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Alcohol Poisoning: Definition, Symptoms, and Treatment. What Happens When You Get Drunk

Alcohol poisoning is real, and the consequences can be serious. It's important to know the signs of alcohol poisoning so it can be treated before it becomes deadly.

a woman suffering from alcohol poisoning

What is alcohol poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning happens when a person consumes so much alcohol that certain bodily functions become affected. Sometimes mistaken for just being drunk, a person suffering from alcohol poisoning can show similar traits but with far more serious consequences.

When alcohol reaches a certain level in the body, your liver has trouble processing it because alcohol is being consumed more quickly than it's filtered out. Crucial things like breathing can be affected, possibly resulting in a coma, brain damage or death. It generally occurs when somebody drinks beyond their normal limit and, in theory, can happen to anyone.

Any type of alcohol can cause alcohol poisoning, from regular alcoholic drinks to cleaning products and hand sanitizer. The amount of alcohol that leads to poisoning depends on the age, weight, height, and tolerance of the person.

A child could easily get alcohol poisoning from accidentally ingesting a small portion of household cleaner, while a large man might need to drink over a dozen beers to suffer the same effect.

The severity of alcohol poisoning is often ignored because lots of people get drunk regularly without major consequences and the symptoms of alcohol poisoning sometimes mimic intoxication.

No one needs a lecture on how damaging binge drinking is in general, but it's important to keep in mind that, according to the CDC, alcohol poisoning kills six Americans every day.

There's no way to tell what drink will push your body over the edge from being drunk to becoming poisoned by alcohol, so moderation should always be practiced if you want to prevent it.

Vomiting caused by alcohol poisoning

As mentioned, the signs of alcohol poisoning are sometimes mistaken for drunkenness. In addition, someone with alcohol poisoning won't necessarily experience all of the symptoms. Trust your intuition, and if someone seems particularly affected, they may, in fact, have alcohol poisoning.

Here are some of the common symptoms of alcohol poisoning that you can be on the lookout for:

  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Slow breathing
  • Irregular breathing
  • Seizures
  • Pale or blue-tinged skin
  • Low body temperature
  • Loss of consciousness

It's more likely that you or another person will recognize an alcohol overdose when you see it in someone you know because they're acting differently than they normally do when drinking. Step in if you notice these signs in a stranger as well — you might just save their life.

Don't be afraid to seek treatment or call for help if you believe you or someone else is displaying signs of alcohol poisoning. Don't assume someone's just had a few too many drinks. It's better to be safe than sorry in this situation.

Alcohol poisoning symptoms the next day

Alcohol poisoning symptoms can continue into the next day if they haven't been treated properly. If any of the above signs are still present the following afternoon, that means there are still dangerously high levels of alcohol in the body, and you need to seek treatment.

How long does alcohol poisoning last?

It typically takes the body an hour to process one unit of alcohol. The duration of alcohol poisoning depends on how much alcohol was consumed, along with other variables.

Alcohol poisoning lasts longer if the person keeps drinking. This is because it takes time for your body to process all amount of consumed alcohol. Binge drinking can last hours to days, with the risk of alcohol poisoning increasing as time passes.

Even if you stopped drinking and passed out, your stomach and intestines keep releasing alcohol in the bloodstream leading to an increase in alcohol level in your body. 

Other elements contributing to the length of time a person experiences alcohol poisoning are age and size. Each person is a different tolerance for how much alcohol they can consume and how long it takes their body to filter it out.

Alcohol poisoning treatment

It goes without saying that prevention is the best cure for this condition. Pregnant women should avoid alcohol, as both miscarriages and fetal alcohol syndrome are a risk. Neither should people with illnesses that are exacerbated by drinking or those looking to lead healthy lifestyles, such as women trying to conceive.

Those who feel that abstaining is not an option should drink in moderation and definitely avoid binge drinking.

If you do notice signs of alcohol poisoning in yourself or someone else, stop consuming alcohol right away. Call emergency services or go to the nearest emergency room.

There is no need to feel embarrassed — this is something that needs to be treated. In the meantime, try to keep the person conscious; if they are vomiting, turn their head to the side if they lie down to prevent choking.

If possible, offer them small sips of water to stave off dehydration. Try to keep the person safe while waiting for help as they are in a very vulnerable state.

In the long term, you need to evaluate how much alcohol you are consuming. Are you binge drinking on a regular basis? Do you need to cut down? Is alcohol affecting your general well-being?

If you feel alcohol is getting in the way or you might be at risk to alcohol poisoning, talk to your doctor to learn more about emergency rooms in your area. Otherwise, keep alcohol to a minimum, alternate every drink with a glass of water and always be on the lookout for signs of alcohol poisoning.

A few drinks can help you enjoy a great night out, but going overboard and getting alcohol poisoning can cause it to end in disaster.

https://www.webmd.com/first-aid/alcohol-intoxication-treatment

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-poisoning/symptoms-causes/syc-20354386

https://www.alcohol.org/faq/what-is-alcohol-poisoning/

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alcohol-poisoning/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hangovers/symptoms-causes/syc-20373012

https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/alcohol-poisoning-deaths/index.html

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/miscarriage/causes/

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