Alcohol Poisoning: Detection, Facts and Symptoms - AspenRidge

Make No Mistake About it – Alcohol is a Type of Poison

“What’s your poison?” Ever heard the expression? It’s not quite as popular as it used to be. But, you may at least recall hearing someone pose this question to a guest in an old movie when asking what kind of alcoholic beverage they would like to be served. People should say this more often. Why? Because alcohol is poison.

Poison is defined as, “a substance that is capable of causing the illness or death of a living organism when introduced or absorbed.”

Yep. That’s alcohol for ya. Poison.

Statistics That Should Persuade You That Alcohol is Poison

Not convinced alcohol is a type of poison? Here are just a few of the many statistics available on alcohol consumption that might change your mind:

  • Alcohol causes alcohol-related liver diseases like liver cancer, hepatitis, cirrhosis, and fatty liver.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption has been proven to cause brain damage.
  • More than 2,220 people die from alcohol poisoning every year.
  • There are more than 50,000 reported cases of alcohol poisoning every year in the United States.
  • About 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes ever year.
  • Alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.

If alcohol wasn’t a poison, you wouldn’t see these kind of statistics. Although it might be sold in nice bottles with pretty labels, make no mistake about it, alcohol is a type of poison that can have detrimental consequences on your body (not to mention your life!).

Alcohol abuse is a major problem in the United States. According to reports, people are drinking themselves to death in record numbers. That’s what happens when you mix poison with water. People get sick and they die.

Alcohol is A Very Dangerous Substance, in Spite of the Way Our Society Treats the Stuff

We live in a country where you can go to jail for being in possession of even a small amount of marijuana. Yet, alcohol is legal. It is sold at the corner store, served at restaurants, and made available at sporting events. This is insane. Alcohol is a dangerous and addictive substance – far worse than marijuana. Yet, our society okays the use of alcohol and even promotes it.

Think about it. We see commercials for alcohol on television. We see “Budweiser” plastered across the backboards of nationally televised baseball games because the beer company is a paying sponsor. Alcohol is associated with cultural events, celebrations, and many of the fun activities we engage in as Americans. The public perception of alcohol is that it safe and fit for human consumption.

But it’s not.

Not only does excessive alcohol consumption lead to the devastating disease of alcoholism (which can result in terrible health problems and even death), drinking too much alcohol in one sitting can lead to alcohol poisoning.)

Alcohol Poisoning Definition – What Happens When You Drink Too Much

Because we’ve established that alcohol is a poison, it’s not surprising that if you drink too much of the stuff, you will get alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol poisoning is what happens when there is too much alcohol in the bloodstream. This happens when a large quantity of alcohol is consumed in a very short a period of time. The body metabolizes alcohol through the liver, which happens at a rather fast rate of speed. If too many alcoholic beverages are consumed too quickly, alcohol poisoning can result.

Alcohol Poisoning is Alcohol Overdose

We hear about people dying from a heroin overdose or an OD from barbiturates all the time. What we don’t hear about is people overdosing on alcohol. Why? Well, maybe if we did, Budweiser wouldn’t be able to sponsor baseball games anymore. Maybe then, it wouldn’t be sold at restaurants or convenience stores. Alcohol sales make up a booming industry. Having public conversations about alcohol overdose isn’t good for business.

The truth is, thousands of people die from alcohol overdoses every year. We just don’t call them overdoses. We call it alcohol poisoning.

To be clear, when someone has alcohol poisoning, they are overdosing on alcohol. In extreme cases, when there is too much alcohol in the system, the body can’t handle it, the body shuts down, and the body dies. This is how someone has a fatal overdose from alcohol consumption.

Binge Drinking – The Number One Cause of Alcohol Poisoning

Usually, alcohol poison happens as the result of binge drinking.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as “a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men—in about 2 hours.” Alcohol poisoning usually happens when blood alcohol levels reach .28 with half of all drinkers dying when their blood alcohol level reaches .40.

This may not seem like a lot of alcohol, but it is. Those of us who have ever had a problem with drinking can easily consume four or five drinks in less than two hours. In fact, we may not even consider that a good start! However; it is important to keep in mind that the body can only process about one drink an hour.

Since binge drinkers often order giant hurricanes with beers sticking out of them, here’s the definition of one drink:

One drink is defined as:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer, which is about 5 percent alcohol
  • 8 to 9 ounces of malt liquor, which is about 7 percent alcohol
  • 5 ounces of wine, which is about 12 percent alcohol
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof hard liquor, which is about 40 percent alcohol

Drinking too many alcoholic beverages too fast can easily lead to alcohol poisoning, which is why binge drinking is so dangerous.

The Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning

How do you know if you or someone you care about has alcohol poisoning? Here are a few of the symptoms explained:

  • Confusion – Anyone who is intoxicated is going to experience confusion. However; someone with alcohol poisoning is going to experience extreme confusion. If the person in question cannot make any coherent sense, you should be worried. Ask them their name, what year it is, and ask them their birthday. If they cannot give you answers to these simple questions, they most likely have alcohol poisoning.  
  • Vomiting – Most people who drink too much alcohol in a short period of time are going to experience vomiting. While alcohol is an irritant of the stomach and can cause vomiting, someone who is throwing up from drinking too much alcohol may be experiencing alcohol poisoning. Quite often, people who experience vomiting as the result of too much alcohol are experiencing at least a mild case of alcohol poisoning.
  • Slurred speech – Again, just like the previously listed symptoms, someone who is drunk is going to slur their speech. However; if the speech is extremely slurred and even incoherent, you should definitely consider the possibility that the person has alcohol poisoning.
  • Slow-breathing – If you notice that the person you are worried about is breathing very slowly, you should be extremely concerned. Slowed breathing is a sign of alcohol poisoning. Unlike confusion, vomiting, and slurred speech, shallow breathing is not a sign of mild alcohol poisoning – it’s a reason to get immediate medical assistance.
  • Blue-colored tint to the skin – If someone appears to be turning blue, call 9-1-1 immediately. This means their body is shutting down and death could be imminent.
  • Low body temperature – If you think someone might have alcohol poisoning and they are cold to the touch, you should get help right away. Low body temperature is another sign that the body is shutting down because blood is not circulating properly.
  • Seizures – If someone is convulsing or shaking violently, they are probably having a seizure related to alcohol poisoning. Call 9-1-1 immediately. Do not hesitate.
  • Unconscious (passing out) and cannot be awakened – People get drunk and they pass out. Happens all the time. But, if you suspect someone may have alcohol poisoning, you should check on them regularly to make sure they can be awakened. If you cannot shake them from slumber, you should assume they need medical care and you should call for help. Coma and death can result from someone slipping into unconsciousness while they are experiencing alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol Poisoning is a Medical Emergency

If you think you or someone you are with is experiencing alcohol poisoning, you need to act immediately. Alcohol poisoning is a life-threatening condition that can result in death. It can also cause brain damage, seizures, or coma.

It can be hard to tell the difference between alcohol poisoning and intoxication. When someone has alcohol poisoning, you need a medical intervention. If someone is drunk, they need to sleep it off and wake up to fight another day.

The thing is; if you have even the smallest inkling of a suspicion that someone is experiencing alcohol poisoning, you should take immediate action and get that person medical attention. Time is of the essence when you are dealing with someone who has too much alcohol in their system.

Alcohol Poisoning – What to do if Someone is Experiencing Symptoms

If you are with someone who has consumed a large quantity of alcohol in a short time and they begin to exhibit any of the symptoms listed above, they may have alcohol poisoning. If you think someone may be experiencing alcohol poisoning, here’s what you should do:

Call 9-1-1.

Many people don’t call 9-1-1 when they think someone has alcohol poisoning for a number of reasons. The first reason is they aren’t sure the person has had enough to drink to actually be experiencing alcohol poisoning. The second reason is that they are afraid of the cost of medical services. The third reason is they are worried that their drunk friend or family member will be angry with them when they wake up in the hospital.

In the moment, these might seem like good reasons not to call 9-1-1….but they are not.

Remember, alcohol poisoning is a medical emergency and it can be life threatening. This is a time when you should err on the side of caution, pick up that phone, and call for help. Don’t be afraid. You could end up saving someone’s life.

Answer questions honestly.

After you call 9-1-1, make sure you stay on the phone until emergency responders arrive and follow all instructions given. You will most likely be asked a series of questions by the 9-1-1 operator. Answer all questions honestly. This is not a time to worry about being embarrassed or ashamed about what led up to you making the phone call.  

You will probably be asked what the person has been drinking, how much they have had to drink, and in what period of time. You will also be asked if they have consumed any illegal drugs and if they are taking any kind of medication. If you don’t know these answers, that’s okay. But if you do, be honest. The truth could mean all the difference in getting your friend or loved one the care they need to safely overcome alcohol poisoning.     

Keep the person sitting upright.

One of the ways that alcohol poisoning results in death is that someone will choke on their own vomit. Alcohol negatively affects the body’s natural gag reflex.

When someone is drunk, they are going to want to lie down – whether it’s on the bathroom floor or in bed. DON’T let them. Keeping the person upright can prevent them from aspirating, which means choking. Make sure they stay upright until EMS arrives.  

Don’t let the person go to sleep.

Alcohol poisoning slows breathing and can even shut off airways. Sleep also slows breathing. Someone who has alcohol poisoning can pass out and stop breathing in their sleep and die. Needless to say, you don’t want this to happen.

Also, when someone who has alcohol poisoning passes out, they can slip into a coma or have seizures. This is another reason you want to keep them conscious and talking.

Dealing with someone who is under the influence of alcohol isn’t easy. They may be belligerent, defiant, or hostile. However; you should do what you can to try and direct their behavior until emergency responders arrive on the scene. Keep the person sitting upright and talking and try and keep the situation calm as best you can. If they are having a difficult time staying awake, try to get them to stand up on their own two feet, which will help them to stay awake.

Factors that Contribute to Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is caused by the amount of alcohol in someone’s bloodstream. When there is too much, and the body can’t handle it, the body becomes poisoned. Then, the drinker experiences the symptoms of alcohol poisoning.

It is important to discuss some of the factors that results in alcohol poisoning:

  • Height and weight. Someone’s height and weight will determine how much alcohol their body can safely process in a given time. The bigger the person, the more alcohol they will be able to tolerate.
  • How much they have eaten that day. If someone drinks large quantities of alcohol on an empty stomach, they are more likely to experience alcohol poisoning. Food helps the body metabolize alcohol more safely.
  • General overall health. If someone is in poor health, they are more likely to experience alcohol poisoning. A healthy liver goes a long way to helping the body process alcohol. If someone if a chronic drinker and has liver damage, their chances of experiencing alcohol poisoning are greater than someone who is in good health.
  • Hydration. Alcohol dehydrates the body. If someone is already severely dehydrated when they start drinking, they greatly increase the likelihood of falling victim to alcohol poisoning.
  • The use of other drugs. If someone mixes other drugs with alcohol, like heroin or cocaine for example, the body has to work harder to process the alcohol. This makes the probability of alcohol poisoning much greater.

Alcohol Poisoning Treatment – What to Expect

Someone might think they are having a whole lot of fun when they are binging on alcohol, but getting treatment for alcohol poisoning is no walk in the park.

Here are some typical treatments for alcohol poisoning:

  • Stomach pumping. Someone who is experiencing alcohol poisoning will probably have their stomach pumped when they arrive at the hospital. This involves putting a large tube down someone’s esophagus to drain all the contents of the stomach. Stomach pumping gets all the alcohol out of the person’s stomach and prevents them from absorbing any more alcohol into the blood stream. Needless to say, it’s very uncomfortable.
  • Medications. Someone with alcohol poisoning may be given different medications intravenously to help them detox from the alcohol.
  • Hydration. As mentioned previously, alcohol dehydrates the body. Someone who has fallen victim to alcohol poisoning is extremely dehydrated by the time they reach the hospital. They will be given fluids intravenously to help hydrate the body, which helps the liver to process the alcohol.
  • Oxygen therapy. Oxygen therapy is common for someone who is experiencing alcohol poisoning. Too much alcohol causes shallow breathing. Making sure someone who has consumed too much alcohol gets enough oxygen is imperative.
  • Vitamins and glucose. In addition to fluids, someone with alcohol poisoning will be given vitamins and glucose to bring their body back to a place of wellness.
  • Monitoring and evaluation. The patient will be closely monitored and evaluated for 24 – 48 hours to make sure they have safely navigated the crisis. This includes regular checks of blood alcohol content.

Common Myths for Treating Alcohol Poisoning:

You’ve just learned what treatments are given to someone who is experiencing a bout of alcohol poisoning. Here’s what definitely doesn’t work:

  • Sobering up with a cup of coffee.
  • Taking a cold shower
  • Walking it off.
  • Sleeping it off
  • Eating bread.
  • Drinking milk.

Remember, alcohol poisoning is serious business and should be treated with professional medical care. You should not attempt to treat alcohol poisoning at home. There are no home remedies for alcohol poisoning. This is a condition that requires professional medical care.

Every Time You Binge Drink, You Are Putting Yourself at Risk

Alcohol poisoning is no joke. As explained, you can die from alcohol poisoning, have seizures, or go into a coma.

Every time you go out for a night on the town with friends with the intention of getting drunk, you are putting yourself at risk for alcohol poisoning. It only takes one drink too many to push you over the edge. What starts out as an innocent night of drinking can easily end up with a trip to the emergency room.

If you’re drinking alcohol in mass quantities, you might have a problem with alcohol. Take a moment and ask yourself….what’s your poison?

Think you might have a problem with drinking? Here are 10 telltale signs you’re an alcoholic.

Concerned that you might have an addiction? Learn 7 signs that addiction is a problem in your life.

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