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Alcohol Poisoning

Published: May 14, 2012
Dear TeenHealthFX,
How can you tell if someone has alcohol poisoning and what do you do if you think someone does have it?
Signed: Alcohol Poisoning

Dear Alcohol Poisoning,


There are many dangers associated with underage drinking, but the reality is that underage drinking does go on. In fact, underage drinkers account for about 20% of the over 4 billion alcohol drinks consumed monthly, adding up to over $22 billion a year spent on alcohol by underage drinkers. And binge drinking – highly associated with alcohol poisoning – increases during adolescence and often peaks in the mid-20’s. There are approximately 1.5 billion binge drinking episodes occurring every year, and 30% of teens admit to binge drinking at least once a month.

Given these statistics, it is important for teens and young adults to understand the risks associated with binge drinking, to be educated about alcohol poisoning and how to prevent it, and to know what to do in the event someone may have alcohol poisoning.


What Is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning occurs as a result of drinking large amounts of alcohol over short periods of time. When a person has alcohol poisoning their BAC (blood alcohol concentration) – this is the percentage of alcohol circulating in the bloodstream – rises to a danger point. It is very serious and can even be deadly. Your breathing, heart rate and gag reflex can all be negatively affected – and it can even result in coma and death.  


How Can Alcohol Poisoning Be Prevented?

Drink alcohol in moderation/Do not binge drink. This is basically the number one factor in preventing alcohol poisoning. Doctors generally recommend that women have no more than 1 drink per day and men have no more than 2 per day. At the absolute most you should not be having more than one drink per hour. And when you have a drink, drink it slowly.

Keep the following in mind when it comes to drinking in moderation:

·         A drink is defined as one 12oz beer, one 4oz glass of wine, one 10oz wine cooler or one 1oz of 80-proof hard alcohol.

·         Many mixed drinks have more than 1 serving of alcohol, so find out exactly how much alcohol is in your drink.

·         Body weight, height, gender, and body chemistry can all affect how quickly a person becomes intoxicated.   


Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Having some food in your stomach before you consume any kind of alcoholic beverages can help to slow alcohol absorption.


What Are The Symptoms Of Alcohol Poisoning?

Symptoms can include:

·         Confusion, stupor

·         Vomiting

·         Seizures

·         Slow breathing (less than eight breathes per minute)

·         Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)

·         Skin that is bluish in color or pale

·         Low body temperature (also known as hypothermia)

·         Unconsciousness (often referred to with drinking as “passing out”)


What Happens When Alcohol Poisoning Goes Untreated

If you suspect someone may have alcohol poisoning, it is important to get them medical help right away. This is because untreated alcohol poisoning can result in the person:

·         Choking on his/her own vomit or inhaling vomit into the lungs

·         Slowed or irregular breathing, or breathing that stops altogether

·         Heartbeats that are irregular or that stop

·         Hypothermia (low body temperature)

·         Hypoglycemia (too little blood sugar) that leads to seizures

·         Untreated severe dehydration from vomiting that can cause seizures, permanent brain damage, or even death


What To Do When Someone Is Intoxicated or Someone May Have Alcohol Poisoning

If someone is intoxicated:

·         Continually monitor the person for signs of alcohol poisoning. This includes checking their breathing and checking to see if they are conscious or not.

·         Do not allow the person to drive a car or do anything else that could put them or someone else in danger of being hurt.

·         Do not give the person food, liquids or other medicines in an attempt to sober them up.

·         Do not give the persona cold shower as the shock of the cold could negatively affect the person.

·         Do not exercise the person.

·         Remember that time is the only thing that can sober up someone who is intoxicated.

If someone may have alcohol poisoning:

·         If you suspect someone may have alcohol poisoning, seek immediate medical care for that person. Keep in mind that all the above mentioned symptoms do not have to be present for someone to have alcohol poisoning and for that person to need immediate medical attention – so do not wait for all signs and symptoms to be present before taking action.

·         Do not leave an unconscious person alone while waiting for help.

·         Stay with a person who is vomiting while waiting for help and do not try and make them throw up. This is because alcohol poisoning can compromise how the gag reflex works and there is a possibility of a person choking on their own vomit or inhaling vomit into the lungs. If a person is vomiting, try to keep that person sitting up. If he/she must lie down, keep the person on his/her side with his/her head turned to the side. Watch for choking and call 911 if the person starts to choke.

·         Do not assume a person will be able to sleep off alcohol poisoning as a person’s BAC (blood alcohol concentration) can continue to rise even while passed out.

When to call poison control:

·         If a person is conscious, call 1-800-222-1222 to be connected with your local poison control center so that a professional staff member can instruct you on what needs to be done. Know that calls to poison control centers are confidential.  

When to call 911 or your local emergency number:

·         If the person is unconscious

·         If the person is asleep and you cannot wake him/her up

·         If the person’s breathing is less than eight times a minute

·         If the person has repeated and uncontrolled vomiting

·         If the person’s skin is pale or bluish in color

·         If a person has consumed alcohol in combination with other drugs, as some drug combinations can be fatal.

If known, inform hospital or emergency personnel about the kind and amount of alcohol the person drank and when he/she drank it.


There are many dangers associated with underage drinking and binge drinking – and alcohol poisoning is one of them. While steering clear of alcohol (especially for those who are underage) is the obvious and easiest answer to this problem, FX knows that some teens and young adults will make the choice to drink and will be in situations where binge drinking is going on or someone around them may have consumed too much alcohol. So make sure you are educated on the best ways to prevent alcohol poisoning and what to do if someone you know may have alcohol poisoning.

Signed: TeenHealthFX