There are many different risks surrounding alcohol use, including addiction and a wide range of health concerns. However, the most dangerous acute condition that can occur is alcohol poisoning1.
Thousands of people2 die due to alcohol overdose in the United States each year. If you or someone you love drinks alcohol, it’s important to understand how alcohol poisoning happens and what to do if it occurs.
Can You Overdose on Alcohol?
It’s possible to overdose on alcohol, and the outcome can be fatal. Alcohol overdose is also referred to as alcohol poisoning, and data shows that an average of six people die each day2 because of it. Around 76% of those who overdose on alcohol are aged 35 to 64, and about three in four people who die from alcohol poisoning are male.
What Is Alcohol Poisoning?
Alcohol poisoning1 occurs when the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream is so high that it interferes with the brain’s ability to control basic functions of life support. Alcohol affects GABA receptors3 in the brain and slows down the neurological system’s normal function. This can create a “buzzed” feeling in low doses, but in high doses, it can be fatal.
A blood alcohol content (BAC) above 0.40%4 causes a risk of death or coma in most people. Depending on the person, however, a lower BAC can also be dangerous. For example, some groups may face life-threatening risks at a 0.30% BAC.
People who used to drink heavily but stopped are particularly at risk for alcohol poisoning if they begin drinking again. Because they will no longer have a high tolerance for alcohol, drinking the same amount they did before getting sober can easily lead to an overdose.
Alcohol Poisoning Symptoms
If you or someone around you is drinking heavy amounts of alcohol, it is important to be able to quickly recognize the signs of alcohol poisoning. The symptoms of alcohol poisoning5 include:
- Difficulty remaining conscious
- Inability to wake up
- Slow or irregular breathing
- Slow heart rate
- Clammy skin
- Dulled responses
- Low body temperature
- Bluish skin color or paleness
If you or someone you are with is experiencing symptoms of alcohol poisoning, immediately seek emergency medical care.
How Long Does Alcohol Poisoning Last?
The length of time that alcohol poisoning lasts depends on several factors, including how quickly your body processes alcohol. Your body will begin reducing the amount of alcohol in your blood immediately after your last drink. How quickly your body eliminates alcohol6 depends on factors like:
- Overall health
- Medications used
- How much food was recently eaten
The alcohol poisoning timeline can also vary depending on the effects you experience. Your BAC may return to normal within several hours, but some effects can be long-lasting or even permanent. If alcohol poisoning affects your breathing, for example, it could lead to brain injury that will never go away.
How To Treat Alcohol Poisoning at Home
The only time you should ever treat alcohol poisoning at home is if you are taking care of someone while waiting for an ambulance to arrive. Alcohol poisoning can be fatal, so you should always call emergency services to get immediate medical treatment.
After calling 911, you may need to provide mouth-to-mouth or CPR if the person is not breathing adequately or does not have a pulse. If the person is still breathing, you should position them on their side to ensure any vomit does not clog their airway. Continue to monitor their breathing and pulse until an ambulance arrives. In most cases, it is not advisable to transport an alcohol poisoning victim yourself, as they may develop life-threatening problems on the way to the hospital.
Treatment for Alcohol Poisoning
Treatment for alcohol poisoning will be different for each person, and it should be planned and provided by doctors and nurses in a hospital. If someone you are with experiences alcohol poisoning symptoms, immediately call 911 and stay with them until help arrives.
Alcohol poisoning is just one of the many dangers associated with alcohol use. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol abuse and addiction, The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper can help. Contact us today to learn about alcohol addiction treatment programs and recovery resources that can help you achieve lasting sobriety.
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- Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. “Alcohol poisoning or overdose.” 2021. Accessed November 29, 2021.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol Poisoning Deaths.” January 6, 2015. Accessed November 29, 2021.
- Davies, Martin. “The role of GABAA receptors in mediating[…]ntral nervous system.” Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience, July 2003. Accessed November 29, 2021.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Blood Alcohol Level.” MedlinePlus, December 3, 2020. Accessed November 29, 2021.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Overdose.” May 2021. Accessed November 29, 2021.
- Seladi-Schulman, Jill. “How Long Does Alcohol Poisoning Last?” Healthline, June 10, 2019. Accessed November 29, 2021.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.