What Is Alcohol Poisoning?
Unlike a typical hangover, alcohol poisoning doesn't go away after a night of sleep or a black cup of coffee; it requires immediate medical intervention. Without it, the side effects of this condition can be lethal.
When a person has had too much to drink, we send them upstairs to sleep it off. Other times, we hand them a tall glass of water and force them to drink it or put them in a cold shower to shock their system into sobriety. We do these things without realizing that a person could be suffering from something far more dangerous than just being drunk.
Alcohol Poisoning Defined
Alcohol poisoning is a dangerous and potentially deadly result of drinking too much alcohol in a short period of time. It can affect anyone, regardless of tolerance, age, weight or height. Due to the amount of alcohol that needs to be consumed and the rate at which it needs to be consumed for alcohol poisoning to occur, this condition is often associated with binge drinking.
As a person drinks, the percentage of alcohol in their bloodstream or blood alcohol concentration (BAC) rises. The more a person drinks, the higher their BAC will be and the more they will feel the side effects of the alcohol they are consuming. When a person drinks a lot of alcohol in a short time frame, the body’s BAC spikes rapidly. Even if they stop drinking, the blood alcohol concentration can continue to rise for up to 40 minutes afterward.
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According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), when the body’s BAC reaches anywhere between 0.16 and 0.30 percent, signs of alcohol poisoning will begin to emerge. Signs could include vomiting, loss of consciousness and severe mental or physical impairment. When the BAC increases to 0.31 or beyond, it is considered life-threatening.
The consequences of alcohol poisoning can be lethal. It is not something that a cold shower, a strong cup of coffee or any other self-proclaimed hangover remedy will cure. Alcohol poisoning requires medical intervention and treatment as soon as possible to stabilize an individual suffering from alcohol overdose and decrease their risk of death.
Alcohol Poisoning Symptoms
Knowing the difference between intoxication and alcohol poisoning is a matter of life and death. While the two share many of the same symptoms, the signs of alcohol poisoning tend to be noticeably more severe than the signs of general alcohol intoxication. The following symptoms are considered warning signs of alcohol poisoning:
- Loss of consciousness
- Cold skin
- Depressed breathing
- Irregular heartbeat
- Blue-tinged or pale skin
- Loss of bowel and bladder control
- Loss of motor control
Experiencing any combination of these symptoms is an indication that someone is more than just drunk – they may be suffering from alcohol poisoning. In this situation, it’s essential to get medical help to stabilize a person exhibiting these potentially life-threatening side effects of alcohol poisoning as soon as possible. If left to recover on their own, it can lead to severe brain damage, coma or death.
How Much Alcohol Does It Take To Get Alcohol Poisoning?
The average person will begin to show signs of alcohol poisoning when their body’s BAC reaches anywhere between 0.16 and 0.30 percent. A BAC beyond that is considered deadly. However, how much alcohol it takes for a person to achieve this level of intoxication varies based on various factors.
Some of the most common things that affect a person’s blood alcohol level are:
- Gender: According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, women are more vulnerable to effects of alcohol because their bodies absorb and metabolize it differently. This puts women at a greater risk of alcohol poisoning if they don’t monitor their drinking.
- Weight: Weight determines the amount of space that alcohol can be diffused throughout the body. A person that weighs more will typically have to drink more alcohol to match the BAC of someone lighter than them.
- Medications: Certain prescription medications can have unpredictable and negative interactions with alcohol. In some cases, medications can lower a person’s tolerance for alcohol and make them more susceptible to a high BAC and alcohol poisoning.
- Tolerance: The more a person drinks, the higher their alcohol tolerance will be. As their tolerance increases, it will require more alcohol for their body to reach a BAC level that will produce alcohol poisoning.
- Style Of Drinking: Those that consume alcohol at an increasingly fast pace are more at risk for alcohol poisoning. When drinking quickly, the body is unable to process the alcohol fast enough and in turn, begins to shut down.
- Drinking On An Empty Stomach: Without food in the stomach, alcohol is absorbed more rapidly into the body. This makes it easier for individuals to get drunk faster and with less alcohol.
Since these factors vary from person to person, it’s impossible to correctly estimate how much one has to drink before they’re susceptible to alcohol poisoning. Due to this, it’s crucial that those drinking be mindful of how much their drinking, how quickly they’re consuming it, and how they feel as they continue to drink. If a person is careful about their intake, alcohol poisoning is completely preventable.
Treatment For Alcohol Poisoning
When someone is showing signs of alcohol poisoning, the best thing a person can do is call 911. Afterward, do not leave the person suffering from alcohol poisoning to wait for help on their own. Make sure they are breathing and provide a blanket to regulate their body temperature if possible.
Once the emergency crew arrives on the scene, they will be able to provide supportive care to the person who has had too much to drink.
Supportive care for alcohol poisoning or overdose typically consists of careful monitoring and oxygen therapy in addition to a combination of fluids and vitamins given to help rehydrate the body and bring a person’s BAC level down. Medical staff will also make sure that those suffering from alcohol poisoning don’t choke or have an irregular heartbeat, as both side effects could be deadly.
Who Is Most At Risk For Alcohol Poisoning?
While alcohol poisoning can affect anyone, specific age groups are more prone to over drinking habits that may potentially lead to alcohol poisoning. Since most alcohol consumption by college students takes place in the form of binge drinking, they are one of the most at-risk groups for alcohol poisoning.
Additionally, middle-aged men have been most affected by alcohol poisoning deaths in the United States. This is thought to be caused by higher rates of alcoholism and alcohol use disorder among men ages 30 to 59 according to the NIAAA. Suffering from an alcohol addiction greatly increases the possibility of alcohol poisoning.
An average of 2,200 people dies each year in the United States due to alcohol poisoning. With this in mind, it’s increasingly important to learn the warning signs of alcohol poisoning and how to help someone who may be suffering from this deadly condition. While someone suffering from alcohol poisoning may seem like just another person who’s had too much to drink, don’t wait to get help – it could cost them their lives.