Alcohol Poisoning

Many times teens are faced with the situation of themselves or a friend who has had so much to drink that they are on their way to suffering from alcohol poisoning. Some people laugh at the behavior of others who are drunk. Some think it's even funnier when they pass out. But there is nothing funny about the aspiration of vomit leading to asphyxiation or the poisoning of the respiratory center in the brain, both of which can result in death.

Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning
Alcohol is a poison. The symptoms of hangover are signs of alcohol poisoning:
  • Dehydration
  • Grogginess
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
Myths About Sobering Up
Common myths about sobering up include:
  • Drinking black coffee
  • Sleeping it off
  • Taking a cold bath or shower
  • Walking it off
The only thing that reverses the effects of alcohol is time - something you may not have if you are suffering from alcohol poisoning. Since many different factors affect the level of intoxication of an individual, it's difficult to gauge exactly how much is too much.

Your Body's Reaction to Alcohol Poisoning
  • Alcohol depresses nerves that control involuntary actions such as breathing and the gag reflex (which prevents choking). A fatal dose of alcohol will eventually stop these functions.
  • It is common for someone who drank excessive alcohol to vomit since alcohol is an irritant to the stomach.
  • There is the danger of choking on vomit, which could cause death by asphyxiation in a person who is not conscious because of intoxication.
Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)
You should also know that a person's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) can continue to rise even while he or she is passed out. Even after a person stops drinking, alcohol in the stomach and intestine continues to enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body. It is dangerous to assume the person will be fine by sleeping it off.

Critical Signs of Alcohol Poisoning

  • Hypothermia (low body temperature, bluish skin color, paleness)
  • Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)
  • Mental confusion, stupor, coma, or person cannot be roused
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing (fewer than 8 breaths per minute)
  • Vomiting
What to Do If You Suspect Someone Has Alcohol Poisoning
  • Be aware that a person who has passed out may die.
  • Do not wait for all symptoms to be present.
  • Don't try to guess the level of drunkenness.
  • If there is any suspicion of an alcohol overdose, call 911 for help.
  • Know the danger signals.
Untreated Alcohol Poisoning
The following may happen if alcohol poisoning is ignored and/or goes untreated:
  • Breathing slows, becomes irregular, or stops
  • Heart beats irregularly or stops
  • Hypoglycemia (too little blood sugar) leads to seizures
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature)
  • Untreated severe dehydration from vomiting can cause seizures, permanent brain damage, or death
  • Victim chokes on his or her own vomit
Brain Damage
Even if the victim lives, an alcohol overdose can lead to irreversible brain damage. Rapid binge drinking (which often happens on a bet or a dare) is especially dangerous because the victim can ingest a fatal dose before becoming unconscious. Don't be afraid to seek medical help for a friend who has had too much to drink. Don't worry that your friend may become angry or embarrassed-remember, you cared enough to help. Always be safe, not sorry.