A person has alcohol poisoning if they have consumed a toxic amount of alcohol, usually over a short period. Their blood alcohol level is so high it is considered toxic (poisonous).
The person can become extremely confused, unresponsive, disoriented, have shallow breathing, and can even pass out or go into a coma.
Alcohol poisoning can be life-threatening and usually requires urgent medical treatment.
Binge drinking is a common cause of alcohol poisoning. However, it can also occur if somebody intentionally or unintentionally drinks alcohol-containing household products (much less common).
Fast facts on alcohol poisoning
Alcohol poisoning is a serious condition.
Even when someone stops drinking, there is risk of alcohol poisoning for some time afterward.
Symptoms include confusion, abnormal breathing, and vomiting.
In severe cases, alcohol poisoning is life-threatening.
Signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning
Alcohol poisoning can cause drinkers to lose consciousness when their blood alcohol concentration reaches a certain level.
Even when someone stops drinking, blood alcohol concentration (BAC) can continue to rise for 30-40 minutes, resulting in worsening symptoms.
The following signs and symptoms may indicate a progression from being drunk to alcohol poisoning:
hypothermia (the person’s body temperature drops)
pale skin, sometimes it may take on a bluish tinge
the individual is unresponsive but conscious (stupor)
the individual passes out
abnormal breathing – sometimes up to 10 seconds between breaths
very slow breathing
vomiting – potential to choke on vomit when confused
In serious cases:
breathing might stop completely
a heart attack may occur
there is a risk of choking on their own vomit – vomit might be inhaled into the lungs causing a serious infection
if the individual loses too much fluid (severe dehydration), there is a risk of brain damage
if blood glucose levels drop (hypoglycemia), they might develop seizures
If the alcohol poisoning is extreme, the patient can go into a coma and potentially die.
This article focuses on the medical aspects of alcohol poisoning, rather than other environmental dangers of alcohol abuse such as getting into fights, losing possessions, or having problems with the law.
Treatment for alcohol poisoning