Alcohol poisoning is an extreme overdose of alcohol and occurs when a person has consumed such quantities that the brain begins to shut functions of the body down. Alcohol poisoning occurs when the levels of alcohol in the bloodstream have reached toxic levels, and the blood alcohol concentration or BAC is at a critical level. Binge drinking, drinking more than four drinks for a woman or five for a man in a span of two hours, can cause alcohol poisoning. Poisoning can also occur accidentally from ingesting products that contain unknown amounts of alcohol, although this is much less common.
Alcohol is essentially a toxin that the body filters out using the liver. Alcohol enters the bloodstream much more quickly than food, and the liver can filter about one unit of alcohol an hour. Hence the rule that if you stick to one “standard” drink an hour and keep it under four drinks in a sitting, you are considered drinking in moderation and at a much lower risk for overdose.
A standard drink consists of one regular 12-ounce beer at 5 percent alcohol, one 5-ounce glass of wine at 12 percent alcohol, or one shot of distilled spirits which is 1.5 ounces containing 40 percent alcohol. Rapid alcohol consumption can overload your liver and lead to alcohol poisoning.
Who Gets Alcohol Poisoning?
Anyone who drinks large quantities of alcohol at once is at risk for alcohol poisoning. Drinking fast is the most dangerous as it raises your BAC too quickly for your liver to catch up. Especially susceptible to binge drinking that can lead to alcohol poisoning are young adults, college students and children trying alcohol for the first time.
Alcohol is the most abused and used drug of the youth in the United States, according to the CDC. Although consuming alcohol under the age of 21 is illegal in this country, 11 percent of all alcohol is consumed by people ages 12 to 20 years old. Underage drinkers tend to consume more alcohol at a time than adult drinkers – on average about five drinks at once as reported by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Chronic alcoholics are also at a high risk for alcohol poisoning as are people taking medications that could interfere with the body’s absorption of alcohol. Medical News Today states that over 50,000 cases a year of alcohol poisoning are reported in the United States and about one of these patients dies a week.
Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning
Many factors play a part in determining BAC, and these factors are different for each person. Things such as gender, body type, ethnicity, metabolism, overall health and food consumption can all factor in.
Alcohol poisoning occurs when the BAC of a person is raised rapidly to dangerous and toxic levels. Alcohol poisoning occurs when someone goes beyond just being drunk or impaired. Motor skills and mental abilities are impaired, and your brain starts to shut down parts of the body as needed to keep you alive.
Some of the warning signs are:
- Mental confusion
- Inability to wake the person up
- Shallow or slowed breathing
- Irregular breathing
- Low body temperature or hypothermia
- Irregular heart rate
- Pale or bluish tint to the skin
Alcohol poisoning is very dangerous and cannot be taken lightly. If you suspect poisoning, seek medical help immediately. A person’s blood alcohol level can continue to rise even after they have passed out, so sleeping it off is not effective and may even make it worse. If any of the above symptoms are observed, don’t hesitate to call 911.
Risks of Alcohol Poisoning
Alcohol poisoning can be very scary and lead to irreversible brain damage, coma and even death. Different people will be affected, and lethal or dangerous levels of alcohol won’t be the same from person to person. How much a person drinks on a regular basis can affect how much alcohol they would need to consume in order to overdose. The University of Washington published that fatal levels can occur from 0.30 percent blood alcohol level and are usually fatal to non-alcoholics at 0.45 percent.
Some of the health risks of alcohol poisoning are:
- Choking due to suppressed gag reflex
- Severe dehydration, which can lead to permanent brain damage
- Respiratory shut down causing breathing to stop
- Heart attack
- Seizures from lowered glucose levels
Alcohol poisoning is serious and should not go untreated. Alcohol is a depressant, and in massive quantities tells your brain to start shutting down parts of your body that are sustaining life, like your heart rate, temperature control functions, and breathing.
Preventing Alcohol Poisoning
While alcohol poisoning is severe and scary, it is also easily prevented. Drinking in moderation and pacing yourself are the easiest ways to avoid it. Also, be sure to stay hydrated and don’t drink on an empty stomach. If you are taking medications, stay away from alcohol.
Refrain from instances of consuming high quantities of alcohol quickly like drinking games or chugging. Alternate non-alcoholic drinks with the alcoholic ones. Know your limit and when you start to feel impaired, stop drinking.
When to Get Help
Just because someone has had an episode of alcohol poisoning may not mean that they have a problem with alcohol. The CDC claims that most people who binge drink are not even alcohol-dependent. Someone may need help or treatment when alcohol begins to take over, and episodes of binge drinking or alcohol poisoning become a pattern. If drinking, obtaining alcohol, and recovering from alcohol are the main focus of someone’s life then it is time to seek help.
Here at Axis, we offer individualized care. Call and talk to a specialist to determine how we can help tailor a program specifically to meet your needs. If you aren’t sure if you need help, you can always call and talk to a professional. It is always better to be safe than sorry so pick up the phone today.