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What Is Alcohol Poisoning?

When someone consumes more alcohol than their body can process, too much alcohol will enter the bloodstream in certain areas of the brain. These areas are responsible for life support functions, such as heart rate, breathing, and temperature control. The overload of alcohol will cause these areas to shut down. Alcohol poisoning can be deadly if it is not recognized and treated. It can also lead to a coma. Some of the signs that someone has alcohol poisoning include:

  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Slow breathing rate
  • Irregular breathing
  • Low body temperature
  • Clammy skin

If you believe someone is experiencing alcohol poisoning, please stop reading and seek medical attention.

People with alcohol poisoning can choke on their own vomit while unconscious, leading to death. In very serious cases, someone may have a heart attack, completely stop breathing, or risk developing brain damage. A person with alcohol poisoning should not be left alone while paramedics are on their way. It may be necessary to turn them on their side so they do not choke on their vomit, and bystanders should be prepared to administer CPR.

Once the person arrives at the hospital, their treatment depends on the severity of their symptoms. Less severe alcohol poisoning may be monitored until the person’s blood alcohol level drops. For severe cases, a tube may be inserted into the windpipe to help the person breathe. A urinary catheter may be needed in case of incontinence, and an intravenous drip to manage hydration, vitamin, and blood glucose levels.

How Do You Get Alcohol Poisoning?

The risk of getting alcohol poisoning is increased for those who binge drink. Binge drinking occurs when a man consumes 5 or more drinks in about 2 hours, and when a woman consumes 4 or more drinks in about 2 hours. It is the most common and deadly pattern of excessive alcohol use in America. Binge drinking is more common in men than women, and in adults aged 18 to 34. One in 6 adults binge drink about 4 times each month, averaging about 7 drinks per binge. Consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short amount of time can put someone at risk for alcohol poisoning, because they may not realize how intoxicated they are or will become. After drinking alcohol, it takes 30 minutes for alcohol to enter the bloodstream.

It does not matter which type of alcohol is being consumed; alcohol poisoning can be caused by beer, wine, liquor, or household products that contain alcohol. A standard drink is any drink that contains 14 grams of pure alcohol. That would be a 12 oz. beer, a 5 oz. glass of wine, or 1.5 oz of distilled spirits. Whether a person gets alcohol poisoning or not depends on their height, weight, and overall health. It also matters if they have eaten recently or if they are drinking on an empty stomach.

Combining alcohol with other drugs also greatly increases the risk of alcohol poisoning. An individual’s tolerance level plays a role as well. People who drink larger amounts of alcohol often can consume more alcohol than someone who has less experience drinking. This has led to cases of alcohol poisoning  in young people trying to keep up with their peers and has been an ongoing issue in the college drinking scene.

Young Adults And Alcohol Poisoning

An average of 6 people die every day from alcohol poisoning in the United States. Although 76% of them are between the ages of 35 and 64, it is still an issue in young people. In 2018, a 29-year-old woman purchased alcohol for a 16-year-old girl named Shelby Brakefield and her friends for a sleepover. The woman bought them 3 bottles of vodka that the girls consumed throughout the night, recording videos of themselves chugging vodka on Snapchat. The next morning, the girl’s friends couldn’t get her to wake up. She had died of alcohol poisoning. The woman who purchased the alcohol was sentenced to 2 years in prison and 18 months of probation.

In 2019, 18-year-old Noah Domingo was found dead at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house for the University of California, Irvine. Domingo had died from drinking too much alcohol and several of his fraternity brothers were charged with furnishing alcohol to a minor causing great bodily injury. Although many college students choose to drink alcohol, some are coerced to drink excessive amounts when pledging to a fraternity or sorority.

One 19-year-old Drake University freshman pledged to Theta Chi fraternity and was allegedly pressured to drink large quantities of alcohol. At one point he was vomiting and extremely intoxicated, but two of the “brothers” pressured him to drink more. He became unresponsive and had to be resuscitated at Mercy Medical Center. Fraternities and sororities do not publicly condone hazing, but unfortunately it happens and puts young lives at risk. Young adults entering college should be educated about the risks of hazing and understand the dangers of alcohol poisoning.

Who Is At Risk?

Sixty-eight percent of people who die from alcohol poisoning are white, followed by Hispanic people at 15%, black people at 9%, American Indians and Alaska Natives at 7%, and Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders at 2%. The number of alcohol poisoning deaths vary by state, with Alaska having the most and Alabama having the least. Some other states with high rates of alcohol poisoning deaths are Utah, Ohio, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Colorado.

Get Help Today

The recommended guidelines for alcohol consumption are up to one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. Excessive alcohol consumption is dangerous and should not be considered normal. If you or a loved one is drinking to excess, they are at risk for a potentially lethal case of alcohol poisoning. Alcohol detox with professional treatment at a rehab facility can make the difference between life and death. Contact a treatment provider to get answers to your questions about rehab and learn more about treatment options.

  • Author: Hayley Hudson | Last Updated: February 1, 2022

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    Hayley Hudson

    Director of Content

    Hayley Hudson is the Director of Content at Alcohol Help. She earned a B.A. in Communications from the University of Central Florida. A passion for writing led her to a career in journalism, and she worked as a news reporter for focusing on stories in the healthcare and wellness industry. Knowledge in healthcare led to an interest in drug and alcohol abuse, and she realized how many people are touched by addiction.

  • Medical Reviewer: Theresa Parisi

  • Sources