Alcohol poisoning is the result of drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
in a short period of time. Alcohol is a depressant which acts on the brain and central nervous system. When alcohol is taken excessively it slows breathing, restricts gag reflex and other key functions which can prove have fatal results.
Alcohol poisoning occurs when a potentially lethal dose is ingested, normally recognized as between the Blood Alcohol Concentrations (BAC) of 0.4 and 0.5 percent. Loss of consciousness is extremely common with alcohol poisoning and it is important to know that the BAC can continue to increase even after unconsciousness occurs, depending on the type of alcohol and how frequent the person was drinking. Hard liquors and spirits such as vodka and tequila are more likely to cause increasing BAC for a longer period of time even after the last ingestion. Because of this if someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning those with them should immediately call for medical assistance as the person may in fact be getting worse while they appear to be 'sleeping it off'.
Alcohol poisoning often has certain signs and symptoms and should be looked out for when drinking alcohol. These symptoms include but aren't limited to:
- Confusion, stupor
- Regular, uncontrollable vomiting
- Slow breathing (less than 8 times a minute)
- Irregular breathing (gaps of more than 10 seconds between breaths.)
- Blue tinted skin
- Pale skin
- Cold/clammy skin
- The feeling of over-heating
- Loss of consciousness that can't be interrupted
If someone around you is experiencing any of these symptoms, after excessively drinking, the following actions may help:
- Call 911 immediately, especially if the person has lost consciousness
- If the person is still conscious dial 800-222-1222 (in the US) to be directed to the local poison control center. Staff there can instruct the best course of action depending on specific situations.
- Continually monitor the intoxicated person
- Check their breathing regularly if they have lost consciousness
- Keep the intoxicated person from any potentially harmful situations such as operating a car.
There are often misconceptions as to what to do when someone is severely intoxicated and suffering from alcohol poisoning. Things you should NOT do include:
- Do not exercise the person
- Do not give the person any food, liquids, medications or drugs to attempt to sober them up.
- Do not take or give the person a cold shower. The person will often feel as if they are heating up however this is simply due to the fact that blood is closer to the skin surface. This means that heat can be lost quicker and a cold shower will often cause a collapse and loss of consciousness.
Alcohol poisoning can cause severe and potential fatal health risks, especially when it goes untreated. Health risks include but are not limited to:
- The victim choking on their own vomit due to restricted gag reflex
- Stopped breathing
- Irregular or potentially stopped heartbeat
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels) causing seizures
- Severe dehydration can lead to seizures and/or permanent brain damage and potentially result in death
There is high risk of fatality from alcohol poisoning. Even if one is in doubt as to whether they or someone else has alcohol poisoning it is always best to call 911 immediately. Doing nothing for alcohol poisoning can often be the worst thing to do.