Alcohol Poisoning: Signs, Dangers and Consequences

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Alcohol Poisoning: Signs, Dangers, and Consequences

Alcohol poisoning happens when there is so much alcohol in your bloodstream that vital body functions start to shut down.

These functions may include your breathing, heart rate, and temperature control. Alcohol poisoning can cause brain damage and even death.

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include confusion, vomiting, difficulty breathing, and seizures. Without immediate medical attention, alcohol poisoning can be fatal. If you see someone you think may have alcohol poisoning, call 911 immediately.

There are around 2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths in the United States each year.

While alcohol poisoning may be an isolated incident, it can result from underlying alcoholism or alcohol abuse issues. Alcohol poisoning results from drinking too much in a short space of time and is made more likely by mixing alcohol with other depressants like benzodiazepines or opioids.

Alcohol addiction, or alcoholism, is involved in around 30% of alcohol poisoning deaths. Alcoholism makes binge drinking more likely, which can lead to alcohol poisoning.

Cirque Lodge offers a variety of evidence-based addiction treatment approaches in private and exclusive facilities. We provide compassionate care and comfort so that you have the space to heal. Our rehabilitation experience opens the door to a life free from addiction and the dangers of alcohol abuse. If you are struggling with alcohol addiction, we can help.

Alcohol Poisoning: Signs, Dangers and Consequences Overview

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning, or alcohol overdose, is extremely dangerous. While emergency medical care can be life-saving, it needs to be received in time.

Below are some of the symptoms and signs of alcohol poisoning. If you recognize any of these symptoms in someone you know or see, call for emergency medical help (911) immediately.

  • Mental confusion
  • Difficulty remaining conscious or inability to wake up
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing (fewer than eight breaths per minute)
  • Irregular breathing (ten seconds or more between breaths)
  • Slow heart rate
  • Clammy skin
  • Slow or weak responses
  • No gag reflex
  • Extremely low body temperature
  • Bluish skin color or pale skin

Dangers of Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning shuts down the parts of your brain that controls vital functions.

It can lead to your heart rate slowing, your breathing slowing, and your body temperature becoming dangerously low. It can cause seizures, coma, brain damage, and death.

High levels of alcohol affect the parts of the brain that control your automatic responses, like your gag reflex. Without a gag reflex, an unconscious person is in danger of choking on their vomit. This can cause permanent brain damage or death from a lack of oxygen.

How Much Alcohol Is Toxic?

The amount of alcohol you can drink before it becomes life-threatening varies from person to person.

The quicker your body can process alcohol, the lower the risk of alcohol poisoning.

Men can usually process alcohol faster than women, as can people with greater body mass and good health. Eating before you drink also speeds up the process.

Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) measures how much alcohol is in the bloodstream. A higher number means there is more alcohol in the blood. While there is no set threshold for alcohol poisoning, anything over 0.31g/100ml puts your life in danger.

What Causes Alcohol Poisoning and Who Is At Risk?

Alcohol poisoning happens when you drink too much alcohol, and your body cannot process it fast enough.

Drinking too much too quickly can affect your coordination, decision-making, and other cognitive functions. If you continue to drink despite these effects, you can experience an alcohol overdose. Since drinking affects your decision-making skills, many people continue to drink despite the obvious risks.

Binge drinking is a common cause of alcohol poisoning. Binge drinking is when you drink enough to raise your BAC to above 0.08g/100ml. For women, this is usually about four drinks in less than two hours and about five drinks for men.

Drinking alcohol in such high amounts overwhelms the body. It cannot break down and clear alcohol from the bloodstream fast enough. If you continue to drink, your BAC continues to rise and can reach dangerous levels.

Teenagers and young adults may be among the most at risk of alcohol poisoning because they frequently engage in binge drinking. Alcoholism also increases the risk of alcohol overdose.

Mixing Alcohol With Other Drugs

Mixing alcohol with opioid or sedative drugs can also increase your risk of an overdose. These drugs include:

  • Opioid painkillers such as OxyContin and Percocet
  • Benzodiazepines such as Valium and Xanax
  • Sleep aids such as Lunesta and Ambien
  • Over-the-counter antihistamines

Like alcohol, opioids and sedatives affect the parts of the brain that control vital functions. They depress your central nerve system, slowing down your breathing and your heart rate. Using the two together can enhance the effects of both, causing dangerously low respiration levels and even death.

Mixing alcohol with these drugs intensifies the effects so much that even moderate amounts of alcohol can result in an overdose.

How Does the Body Process Alcohol?

Ethanol is the active ingredient in alcohol. It is the psychoactive substance responsible for the effects of alcohol on the brain.

When you drink alcohol, your body has to process and metabolize ethanol. The liver, stomach, intestines, pancreas, and brain all play a role in breaking it down. These organs are also all damaged by long-term alcohol use.

The liver is the most important organ in this process. The liver changes the ethanol into a chemical called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is broken down into water and carbon dioxide, which can then leave the body.

If the process cannot happen fast enough, the amount of ethanol in your blood rises and can reach life-threatening levels. This results in alcohol poisoning.

Treating Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is extremely dangerous, but quick medical treatment can be life-saving.

Emergency care involves maintaining the body’s vital functions and usually requires careful monitoring or life support to keep the person breathing and their blood circulating.

Alcohol can also severely dehydrate the body. In this case, it may be necessary to give someone fluid through an IV. They may also benefit from medication, glucose, vitamins, or oxygen.

Alcohol Addiction

While alcohol poisoning can be a one-time incident, it is often the result of an underlying problem.

Alcohol abuse and addiction make binge drinking and other dangerous behaviors more likely. If untreated, they increase your chances of alcohol overdose and death.

Accepting you have an alcohol use disorder can be scary, but it may also be a life-saving decision. Addiction is treatable, and with the proper support, anyone can live a life free from alcoholism.

At Cirque Lodge, our individualized alcohol addiction treatment program combines different treatment approaches adapted to suit your needs. The world-renowned 12-step method underpins our program. It provides a holistic healing experience that focuses on personal growth, mutual support, and compassionate care.

You will find our private facilities in the spectacular and remote Rocky Mountains, the perfect place to find inspiration for your recovery journey. Our expert staff provides 24-hour support throughout your stay.

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