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What To Do When Someone is Experiencing Alcohol Poisoning

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Drinking alcohol has become normalized in today’s society. While having a few drinks here and there is okay, some individuals drink past their limits. Almost everyone has woken up with a hangover before. But what happens when someone drinks too much? Drinking too much alcohol can lead to life-threatening health effects.

When an individual binges on alcohol, they are at risk of experiencing alcohol poisoning. This occurs when a person’s blood-alcohol level becomes too high. In other words, there is too much alcohol in their bloodstream and their blood is becoming toxic. This begins to cause the individual’s body to be unable to continue controlling basic life support functions.

Alcohol poisoning is the equivalent of an alcohol overdose. This condition must be treated swiftly and professionally, as the consequences of leaving it untreated may be fatal. Knowing what to do in this situation can save a person’s life.

What is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning occurs when an individual drinks a toxic amount of alcohol in a short period causing their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to get too high. This is typically the result of binge drinking. The condition may be mild, moderate, or severe depending on how much alcohol the individual has ingested. Additionally, the amount of alcohol it takes for an individual to experience poisoning depends on a variety of factors. These factors include age, drinking history, ethnicity, gender, and how much food the individual has eaten that day.[1]

As a general rule of thumb, men should not consume more than 5 drinks, while women should not consume more than 4 drinks, in a 2 hour period. Anything above this is considered binge drinking and would lead to a BAC of about 0.08%.[2] If someone were to reach a BAC of 0.31% to 0.45%, they are at risk of alcohol poisoning. Any blood alcohol content above this is considered potentially fatal.

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning

To help someone who is experiencing alcohol poisoning, individuals must be aware of the signs to look out for. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Bluish colored fingernails and lips
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Confusion
  • Decreased reaction time
  • Lack of coordination
  • Having a hard time remaining conscious
  • Hypothermia
  • Irregular breathing and pulse
  • Incontinence
  • Seizures
  • Choking or vomiting
  • A strong smell of alcohol on the body

If someone is displaying the signs of alcohol poisoning, they require immediate medical attention. However, there are steps people can take while waiting for medical personnel to arrive.

What to Do in the Event of Alcohol Poisoning: Step by Step

If someone is experiencing an alcohol overdose, they will need emergency medical attention as soon as possible. Because of this, the first and most important thing to do is call 911. Never assume that the individual will be okay, as alcohol overdoses are often fatal. Dispatch will also need to know the type of alcohol they drank and approximately how much they consumed.

Once emergency medical services are contacted, never leave the individual alone. Stay with the individual to make sure they stay conscious and awake. Additionally, alcohol poisoning can affect an individual’s gag reflex. Because of this, they are at risk of choking on their own vomit and being unable to breathe. While the individual is awaiting help, do not try to make them throw up. If they do vomit, sit them upright or turn them on their side to avoid aspiration.

Additionally, individuals may go into hypothermia, which makes them feel very cold. Cover them with a blanket to keep them warm. Throughout this entire process, it may be wise to keep talking to the individual to let them know what is going on. This will prevent them from becoming combative or belligerent.

Once medical personnel arrive, answer their questions about the individual’s drinking. Do not be afraid to answer honestly, even if the individual is underage. The medical personnel are there to save the person’s life, not arrest them for underage drinking.

How Alcohol Poisoning is Treated in the ER

Once the individual is transported to the ER, they will be treated with a variety of treatments.

Healthcare professionals will provide the following:

  • Intravenous Fluids (IV): prevents dehydration and increases blood sugar levels.
  • Oxygen: given to patients because alcohol depletes oxygen in an individual’s brain
  • Stomach Pumping: rid’s the patient’s body of alcohol and other toxins
  • Blood Filtration: dialysis is used to help patients when their kidneys are not functioning properly. This filters the alcohol out of their blood.

Find Help for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Today

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are conditions that must be treated professionally. Alcohol addiction treatment centers like Carolina Recovery Center provide patients with a roadmap to success. By combining medical detox, behavioral therapies, addiction education, family counseling, and 12-step facilitation therapy, we offer our clients a strong foundation of recovery. Contact us today for more information on alcohol abuse and alcoholism treatment.

Family-owned and operated, we take pride in our commitment to healing families as a whole. Recovery is not only for those who have abused drugs and alcohol but also for those who have suffered the trauma of loving someone with substance use disorder. Let our family help yours!

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