Alcohol poisoning, also known as alcohol overdose, is a deadly consequence of binge drinking. According to the CDC, an average of six people die from this every day in the United States, 76% of whom are adults between the ages of 35 and 64.
Knowing the warning signs of an alcohol overdose can help you determine whether a friend or loved one is at risk and needs immediate medical attention. It can also alert you to whether someone may need professional treatment for alcohol abuse.
Here’s more about how to detect alcohol intoxication, and what to do next if someone you care about appears to be highly intoxicated and needs help.
What’s the Difference Between a Hangover and Alcohol Poisoning?
A hangover is a term that describes the set of symptoms you may experience the day after a night of heaving drinking. Hangover symptoms include dizziness, fatigue, nausea, and headaches, among many others. A person is more likely to experience a hangover if they drink on an empty stomach, are lacking sleep, use alcohol with other substances, or become dehydrated.
Alcohol poisoning occurs when you consume a high amount of alcohol within a short period (binge drinking), and blood alcohol concentration levels rise high enough to the point they shut down basic bodily functions. Breathing, heart rate, and temperature control become impaired to increase the risk for permanent brain damage, coma, and death, reports the National Institutes of Health.
A hangover usually resolves itself by the end of the day and after you’ve gotten plenty of rest, food, and water. In contrast, an alcohol overdose is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate treatment and supportive care at a hospital to prevent complications including death.
What Are the Dangers Of Having An Alcohol Overdose?
Death is the most serious threat associated with an alcohol overdose; however, there are many other potential complications that can occur.
Some of the dangers of too much alcohol include:
- Choking, as alcohol can suppress the gag reflex to increase the risk of choking if the person vomits while unconscious.
- Dehydration, due to excess alcohol intake, urination, and vomiting that may occur when drinking heavily.
- Irregular, slowed, or stopped heart rate.
- Slowed or stopped breathing, especially if the person vomits and inhales it into their lungs.
- Hypothermia, due to how alcohol interferes with body temperature regulation.
- Seizures, due to dangerously low drops in blood sugar levels.
- Brain damage.
Warning Signs and Symptoms Of Alcohol Poisoning
Alcohol poisoning symptoms are highly similar to symptoms associated with drug overdose. Some people may experience multiple symptoms, while others may experience only a few.
Warning signs include:
- Confusion or stupor
- Irregular breathing (a period of 10 seconds or more between each breath)
- Slowed breathing (fewer than eight breaths a minute)
- Slowed heart rate
- Clammy skin
- Pale or blue-tinged skin
- Low body temperature (hypothermia)
- Dulled responses
- Loss of consciousness, or the inability to wake up
An alcohol overdose is considered a serious medical emergency. If you suspect that your friend or loved one may have had too much to drink and is at risk for an alcohol overdose, keep an eye on their symptoms and behavior, and be ready to contact emergency services.
When Should You Take Your Friend To the Hospital For Alcohol Poisoning?
Take your friend to the hospital if you think something is off about their behavior after excessive alcohol intake. A person who is unconscious may be at risk for dying and should be taken to the hospital right away.
If you have also been drinking, don’t drive your friend to the hospital. Instead, call 911 or emergency services for medical assistance. Provide the operator with specific information about the type of alcohol your friend consumed, as well as the amount. Mention whether they also used any other substances, such as opioids, so the emergency medical team can bring the necessary supplies such as naloxone—an opioid overdose reversal drug.
In most instances, the operator will instruct you on how to care for your friend until emergency services arrive. Stay by your friend’s side, and try to keep them up in a sitting position for as long as possible. This reduces the risk of choking on vomit or losing consciousness. If your friend is unconscious, place them into the Recovery Position to keep their airway open and prevent them from choking in the event they do end up vomiting.
How Is Alcohol Poisoning Typically Treated?
People who suffer from alcohol intoxication typically use oxygen therapy and intravenous therapy for treatment—the latter of which delivers fluids, vitamins, and glucose to the patient’s bloodstream to help them rehydrate and restore lost nutrients. Patients are monitored closely by nurses and doctors over a period of hours as the effects of alcohol wear off—mainly to prevent seizures, as well as choking and breathing problems.
Do not attempt to treat an alcohol overdose at home, as this can result in fatal consequences. For instance, telling your friend to sleep it off can result in their completely losing consciousness and suffering brain damage or coma. Lastly, avoid placing your friend in a cool bath or shower, as the shock from cold water may cause them to lose consciousness.
Seek emergency medical services at any time you think someone may be at risk.
Tips For Preventing Alcohol Poisoning In the Future
Alcohol poisoning can always easily be prevented. Follow these tips to avoid and prevent an alcohol overdose:
- Abstain from drinking, or limit yourself to one or two drinks on any single occasion.
- Eat a full, healthy meal before drinking to reduce the risk of intoxication.
- Get plenty of sleep the night before drinking, or avoid drinking if you’re suffering from sleep deprivation.
- Avoid using alcohol with any other substances, including prescription drugs and medicines.
- Drink plenty of water while drinking alcohol to avoid dehydration.
- Educate your children and teens about the dangers of binge drinking and alcohol abuse.
How To Get the Best Treatment For Your Friend’s Alcohol Problem
Any form of alcohol abuse can be effectively treated at an alcohol detox center, or at an alcohol rehab center. Addiction treatment centers such as these have highly trained and experienced nurses and doctors who can anticipate and treat symptoms of alcohol withdrawal to make patients feel more comfortable. Alcohol detox is always the first stage of addiction treatment before patients have the opportunity to transition into an alcohol rehab program to receive counseling and behavioral therapy.
Summer House Detox Center in Miami, Florida offers alcohol detox programs to help people safely recover from alcohol abuse and dependence. We can also treat symptoms of alcohol overdose in alcoholics and in others who need alcohol-related medical treatment. Contact us today at 800-719-1090 to learn more about our available alcohol detox programs.