When a person has alcohol poisoning they have consumed a toxic amount of alcohol, usually over a short period. Their blood alcohol level is so high it is considered toxic (poisonous).
The patient can become extremely confused, unresponsive, disoriented, have shallow breathing, and can even pass out or go into a coma. Alcohol poisoning can be life-threatening and usually requires urgent medical treatment.
When somebody consumes an alcoholic drink, their liver has to filter out the alcohol, a toxin, from their blood. We absorb alcohol much more quickly than food; alcohol gets to our bloodstream much faster. However, the liver can only process a limited amount of alcohol; approximately one unit of alcohol every hour.
Alcohol intoxication is a physiological state (that may also include psychological alterations of consciousness) induced by the ingestion of ethanol (alcohol).
- Slow breathing (less than eight breaths a minute)
- Irregular breathing (a gap of more than 10 seconds between breaths)
- Blue-tinged skin or pale skin
- Low body temperature (hypothermia)
- Passing out (unconsciousness) and can’t be awakened
A major cause of alcohol poisoning is binge drinking. This is a pattern of heavy drinking when a male rapidly consumes five or more alcoholic drinks within two hours, or a female downs at least four drinks within two hours. An alcohol binge can occur over hours or last up to several days.
You can consume a fatal dose before you pass out. Even when you are unconscious or you have stopped drinking, alcohol continues to be released from your stomach and intestines into your bloodstream, and the level of alcohol in your body continues to rise.
EFFECTS OF ALCOHOL TOXICITY:
- Choking:Alcohol may cause vomiting. Because it depresses your gag reflex, this increases the risk of choking on vomit if you’ve passed out.
- Stopping breathing:Accidentally inhaling vomit into your lungs can lead to a dangerous or fatal interruption of breathing (asphyxiation).
- Severe dehydration:Vomiting can result in severe dehydration, leading to dangerously low blood pressure and fast heart rate.
- Seizures:Your blood sugar level may drop low enough to cause seizures.
- Hypothermia:Your body temperature may drop so low that it leads to cardiac arrest.
- Irregular heartbeat:Alcohol poisoning can cause the heart to beat irregularly or even stop.
- Brain damage:Heavy drinking may cause irreversible brain damage.
- Death:Any of the issues above can lead to death.
To avoid alcohol poisoning:
- Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all:If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger. When you do drink, enjoy your drink slowly.
- Don’t drink on an empty stomach:Having some food in your stomach may slow alcohol absorption somewhat, although it won’t prevent alcohol poisoning if, for example, you’re binge drinking.
- Communicate with your teens:Talk to your teenagers about the dangers of alcohol, including binge drinking. Evidence suggests that children who are warned about alcohol by their parents and who report close relationships with their parents are less likely to start drinking.
- Get follow-up care:If you or your teen has been treated for alcohol poisoning, be sure to ask about follow-up care. Meeting with a health professional, particularly an experienced chemical dependency professional, can help you prevent future binge drinking.
Alcohol poisoning treatment usually involves supportive care while your body rids itself of the alcohol. Below are some treatments for alcohol toxicity.
- Try to keep the individual awake
- Oxygen therapy
- Use of vitamins and glucose to help prevent serious complications of alcohol poisoning
- Try to keep them in a sitting position, not lying down
- If they are able to take it, give them water
- If the person is unconscious put them in the recovery position and check they are breathing
- Don’t give themcoffee, it will worsen their dehydration
- Do not lie them on their back
- Do not give them any more alcohol to drink
- Do not make them walk.
In hospital, depending on the patient’s BAC level and severity of signs and symptoms, staff may just monitor them until their alcohol levels have dropped.
Article by Edokita team
- Drinkawear (2016) Symptoms of alcohol toxicity
- Health line (2016) Effects and prevention of alcohol poisoning in the body
- Mayo clinic (2017) Symptoms, causes, effects and treatments of alcohol toxicity
- Medical News Today (2017) Introduction and treatment of alcohol toxicity
- Wikipedia (2017) Introduction of alcohol toxicity