Alcohol poisoning symptoms can appear seemingly out of nowhere for some people. A person may think they’re drinking casually but are unaware that they fit the criteria for binge drinking, which can lead to alcohol poisoning symptoms. Alcohol poisoning, also known as an alcohol overdose, can be deadly. Learning more about potential alcohol poisoning symptoms and how to recognize them can help prevent an alcohol overdose, as can learning about the overall effects of alcohol.
What is Alcohol Poisoning?
Before exploring the specific symptoms, what is alcohol poisoning? Poisoning from alcohol occurs when someone drinks too much, too quickly. The body can’t process more than a certain amount of alcohol per hour, and if they drink a lot in a short period, their body may not be able to handle it.
Binge drinking is one main causes of alcohol poisoning. Binge drinking involves heavy drinking within a compressed window of time. For males, binge drinking is usually consuming five or more alcoholic beverages within two hours. For females, it’s four or more drinks within two hours. Binge drinking is particularly risky because the alcohol continues to be released from the stomach into the bloodstream, even when a person stops drinking. That continuation means the amount of alcohol in the body goes up, even when a person stops drinking or passes out.
Even once someone stops drinking, their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) can increase for 30 to 40 minutes longer.
The liver can only process around one standard alcoholic drink an hour. If you’re drinking more than this, you will have alcohol in the body and bloodstream that’s not being eliminated. A standard drink is much smaller than most people estimate. For example, what qualifies as “one drink” is 12 ounces of beer or 5 ounces of wine.
How Much Alcohol Does It Take to Get Alcohol Poisoning?
There’s not a specific answer to the question of how much alcohol does it take to get alcohol poisoning. However, binge drinking increases the chance of experiencing alcohol poisoning.
Other factors that impact the likelihood of alcohol poisoning include:
- Overall health
- Size and weight (smaller and lighter people are more likely to get alcohol poisoning than bigger people)
- If alcohol was combined with other substances
- The percentage of alcohol in a drink
- Whether a meal was consumed before drinking
- Existing alcohol tolerance levels
Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning
Recognizing alcohol poisoning as soon as the symptoms are evident can allow someone to react and potentially save a life. Some symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:
- Slow breathing — usually less than eight breaths a minute
- Irregular breathing — gaps of more than 10 seconds between breathing
- Skin that looks pale or bluish
- Low body temperature
- Passing out or losing consciousness
Complications that can occur due to of alcohol poisoning include:
- Choking on vomit — alcohol depresses the gag reflex, which increases the risk of choking
- Stopped breathing due to inhaling vomit into the lungs
- Severe dehydration
- Seizures because of low blood sugar levels
- Hypothermia that can lead to cardiac arrest
- Irregular heartbeat
- Brain damage
What To Do If You Suspect Alcohol Poisoning
How do you know what to do if you have alcohol poisoning or someone near you does?
First and foremost, call 911 or emergency medical services. Alcohol poisoning is a serious and sometimes deadly medical emergency. Don’t try to make someone vomit if alcohol poisoning is suspected. Never leave someone who is unconscious alone because of the risk that they could choke on vomit. If you can’t keep someone sitting upright, lie them down and turn their head to the side to prevent choking.
Getting Treatment for Alcohol Abuse
If you misuse alcohol to handle stress, anxiety or another mental health disorder — or have a problematic relationship with alcohol in general — help is available. Contact The Recovery Village Ridgefield to speak to a representative about addiction treatment and what can work best for you. You deserve a healthier future, call today.
NIH National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Overdose.” Accessed March 25, 2019.
NHS. “Alcohol Poisoning.” May 4, 2016. Accessed March 25, 2019.
Nordqvist, Christian. “What to know about alcohol poisoning.” Medical News Today. December 8, 2017. Accessed March 25, 2019.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Alcohol Poisoning.” Mayo Clinic. January 19, 2018. Accessed March 25, 2019.