Alcohol poisoning: Symptoms, treatment, and causes

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

A man passed out in the street from alcohol consumption.
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:

confusion

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

hypothermia

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.

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Treatment for alcohol poisoning

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