Alcohol Poisoning: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment & Prevention
Last Updated: November 3, 2023
Professional help can help you eliminate the risk of alcohol poisoning, overcome alcohol addiction and regain control of your life.
Drinking too much alcohol at once can be life-threatening, causing potential brain damage. Professional help can help you overcome the addictive nature of alcohol and regain control of your life, eliminating the risk of alcohol poisoning by getting you off of alcohol.
Alcohol poisoning is a life-threatening condition caused when you have too much alcohol in your system at one time. This condition can be fatal and result in permanent brain damage or other permanent disabilities. Someone experiencing alcohol poisoning needs immediate emergency medical treatment.
What Is Alcohol Poisoning?
Alcohol poisoning is a term used to describe an alcohol overdose. High alcohol levels in your bloodstream can suppress vital functions, slowing or stopping your breathing and affecting or stopping your heart. When someone experiences alcohol poisoning that affects their breathing, they typically require treatments that can only be given in a hospital setting.
Alcohol Poisoning Causes
Alcohol poisoning is typically caused by drinking a large amount of alcohol quickly, spiking your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Your BAC can also artificially increase when you use alcohol while your metabolism is slowed. Certain medications, drugs or medical conditions can make your body process alcohol more slowly, causing your BAC to remain elevated for longer than it typically would.
Alcohol Poisoning Signs & Symptoms
Several signs can show someone developing alcohol poisoning. Someone experiencing an alcohol overdose may only have some of these signs; however, they indicate the person drinking may be in danger and need medical help. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:
- Abdominal pain
- Slurred speech
- Bleeding from the rectum
- Slowed or absent breathing
- Difficulty responding to others
- Difficulty staying awake
- Inability to be woken up
- Unsteadiness while walking
- Having seizures
Anyone having these signs needs emergency help. If you are with someone who may be experiencing alcohol poisoning, you should call 911 immediately and provide any necessary first aid.
When To Seek Medical Help for Alcohol Poisoning
Alcohol poisoning can be fatal and causes an average of six deaths per day. Because it is so serious, you should always seek medical help as soon as alcohol poisoning is suspected. This condition typically progressively worsens; delaying treatment or hoping it will improve is highly dangerous, and you should never give someone time to get over it, as this can be deadly.
What To Do for Alcohol Poisoning While Awaiting Medical Assistance
While awaiting medical assistance, several things can be done for the person overdosing on alcohol. These include:
- Keeping them awake if possible
- Ensuring they are in a safe location
- Keeping them sitting up or on their side so they won’t choke if they vomit
- Keeping them from getting too warm or cool while waiting
- Gathering information about how much they’ve had to drink and if they were using any substances besides alcohol
- Giving first aid or CPR if it becomes necessary
Most states have good Samaritan laws allowing you to provide any reasonably necessary first aid without fear of legal reprisals.
Alcohol Poisoning Treatment
When someone is experiencing alcohol poisoning, rapid treatment is often necessary to save their life. As there is no way to reverse the effects of alcohol rapidly, this treatment will typically involve treating the symptoms that occur while the body slowly metabolizes the alcohol in its bloodstream.
How To Treat Alcohol Poisoning at Home
Anyone considering trying to treat alcohol poisoning at home should understand that this will likely lead to injury or death. Treating alcohol poisoning can require life support equipment and powerful IV medications that can only be given in a hospital. Treating alcohol poisoning at home is like trying to treat a heart attack at home; you can’t, and it’s likely to lead to the death of the person you are trying to help.
Hospital Treatment for Alcohol Poisoning
Hospitals are well-equipped to treat alcohol poisoning. They often place the person in danger on a ventilator, a machine that will mechanically breathe for them while their breathing is suppressed. They will also give IV fluids and medications to help them metabolize alcohol more quickly and treat any dangerous symptoms, like internal bleeding or seizures, that can develop during alcohol poisoning.
Alcohol Poisoning Medications
No medication treats alcohol poisoning specifically. Instead, medications help treat symptoms that alcohol poisoning causes. Some common medications used to treat symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:
- Thiamine (vitamin B1): Chronic alcohol use can lead to thiamine deficiency, which can lead to brain damage. As a precaution, thiamine is often given to people with suspected chronic alcoholism.
- Glucose: Low blood sugar can be a complication of alcohol intoxication, especially if the person hasn’t eaten. Glucose might be given to correct this.
- Anti-seizure medications: In some cases, if the patient has seizures related to alcohol withdrawal or intoxication, medications such as benzodiazepines (like diazepam or lorazepam) might be administered to prevent seizures.
- Magnesium and potassium replacement: Chronic alcohol abuse can lead to deficiencies in these essential electrolytes. They might be replenished if tests show they are low.
Ultimately, artificial breathing machines are one of the mainstays of alcohol poisoning treatment. Medications serve a more supportive role as the person recovers.
Alcohol Poisoning Prevention
To prevent alcohol poisoning, you should avoid drinking a large quantity of alcohol in a short time. Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks at one time for women and five or more for men. This type of drinking significantly increases the risk of alcohol poisoning.
Some other ways to avoid spikes in your BAC that can lead to alcohol poisoning include:
- Avoid drinking on an empty stomach
- Don’t mix medication or drugs with alcohol
- Space out your drinks
- Keep track of how much alcohol you’ve had
- Drink low-proof beverages
- Drink non-alcoholic beverages between your drinks
If you struggle to control your alcohol use, you may need to consider stopping alcohol altogether. Alcohol addiction can make it difficult to moderate or control how much you drink, especially once you start drinking.
Seek Professional Help for Alcohol Addiction & Abuse
If you find it hard to control your alcohol use, you are at an increased danger of overdosing on alcohol and potentially suffering the consequences. Professional help can help you overcome the addictive nature of alcohol and regain control of your life, eliminating the risk of alcohol poisoning by getting you off alcohol.
At The Recovery Village Kansas City, we understand how difficult it can be to stop using alcohol. Our professional, caring staff is here to support your recovery journey and equip you for long-term success. Contact us today to begin your journey to freedom.
FAQs on Alcohol Poisoning
How do you get alcohol poisoning?
You get alcohol poisoning by having high amounts of alcohol in your bloodstream at one time. This typically occurs from binge drinking; however, using medications or having certain medical conditions can slow your metabolism and contribute to elevated levels of blood alcohol.
How long does alcohol poisoning last?
Alcohol poisoning lasts until your body can reduce the concentration of alcohol in your blood to a safe level. This typically happens within 24 hours. It is vital to note, however, that while alcohol poisoning is occurring, it can lead to injuries that can be permanent. Additionally, it can be fatal, dramatically shortening your life.
Can you die from alcohol poisoning?
Yes, you can absolutely die from alcohol poisoning, and several people do each day. Alcohol poisoning can affect your breathing, causing death if you do not get medical treatment. Anyone suspected of alcohol poisoning should immediately seek medical help.
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US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol Poisoning Deaths.” January 6, 2015. Accessed August 23, 2023.
NHS. “Alcohol poisoning.” January 11, 2023. Accessed August 23, 2023.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Overdose.” January 2023. Accessed August 23, 2023.