What is alcohol poisoning?
You may have had a hangover and recovered just fine. But alcohol poisoning is dangerous and can be life-threatening. It happens when a person drinks a large quantity of alcohol in a short time.
Alcohol poisoning can result from drinking any type of alcohol, including beer, wine or liquor. As your stomach digests and absorbs alcohol, the alcohol enters your bloodstream, and your alcohol blood level begins to rise. Your liver breaks down alcohol. But when blood alcohol levels are high, your overwhelmed liver can’t remove the toxins quickly enough.
The extra alcohol in the bloodstream is a depressant. That means it reduces normal function. In this case, it affects the parts of the brain that control vital body functions, such as breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and temperature. As blood alcohol continues to rise, the depressant effect is more substantial.
Who is most at risk for alcohol poisoning?
Every year, at least 2,200 people die from alcohol poisoning. Statistics show men between the ages of 35 and 64 are typically the ones who die from it. The majority of people who die from alcohol poisoning are white.
However, anyone can get alcohol poisoning. Some other important factors include the drinker’s:
- Amount of food in the stomach.
- Previous drinking experience.
What causes alcohol poisoning?
Too much alcohol in the blood causes alcohol poisoning. The condition is also called alcohol overdose. Determining how much alcohol is in the blood is measured by blood-alcohol content (BAC) as a percentage.
It doesn’t take a lot of alcohol in the blood to cause problems:
- Between 0.0 and 0.05%: This level is considered a mild impairment. Symptoms typically include some difficulty speaking and remembering things. The person may seem clumsy, and they may begin to feel a little sleepy.
- Between 0.06 and 0.15%: The person has reached increased impairment. The effects of mild impairment get worse. A significant impact on driving skills begins to show up.
- Between 0.16 and 0.30%: The effects of increased impairment get worse. Judgment and decision-making skills become very impaired. The person may suffer from blackouts. Vomiting is common.
- Between 0.31 and 0.45%: The situation is now life-threatening. At this point, the person has a significant risk of dying from the depressant effect causing vital life functions to slow too much.
What are the symptoms of alcohol poisoning?
Because of how dangerous alcohol poisoning can be, it is important to understand the symptoms. Common signs of alcohol poisoning include:
- Bluish-colored or cold, clammy skin, especially around the lips and fingernails.
- Confusion, slowed responses, lack of coordination or being unable to walk.
- Difficulty remaining conscious.
- Irregular pulse, heartbeat or breathing (intervals of 10 seconds or more between breaths).
- Problems with bladder or bowel control (incontinence).
- Seizures, vomiting or choking.
- Strong alcohol odor.