Most of us are familiar with the terrible hangover, plus lots of regrets, that follows an evening of overindulging in alcohol. However, drinking to excess can also lead to a serious medical condition called alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning occurs when the amount of alcohol ingested exceeds what the liver can safely process. Alcohol toxicity then causes a cascade of dangerous health effects, some that can be life threatening. Continue reading to learn more about high-risk drinking and alcohol poisoning.
Alcohol Poisoning Causes
When wondering what causes alcohol poisoning it soon becomes clear that there is only one cause — excessive alcohol consumption within a short period of time. The toxic burden to the body caused by too much ethyl alcohol in the bloodstream impacts the central nervous system. When the sedating effects of alcohol overwhelm the respiratory system it then becomes a medical emergency.
Alcohol poisoning can be the direct result of binge drinking, or of ingesting more alcohol than the body can process within a short time span. Binge drinking behavior is most common among young adult males, often the result of drinking games. Participants lose track of their alcohol intake while distracted by the competition and party atmosphere, inadvertently consuming too much.
But it isn’t only young college age adults that are engaging in binge drinking. There is evidence that the pandemic has led to many negative mental health effects, such as depression, loneliness, boredom, or despair. Alcohol can be an attractive agent to help numb these uncomfortable emotions, which leads to over-consumption among all age groups. Sadly, this sometimes results in alcohol poisoning.
CDC Safety Guidelines for Alcohol Consumption
According to the CDC, six people a day, or more than 2,100 a year, will die due to the effects of alcohol poisoning. Males outpace females 3 to 1 in the rate of alcohol poisoning deaths. Contrary to what is assumed, alcohol-poisoning deaths are highest among middle-aged white male adults between the ages of 35–64.
Alcohol poisoning is completely preventable. To help educate the public as to what constitutes a safe amount of alcohol, the CDC has developed guidelines. According to the CDC, safe drinking is limited to one alcoholic beverage per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men. A drink is defined as 1.5 ounces of liquor, 5 ounces of wine, 8 ounces of malt liquor, or 12 ounces of beer. Dangerous binge drinking would be indicated if, within a two-hour period, a man consumes five or more alcoholic beverages or a woman drinks four or more.
Know the Dangerous Side Effects of Alcohol Poisoning
If a loved one or friend experiences alcohol poisoning it is critical to immediately contact emergency services. Alcohol poisoning symptoms include:
- Vomiting when passed out
- Pale or blue-tinged skin, fingernails, or lips
- Low body temperature
- Slow, shallow breathing — slower than eight breaths per minute
- Chills or low body temperature
- Incoherent, mental stupor
- Low body temperature
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Fading in and out of consciousness, or unconsciousness
Deaths occur because alcohol toxicity depresses the central nervous system, leading to a dangerously low heart rate with respiratory distress. As a result, death can occur due to asphyxiation when vomit is inhaled into the lungs.
There are some actions you can take to help prevent the person from succumbing to the alcohol toxicity. These include:
- Do not leave them alone. Many alcohol poisoning deaths could have been prevented had the person had not been abandoned.
- Attempt to keep them on their side to prevent aspiration of vomit
- Do not offer any food or drink
- Try to keep them awake by talking to them while you await help
Once the person is admitted into the emergency room they will be closely monitored. They will receive respiratory support through supplemental oxygen. Intravenous fluids including glucose and vitamins are administered to prevent dehydration. In some cases, the individual will have their stomach pumped to remove any excess alcohol from the system.
It is so important to understand the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption. If you suspect you or a loved one has an alcohol use disorder (AUD), do not hesitate to be proactive in getting the help you need and deserve. Treatment is available to help you overcome the AUD and regain control over your life.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, holistic addiction treatment, drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to heal each individual with respect and dignity, and reflects on our ongoing commitment to meet new challenges. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.