Alcohol poisoning is a serious — and sometimes deadly — consequence of drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. Drinking too much too quickly can affect your breathing, heart rate and gag reflex and potentially lead to coma and death.
Binge drinking — rapidly downing five or more drinks in a row — is a main cause of alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning can also occur when you accidentally or intentionally drink household products that contain alcohol.
A person with alcohol poisoning needs immediate medical attention. If you suspect someone has alcohol poisoning, call for emergency medical help right away.
Alcohol poisoning treatment consists of providing breathing support and intravenous fluids and vitamins until the alcohol is completely out of the body.
Alcohol poisoning symptoms include:
It's not necessary for all of these symptoms to be present before you seek help. A person who is unconscious or can't be roused is at risk of dying.
When to see a doctor
Alcohol comes in several forms, including:
Although alcohol poisoning can occur when you accidentally — or even intentionally — drink household products containing alcohol, alcohol poisoning generally results from drinking too many alcoholic beverages, especially in a short period of time.
How much is too much?
Most alcohol is processed by your liver, and it takes about one hour for your liver to process (metabolize) the alcohol in one drink. One drink is defined as 12 ounces (355 milliliters) of beer, 5 ounces (148 milliliters) of wine or 1.5 ounce (44 milliliters) of 80-proof distilled spirits. Mixed drinks may contain more than one serving of alcohol and take even longer to metabolize.
The rate at which alcohol is processed can vary considerably from person to person and depends on a number of factors. In general, though, drinking more than one drink an hour gives your liver more than it can handle. Binge drinking — usually defined as rapidly downing five drinks or more in a row — is especially dangerous. Drinking large quantities of alcohol so quickly means that you can consume a lethal dose before you pass out.
What happens to your body when you drink?
A number of factors can increase your risk of alcohol poisoning, including:
Alcohol is a stomach irritant and may cause vomiting. It also depresses your gag reflex. This increases the risk of choking on vomit if you've passed out from excessive drinking. There's also a risk of accidentally inhaling vomit into your lungs, which can lead to a dangerous or fatal interruption of breathing (asphyxiation). Excessive vomiting can also result in severe dehydration.
Severe alcohol poisoning can be fatal. People who survive may have irreversible brain damage.
Tests and diagnosis
In addition to checking for visible signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning, your doctor will likely order blood tests to check blood alcohol levels and identify other signs of alcohol toxicity, such as low blood sugar. A urine test also may help to confirm a diagnosis of alcohol poisoning.
Treatments and drugs
Alcohol poisoning treatment usually involves supportive care while your body rids itself of the alcohol. This typically includes:
Adults and children who have accidentally consumed methanol or isopropyl alcohol may need kidney dialysis — a mechanical way of filtering waste and toxins from your system — to speed the removal of alcohol from their bloodstream.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Home remedies for sobering up abound, but most are ineffective, and some can be dangerous. Here's what doesn't work:
If you suspect that someone has alcohol poisoning, here's what to do:
If you're with someone who has been drinking a lot of alcohol and you see any of the following signs or symptoms, call 911 or emergency medical help immediately:
Here are some tips to avoid alcohol poisoning:
Last Updated: 2010-12-10
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