Intoxication Causes and Prevention

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Intoxication is a common term used to describe the state where someone has ingested a large quantity of alcohol or other addictive substances.

What Is Intoxication?

You have reached the point of intoxication when the alcohol produces mental or physical impairments, such as slurred speech, difficulty walking, or disorientation. In addition to observable symptoms, your level of intoxication is also distinguishable through tests, such as a breathalyzer or blood test.


Alcohol is a term used for ethanol, a common substance in wine, beer, and liquor. Ethanol is responsible for intoxication because it has a depressive impact on parts of the brain. As more alcohol is ingested, the ethanol takes greater effect, causing impairments in progressive order, such as:

  • Loss of Inhibitions: After just a couple of drinks, you may feel more relaxed, more open and less self-conscious.
  • Euphoria: You may feel elated, engage in talkative or loud conversations or do other actions you wouldn't normally, such as dancing. 
  • Ataxia: Ataxia refers to impaired walking. You may be unable to walk a straight line or repeatedly stumble.
  • Poor judgment: You may make poor decisions you wouldn't otherwise make, such as sleeping with someone or driving under the influence.
  • Vomiting: You may begin to vomit as your body tries to rid itself of the ethanol in your system.
  • Confusion and lethargy: You may become disoriented, unaware of where you are. You also may become extremely tired, sometimes passing out. 
  • Shutdown of system: You can enter a coma-like state or even die. 


Many factors impact intoxication. Approximately 20% of the ethanol in liquor is absorbed into the blood from the stomach and the rest from the small intestine. The longer alcohol stays in the stomach, the longer it takes to be absorbed, lowering the rate of intoxication.

This is why drinking on an empty stomach causes rapid intoxication. Eating before drinking, and continuing to snack, slows the absorption of alcohol and reduces its impact.

What Can Worsen Intoxication

Some people are more prone to intoxication than others. For instance, someone who is a heavy drinker may be able to ingest much larger quantities than a light drinker without being intoxicated. Other factors impacting intoxication include:

  • Medications: Certain medications can enhance the effect of alcohol and increase intoxication. Sedative drugs, such as those for anxiety or mood disorders, can be extremely dangerous if combined with alcohol.
  • Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions can make you more susceptible to intoxication. Before drinking, talk to your doctor about potential risks and how much alcohol is considered safe.
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6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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