Signs Of Alcohol Poisoning
March 9, 2020
Know the signs and take steps to mitigate life-threatening situations
You probably know that drinking too much alcohol can cause slurred speech and poor coordination. But did you know drinking too much in a short amount of time can cause alcohol poisoning — and the results can be deadly.
Since alcohol is a depressant, it can affect your brain and nervous system in ways that slow down your breathing and heart rate. Alcohol is filtered by your liver, which normally does a good job of stopping alcohol’s toxins from getting into your bloodstream. But drinking copious amounts of alcohol in a short time period makes it so the liver won’t be able to keep up.
When you drink alcohol, your height and how much you weigh also play a role in your risk for alcohol poisoning. So do things like how recently you ate food, whether you’re taking drugs along with drinking and how much and how fast you drink.
“Intoxication affects a person’s behavior and judgment. When judgment is affected, a person can easily continue drinking, and can experience alcohol poisoning,” says Joyce Willis, a licensed professional counselor in private practice.
ALCOHOL POISONING CAN LEAD TO OVERDOSE
Alcohol poisoning occurs when there’s so much alcohol in the bloodstream that areas of the brain controlling basic life-support functions — breathing, heart rate, temperature control — begin to shut down. Alcohol overdose can lead to permanent brain damage, coma or death.
Binge drinking is a major cause of alcohol poisoning. For a man, binge drinking is when five or more drinks are consumed in less than 2 hours. For a woman, it’s four drinks in the same amount of time.
Smelling like alcohol, slurred speech and confusion, poor coordination and stumbling, and damp or clammy skin are all early signs of alcohol poisoning that may worsen.
SERIOUS PROBLEMS TO WATCH OUT FOR:
- Severe confusion or stupor
- Not being able to stay awake
- Throwing up
- Slow breathing (fewer than eight breaths per minute)
- Long pauses between breaths (10 seconds or more)
- Very slow heartbeat
- Low body temperature
- Bluish or pale skin
When alcohol poisoning is extreme, it can lead to life-threatening consequences like:
- Choking on your own vomit
- Trouble breathing because of vomit that gets into the lungs
- Severe dehydration
- Brain damage
EMERGENCY STEPS TO TAKE:
If someone you’re with has alcohol poisoning, take these emergency steps:
- Call 911 right away
- Try to keep the person awake and sitting upright
- Have the person sip water if s/he’s awake
- Cover the person with a warm blanket
- Roll the person on their side to prevent choking on vomit
- Tell paramedics about the person’s symptoms and how much they drank
Some things that seem like a good idea may actually cause harm, such as cold showers (severe coldness), giving food (can cause vomiting or choking) and making the intoxicated person “walk it off” (can lead to a fall).
MEDICAL TREATMENT FOR ALCOHOL POISONING
If a person has swallowed life-threatening amounts of alcohol, doctors may conduct medical treatment that includes “pumping” the stomach to keep any leftover alcohol from entering the bloodstream; giving fluids through an IV to prevent dehydration; giving extra oxygen to help the person breathe; and flushing the stomach of toxins or remove toxins from the blood.
SEEKING PROFESSIONAL HELP
Alcohol poisoning is serious and can indicate a possible addiction. Detoxing from alcohol use is the first step in alcohol addiction recovery but can be dangerous without professional help. Detoxing at a facility will make things go easier and keep you safer than soldiering through it alone.
If you’d like more information about alcohol poisoning and detoxification, contact Landmark Recovery at 888-448-0302.
About The Author
Freelance writer D.D. Kullman is a tennis player, snow skier, animal lover and early tech adopter. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband, Joe, and Sheltie, Koko and is an adjunct instructor at Grand Canyon University.