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What are the Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning?

By Susan Grindstaff
Updated May 17, 2024
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Symptoms of alcohol poisoning often do not occur until a lethal dose of alcohol has already been consumed. In some cases, people exhibit no symptoms at all. They may simply drink until they pass out, and sometimes die in their sleep. Some of the early symptoms include confusion, vomiting, and lowered body temperature. Symptoms that often occur during later stages of alcohol poisoning include blue tinged skin, irregular breathing, and unconsciousness.

Many symptoms of alcohol poisoning can be deadly. Consuming too much alcohol causes many of the involuntary reflexes of the body to shut down. One of these involuntary functions is breathing. In some cases, people who have alcohol poisoning may simple stop taking breaths. Often, when this occurs, the drinker has already lost consciousness, and life-saving measures must be taken immediately to prevent death.

In many cases, alcohol poisoning can inhibit the gag reflex. The gag reflex is necessary for vomiting, and when it is suppressed, vomit can pass into the lungs and cause suffocation. Consuming a great deal of alcohol often leads to vomiting, so suppression of the gag reflex in those who have alcohol poisoning can be fatal. As with breathing, when poisoning has advanced to the stage where the gag reflex is suppressed, the drinker is usually unconscious.

Oftentimes, a lethal amount of alcohol can be consumed very quickly. In fact, one of the main causes of alcohol poisoning is drinking too much alcohol too quickly. This is because the body needs about an hour to digest the alcohol content of a single drink. For those who drink several drinks very quickly, the danger of alcohol poisoning escalates, and symptoms of alcohol poisoning may begin to appear.

Body weight is also relevant to the amount of alcohol that can safety be consumed. People who weigh less typically absorb alcohol more quickly, so it takes less alcohol to cause drunkenness or poisoning. People with excess body weight are often able to consume larger amounts of alcohol before exhibiting any symptoms of alcohol poisoning.

In most cases, alcohol poisoning should be treated by a medical professional, so it is important to get emergency help on the scene. There are some first aid measures than can be taken while professional help is on the way. One of the most important things to do is to try to keep the victim awake, with their head in an elevated position. Wakefulness can sometimes be achieved using cold-water rubdowns or showers.

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Discussion Comments
By MrsPramm — On Jul 03, 2014

@bythewell - It's difficult to know whether a drinking culture can hurt or help people in terms of normalizing drinking. I don't think it's healthy for people to be expected to completely abstain from alcohol in a culture, because then they never learn how to drink properly and that can lead to alcoholism or alcohol poisoning as well.

On the other hand you don't want to normalize drunkenness either. You just want people to drink in moderation.

By bythewell — On Jul 03, 2014

@KoiwiGal - It's good that you didn't trivialize a moment like that. I wasn't much of a drinker when I was a student but I remember how my friends would act sometimes and they seemed to almost try and compete to see who could become the most drunk. They would swap stories about passing out or doing something stupid as though it was something to be proud of.

Now, I can see how those stories would be funny, but they never seemed to feel any regret over acting stupid and never seemed to learn from it either. I guess it's not a surprise that more than one of them has a serious addiction now.

By KoiwiGal — On Jul 02, 2014

I've got to confess I always thought that I could handle my drinking when I was at university and I would brush off any concerns from my parents about it because I wasn't doing anything differently from the people around me. It didn't seem like there were any long term concerns and I figured a few hangovers weren't that bad.

But one morning I woke up after a night drinking and realized that I had thrown up in my sleep and hadn't even realized it. Aside from being completely gross, it was extremely scary, because aside from alcohol poisoning, I knew that people often died simply because they vomited and then choked after drinking too much. I had never thought I would be that ill. And the worst thing was, it wasn't even a stand out night. I hadn't drunk that much more than I usually did.

So, after that I was a lot more careful about how much I would drink.

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