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In early 2015, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a report stating that from 2010-2012, there was an average of 2,221 deaths per year from alcohol poisoning- that translates to 6 deaths per day from excessive alcohol consumption in the United States. These types of deaths are preventable! Knowing how much alcohol is safe for you to consume in a given time period, as well as what action to take when you suspect alcohol poisoning in another person, could very well save a life.

What is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning is a potentially fatal form of alcohol overdose. When you binge drink alcohol (defined by the CDC has having 5 or more drinks within a two hour period for men, or 4 or more in the same time frame for women), your liver can’t work fast enough to process it, and it builds up in the bloodstream. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) classifies binge drinking as any pattern of alcohol consumption that raises a person’s BAC to .08 g/dL. This can lead to potentially fatal consequences. Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it slows down brain activity; this helps to explain the range of symptoms of alcohol overdose (see below). According to NIAAA, “Alcohol poisoning occurs when there is so much alcohol in the bloodstream that areas of the brain controlling basic life-support functions—such as breathing, heart rate, and temperature control—begin to shut down.”

Who does it affect?

Alcohol poisoning can affect anyone who drinks enough in a short period of time to raise their BAC to dangerous levels. This amount can vary based on gender, body weight, food consumption, tolerance levels, other drug use, and oftentimes family history. To prevent alcohol poisoning, be sure to stay within the dietary guidelines (1 drink/day for women, up to 2 drinks/day for men, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans). Additionally, avoid combining alcohol with energy drinks, which can disguise the depressant effects of alcohol and encourage over-consumption.

Signs and Symptoms

Knowing how to identify alcohol poisoning can be a potentially lifesaving skill. According to NIAAA, symptoms of alcohol poisoning can include:

  • Mental confusion, stupor, coma, or inability to wake up
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing (fewer than 8 breaths per minute)
  • Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature), bluish skin color, paleness

If you are in a situation where someone has clearly had too much to drink, be aware of these symptoms, and when in doubt, call 911! Popular methods of “sobering up”, such as drinking coffee, getting fresh air, or “sleeping it off”, will not reverse the effects of alcohol poisoning, and may very well do further harm. It is important to seek medical help immediately in order to prevent serious consequences. The National Health Service (UK) provides some recommendations for what to do while waiting for medical assistance:

  • Try to keep them sitting up and awake.
  • Give them water if they can drink it.
  • If they’ve passed out, lie them on their side in the recovery position and check they’re breathing properly.
  • Keep them warm.
  • Stay with them and monitor their symptoms.

One mistake or a behavioral pattern?

Alcohol poisoning can be a serious indicator of alcoholism or a problem with alcohol abuse. If you or someone you know have had alcohol poisoning, or if drinking to excess has created problems for you, Serenity Acres can help you determine whether you should seek treatment. Visit our website to get in touch with an Addictions Specialist.