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Can Alcohol Poisoning Cause Serious Side Effects Or Death?

A bartender pouring a glass of whiskey over ice cubes.

Many use alcohol to unwind, celebrate, or for pleasure, but drinking too much and too quickly can lead to serious sometimes deadly consequences. Drinking large quantities of beer, wine or other alcoholic beverages in a short amount of time can lead to alcohol poisoning. Additionally, drinking large amounts of alcohol even over long periods of time may also put someone at risk. A person or child experiencing alcohol poisoning needs medical attention right away.

What Is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning is when there is so much alcohol in the bloodstream that the body is physically affected. This can lead to coma and death. It can hinder basic life-support functions like breathing, heart rate, and temperature control. Alcohol poisoning can happen to anyone. Adults and young adults are at higher risk, but children can experience it too. If a child finds household products containing alcohol or their parent’s drinks, they can quickly feel the negative effects of alcohol because their body size is smaller.

What Causes Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning is a result of drinking too much of any type of alcoholic beverage. Beer, wine, or liquor are all able to cause alcohol intoxication. When your body digests and absorbs alcohol, it enters your bloodstream, raising your blood alcohol levels. The liver helps to break down alcohol, but if the blood alcohol level is too high, it can overwhelm the liver and keep it from removing toxins quick enough. These toxins can affect the brain that controls vital body functions. 

Binge Drinking 

One of the most common causes of alcohol poisoning is binge drinking. Binge drinking is a pattern of heavy drinking. Men who consume five or more alcoholic drinks within two hours or women who drink at least four drinks within two hours are considered binge drinking. 

How Much Alcohol Can Lead to Poisoning?

The correct answer is…it depends. There are many factors that can increase your risk of alcohol poisoning, including: 

  • Your weight and body type
  • Health
  • Recent food intake
  • Use of other substances or drugs
  • Type and percent of the alcohol you drank
  • Time spent drinking alcohol
  • Overall tolerance to alcohol

Alcohol Poisoning Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Percentage

Authorities and medical professionals measure alcohol in the bloodstream in milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood called blook alcohol concentration or BAC. BAC levels above 0.08 are considered legally impaired to drive in Missouri. This level can lead to someone experiencing confusion, nausea, drowsiness, and agitation. When a BAC level reaches 0.2-0.249, a person may need assistance with walking, they may experience confusion, nausea, and vomiting as well as possibly blackout. BAC levels of 0.25-0.399 are considered significantly impaired and will most likely lead to a loss of consciousness, trouble breathing, and vomiting. Anything 0.4 or up may lead to a coma and/or possibly death.

Signs Of Alcohol Poisoning

Sings & symptoms include:

  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Blue or pale tinged skin
  • Irregular or slow breathing
  • Low body temperature
  • Passing out and not waking up

A living room with a table in front of a couch full of empty beer bottles on it with someone blurred in the background experiencing alcohol poisoning.

What Is The Best Thing To Do For Someone Experiencing Alcohol Poisoning?

If you find someone who is experiencing these symptoms, do not be afraid to get help and call 911. While waiting for help, stay beside the person and keep them awake, if possible. It is dangerous to try home remedies like cold showers, inducing vomiting, hot coffee, or sleeping it off. If the person does lose consciousness, make sure to roll them on their side with their head turned to prevent choking on vomit. Seek emergency medical treatment.  

What Is The Treatment?

For mild alcohol poisoning, a person can recover at home. The best thing to do for someone recovering from drinking too much alcohol is rest, drink plenty of fluids, and stop drinking to give the body time to recover. If a case is too severe, the person may need to be seen in the emergency department to receive intravenous fluids, be under observation, and receive supportive care.

Preventing Alcohol Poisoning

The best way to prevent alcohol poisoning is to drink in moderation if at all. For healthy adults, men should have no more than one to two drinks a day, and women shouldn’t drink more than one drink a day. When drinking, don’t drink on an empty stomach that way your stomach has something to slow the alcohol absorption.

Preventing Teens & Children From Risks of Alcohol

The best way to prevent alcohol poisoning in teens is by communicating with them. Teenagers who are warned about alcohol and the dangers of overdrinking by parents or adults they are close with are less likely to start drinking. 

If you have children in the house or visiting your home, the best thing to do is store alcohol products safely somewhere away from their reach. This includes cosmetics, mouthwash, hand sanitizer, and even cleaning supplies. Use locking devices on your kitchen and bathroom cabinets to prevent children from having access to these items.

Worried Someone May Be Experiencing Alcohol Poisoning?

If you are worried someone is experiencing alcohol poisoning call 911 and seek medical help. At the Missouri Poison Center, our registered nurses and pharmacists are here 24/7/365 to answer any questions you may have regarding poisonings. It’s free and confidential, so don’t wait, call now

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