Some people enjoy having a beer, wine or liquor to celebrate or relax. In moderation, alcohol can be OK. After too much alcohol, you know you may get a hangover. But if you don’t know when to quit, you could be putting yourself in a life-threatening situation. When a person’s blood-alcohol level rises, so does the risk of 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.
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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:
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:
Because of how dangerous alcohol poisoning can be, it is important to understand the symptoms. Common signs of alcohol poisoning include:
There are two main ways to check someone’s blood-alcohol content:
If someone has alcohol poisoning, they may need lifesaving treatment right away. In a medical setting, healthcare professionals will use:
You can do several things to help someone who shows signs of alcohol poisoning:
When paramedics arrive, be ready to tell them what you can about the person. You might need to describe how much the person drank or what they’ve been doing since you called 911.
To prevent alcohol poisoning, limit your alcohol consumption. You need to know when enough is enough. If you or a friend are drinking, pay attention to how much you consume and how quickly. If a friend appears to be drinking too much too fast, try to intervene and limit how much more they have. Moderation is always important. Drink no more than one alcohol-containing beverage an hour.
Additionally, you can prevent alcohol poisoning by:
Call for help if you suspect someone has a drinking problem. The National Treatment Referral Routing Service is 1.800.662.HELP (4357).
Alcohol poisoning is serious. Someone who has too much alcohol to the point of an overdose can have:
If a friend or loved one appears to have alcohol poisoning, call 911 right away. The sooner they get treatment, the more likely you can prevent severe damage.
If you or someone you know has a drinking problem, seek help. The long-term effects of alcohol use disorder and alcoholism can be devastating. Get help now before things get worse.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
In moderation, alcohol can be OK. However, when peer pressure begins or drinking becomes more out of control, your health can be at risk. Limit your drinking, and if alcohol is a problem, seek help.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/15/2020.
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