10 Alcohol Poisoning Symptoms: Essential Tips That Might Save A Life

People consume alcoholic beverages to elevate their moods, increase confidence, or just to have a good time. However, drinking a lot of alcohol within a short space of time can have very dire consequences. In medical terms, this is called alcohol poisoning. Your ability to recognize someone exhibiting alcohol poisoning symptoms can help save a life.

What Do Alcoholic Drinks Contain?  

Alcoholic drinks contain a form of alcohol called ethanol that is obtained after sugars are fermented. Ethanol is also used in some medications, household products, mouthwash, and certain cooking extracts. Other forms of alcohol include isopropyl, methanol, butyl, and amyl, among others. All of these are known to cause acute poisoning when ingested, and that is why it is important to recognize alcohol poisoning symptoms.

When Does Alcohol Become a Poison?

The main cause of alcohol poisoning is drinking too much too quickly. In some isolated cases, alcohol poisoning also occurs when a person accidentally drinks a household product containing alcohol. When you consume an inordinate amount of alcohol, your blood alcohol content rises to toxic levels. Consequently, the liver is unable to filter out (metabolize) the alcohol out of your bloodstream – resulting in alcohol poisoning symptoms.

It is highly recommended to only drink a minimal amount of alcohol as opposed to the natural desire to keep going. This will help you drink safely without experiencing alcohol poisoning symptoms. Approximately, your body takes one hour to metabolize one drink, or 1 unit, of alcohol.

The following is the standard definition of one drink of alcohol in the four major categories of alcoholic beverages:

  • Regular beer – 12 ounces/355 milliliters
  • Malt liquor – 9 ounces/266 milliliters
  • Wine – 5 ounces/148 milliliters
  • 80-Proof hard liquor – 1.5 ounces/44 milliliters

Some distilleries and breweries make blended drinks in a bid to achieve certain tastes. It is important to note that blended drinks often take a longer time to metabolize in the liver.

Most health experts are of the opinion that the risk of alcohol poisoning begins after taking the 12th drink. Drinkers are advised not to drink more than 14 units a week as a measure of reducing the health risks associated with alcohol.  

How much alcohol the liver can process and within what duration varies from person to person. There are several factors that cause this variation and they include the following:

1. Frequency of Drinking

The human body contains an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase that breaks down alcohol in the liver and in the bloodstream. A sudden high level of alcohol dehydrogenase activity transforms ethanol into a more toxic compound called acetaldehyde, a contributing cause of a hangover. A regular drinker has a lower alcohol dehydrogenase activity and, thus, can tolerate more alcohol than a social drinker.

2. Age

Between the ages of 35 to 55 an individual is more likely to experience alcohol poisoning. Teenagers have a higher rate of metabolism which enables them to drink large quantities of alcohol without getting poisoned when compared to an older drinker.

3. Eating Habits

Drinking on an empty stomach increases the risk of alcohol poisoning. When there is food in the stomach, alcohol absorption is slowed down to a safer rate. Some alcohol poisoning symptoms such as vomiting get worse when on an empty stomach.

4. Prescribed Medications

Combining alcohol with certain medications like metronidazole may increase the risk of developing alcohol poisoning symptoms.

5. Sex and Size of the Drinker

Women have more body fat, lower dehydrogenase, and experience hormonal changes; these factors intensify how their bodies respond after a round of drinks. Men, on the other hand, have more blood volume against body fat and a higher level of dehydrogenase.

The water concentration in the body of a man is around 61% while in that of a woman it’s about 52%. This makes a man more capable of diluting alcohol. Hence, women are at a higher risk of alcohol poisoning than men after drinking an equal amount.

6. Physiological and Overall Health

A stressed individual may experience hypothyroidism. This occurs when the thyroid is underactive and results in loss of body energy. If the individual then consumes a lot of alcohol, their body metabolism rate may not be sufficient in eradicating the ethanol timely. This will inadvertently increase their risk of alcohol poisoning.

10 Alcohol Poisoning Symptoms   

1. Slurred Speech

It’s normal for your speech to be affected after you consume alcohol. However, a severely slurred speech is a definite alcohol poisoning symptom. If someone’s voice is inaudible and incoherent, rush them to the nearest hospital as soon as possible.

2. Hypothermia

This is a condition in which your body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit/35 degrees Celsius. This is also a sign that the body alcohol content has reached toxic levels.

3. Irregular Breathing

A person who has been poisoned by alcohol may experience difficulty while breathing. If they are taking less than 8 breaths per minute, their situation could be getting critical and you should rush them to a hospital immediately.

4. Cardiac Arrest

If the individual’s breathing becomes persistently difficult, they become susceptible to a cardiac arrest. This is a life-threatening symptom of alcohol poisoning that requires immediate medical attention.

5. Reduced Vision

 Alcohol consumption can lead to ocular abnormalities. An alcohol poison victim may complain of reduced vision.

6. Stomach Pain

Large quantities of alcohol in the body cause pancreatic inflammation. If someone who has consumed alcohol is complaining about a pain in the stomach, help them get to a hospital quickly for treatment.

7. Confusion

Alcohol poisoning damages brain cells. This causes the victim to lose awareness of their surroundings and the surrounding happenings. The victims lose their ability to think responsibly.

8. Severe Vomiting

Vomiting is one way in which the body tries to get rid of unabsorbed alcohol by emptying the stomach. Unlike a normal drunken vomiting incident, an alcohol poisoning vomit is accompanied by other symptoms like pale skin, irregular breathing, and trembling. In some serious cases, repeated vomiting is known to tear blood vessels at the junction of the stomach and gullet. If the victim has become too weak, they may choke on their vomit and suffocate.

9. Stupor

This is a state in which a person is conscious but unresponsive verbally and in movement. If they happen to vomit involuntarily, there is a likeliness of them choking on their vomit. This can compromise their breathing since their gag reflex is already suppressed by the alcohol.  

10. Unconsciousness

If the excitatory effect of glutamate is greatly reduced, the drinker will lapse into unconsciousness. At this point, seek emergency medical help without any delay in order to save them.

What to Do before Medical Help Arrives

If a person is showing alcohol poisoning symptoms, you can do the following before medical help arrives:

  • Check the victim’s breathing and ensure it is regular; if it is not, give them mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
  • Keep the drinker awake and sitting upright; don’t let them “sleep it off” since they may lose consciousness while asleep
  • Give them water and assist them to drink but don’t force it on them
  • Keep them warm to avoid further temperature drops
  • If they have passed out, lay them on their side (recovery position)

Stay with them and continue monitoring their symptoms. Don’t try to put the victim under a cold shower, give them coffee/more alcohol or walk them around. This will not help them sober up, and could even worsen their situation.

How Is Alcohol Poisoning Diagnosed and Treated?

If the victim arrives at the hospital while conscious, the doctor may ask them a few questions concerning their drinking habits and health history. The doctor will then carry out a blood test to determine the blood alcohol content and glucose levels. Additionally, the doctor may conduct a urine test if necessary.
If the victim is unconscious, the emergency room physician will first check their vital signs. This includes body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure.

  • The following are the common treatments given to an alcohol poisoning victim:
  • Fitting them with an intravenous drip containing water, food fluids, or medications
  • Hemodialysis to mechanically filter metabolic waste from their bloodstream
  • Supplementary oxygen through a mask (if their airway is blocked, a mouth/windpipe tube is inserted to facilitate breathing)
  • Fitting a catheter to their bladder to drain away any urine they release so that they don’t wet themselves
  • Nutrients such as glucose and vitamins to prevent further damage to organs and brain cells
  • Medications to stop any seizure if present

How to Avoid Alcohol Poisoning

  • Store alcoholic products safely away from the reach of children
  • Don’t binge drink or recklessly play drinking games
  • Don’t drink on an empty stomach
  • Cut down on your alcohol consumption
  • Educate curious teenagers about the dangers of drinking alcohol and the resulting effects of alcohol poisoning


A little alcohol increases your heart rate which then makes your blood vessels expand. This effect is then followed by a warm sociable feeling. Unfortunately, some drinkers don’t stop consuming alcohol at this point. They continue to tip the scale until they exceed their body’s alcohol limit which then leads to alcohol poisoning.  Alcohol poisoning can cause irreversible damage to your nervous system. Drink responsibly and seek professional help if you have a drinking problem.

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