a woman.

Social settings, holidays, and sporting events are common places where binge drinking can occur with subsequent binge drinking side-effects that can include alcohol poisoning.

People between the ages of 18 and 34 and young men are the most at-risk for binge drinking episodes.

Any time a person consumes more alcohol than their body can process, they risk poisoning themselves. The amount of alcohol needed to cause poisoning will vary significantly for each person.

Vulnerable persons are most at risk of experiencing alcohol poisoning in places where drinking is a significant part of the social scene.

What Is the Timeline of Alcohol Poisoning?

After consuming up to 10 to 12 units of alcohol in a single sitting, coordination becomes extremely impaired.

People who reach this level of drunkenness risk falling, hitting their head, or otherwise injuring themselves. Staggering, slurred speech, and issues with balance, coordination, and sight occur.

As a person’s BAC (blood alcohol concentration) reaches toxic levels, more severe symptoms manifest.

Dehydration and digestive upset can happen.

After 12 units are consumed, automatic body functions are suppressed and impaired, including respiratory rate, heart rate, and the gag reflex.

A person at this stage can choke on their own vomit and asphyxiate. Also, people at this stage of alcohol consumption can lose consciousness and die.

Does Alcohol Poisoning Happen More Frequently With Hard Liquor, Beer, or Wine?

The purer the alcohol content, the more at-risk a person is for poisoning if they drink to excess.

Alcohol is absorbed much more quickly into the body than food. Only one to two units of alcohol can have a noticeable effect on someone.

Those effects happen more rapidly with harder drinks than with beer or wine.

One unit of alcohol is equivalent to:

  • A half-pint of lower-strength beer, lager, or cider (ABV 3.6%)
  • A single shot of hard liquor (25 ml, ABV 40%)

Consuming 10 to 12 units of alcohol in one sitting puts someone at high risk of alcohol poisoning.

How to Prevent Alcohol Poisoning

There are a few things that can help to prevent alcohol poisoning.

  1. First, it is essential to pace yourself if you’re drinking alcohol. This means not drinking too much, too quickly.
  2. Eating food while drinking is also important, as this will help slow down the absorption of alcohol into your system.
  3. Finally, make sure to stay hydrated by drinking water in between alcoholic drinks.

Moderation is key for enjoying social events and avoiding the risk of alcohol poisoning, injury, and death.

Following these tips can help prevent you or someone else from suffering from alcohol poisoning.

How to Get Help for an Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol poisoning is a serious, dangerous condition. A person suspected of having alcohol poisoning must receive swift medical attention.

Never leave a vulnerable person alone, and continually monitor them while waiting for an ambulance.

If you think yourself or a loved one might be at risk of consuming too much alcohol and has a problem with their alcohol intake then you might need guided help.

Zinnia Health’s admissions counselors are standing by to help those suffering from alcohol use disorders. Contact our drug abuse hotline at (855) 430-9439 today.

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(855) 430-9439
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