Symptoms of Acute Alcohol Poisoning

Passing Out From Drinking Could Indicate Danger

two men passed out in the grass at an outdoor festival
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More than 2,200 people die from alcohol poisoning each year, which is an average of six people per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most fatalities are men and three in four people are between the ages of 35 and 65.

The number of deaths varies widely from state to state. For example, there are 5.3 deaths per million residents in Alabama, but 46.5 deaths per million in Alaska.

Causes of Alcohol Poisoning

Too much alcohol in your bloodstream causes the areas of your brain that support breathing, your heart rate, and other basic life-supporting functions to start to shut down.

In other words, your friend who drank way too much, may not just be sleeping it off. If he is experiencing an episode of acute alcohol poisoning, drinking too much too quickly, his condition could lead to coma and even death if you do not intervene.

Alcohol poisoning affects the brain, blood vessels, and liver. Rapid fluid ingestion alters the fluid concentration in your body, potentially disrupting your fluid and electrolyte balance.

Children or adults can get alcohol poisoning. When it comes to kids, and maybe adults too, your thoughts might immediately jump to the liquor cabinet, but remember that another household product that contains alcohol, such as a cooking extract, or medicinal tincture, could be the culprit.

Symptoms

Learning the symptoms of acute alcohol poisoning can help you tell the difference between a friend who is drunk and passed out and a person who is unconscious due to acute alcohol poisoning.

  • Confusion
  • Passing out
  • Seizures
  • Slow heart rate
  • No gag reflex, which prevents choking when vomiting
  • Clammy or blue-tinged skin and extremely low body temperature (hypothermia)
  • Breathing slowly or irregularly (less than eight times a minute or ten seconds or more between any two breaths)
  • Vomiting while passed out and doesn't wake up during or after vomiting

Remember, your friend does not have to have all the symptoms to be at risk. And anyone who cannot be awakened or is unconscious is at risk of dying.

What to Do If You Think Someone Has Alcohol Poisoning

Here are the steps to take if you think someone has alcohol poisoning:

  1. Call 9-1-1 immediately, even if you don't see the classic signs or symptoms. Do not hesitate and don't think about any legal ramifications. Your friend's life could depend on your quick response.
  2. Prepare yourself to provide information to the emergency personnel or the hospital, including the type and amount of alcohol and when your friend drank it.
  3. Do not leave your friend alone and continue to try to revive them. Turn him on his side, so he will be less likely to choke if he vomits.
  4. If your friend is vomiting, try to keep him sitting up and awake.
  5. Watch his breathing closely. If he stops breathing be prepared to perform CPR. If you don't know how to perform CPR, try to find someone who does.
  6. Do not give your friend or coffee or put him or her into a cold shower. Despite common myths, these methods do not reduce the effects of alcohol poisoning.

Treatment

Calling 911 and keeping your friend safe until help arrives is the first step to safely treating someone with alcohol poisoning.

Once at the hospital (or even en route) a medical professional may give a person with alcohol poisoning intravenous (IV) fluids to replace the fluid loss from vomiting and to balance any fluid and electrolyte disruption in the body caused by the excessive amounts of alcohol. Oxygen may also be administered for respiratory support, especially if the person is experiencing irregular or slowed breathing, in addition to medication to regulate any dips in blood pressure.

If the person is experiencing seizures, a short term anticonvulsant medication will be given to stop the seizures.

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Article Sources

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Alcohol Poisoning Deaths (2015)
  • Mayo Clinic: Alcohol Poisoning (2014)
  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Alcohol Overdose - The Dangers of Drinking Too Much (2015)