Alcohol poisoning is caused by drinking large levels of alcohol within a very short time, causing a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to get so high that it becomes toxic. Typically, if your BAC is between 0.6 and 0.15 percent, you’re considered buzzed to drunk. If that BAC gets above 0.15 percent, you’re in immediate danger of alcohol poisoning. If it gets near 0.30 percent, you’re at risk of death.
Alcohol poisoning is very serious and can be life-threatening. Anyone suffering from this needs to be rushed to a hospital immediately.
Binge drinking is typically the common reason someone gets alcohol poisoning. It can also happen if someone drinks a chemical product in the home that contains high levels of alcohol.
Alcohol is instantly absorbed into the bloodstream and it can take the liver about an hour to metabolize 0.25 ounces of alcohol. Therefore, you can usually start feeling the effects in as little as 30 minutes. It can also take hours to leave the body, causing you to feel drunk longer.
The more you drink in a short period of time, the more you’re at risk, as the body doesn’t have enough time to metabolize the alcohol. However, every person is different, so it’s challenging to determine exactly what level you can get alcohol poisoning.
The percentage of alcohol in drinks varies anywhere from around 5 percent (beer) and 40 percent (hard liquor). Those who drink hard liquor are apt to raise their BAC faster than those drinking beer.
Other risk factors to consider when it comes to raising BAC levels are:
It’s important to be aware of all possible risk factors before you start drinking, as well as have a personal limit of drinks in mind. This means telling yourself you’ll stop drinking after a certain amount of drinks, or space them out so your body has more time to metabolize them.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell if someone is drunk or if they’re sick from alcohol poisoning. Here are some symptoms to look out for to determine if you or someone you know has alcohol poisoning:
If you find anyone exhibiting these symptoms, call 911 immediately and get them to a hospital. Be prepared to give proper information, such as who they are, an estimate of how many drinks they had, what they had to drink, and anything else that may help paramedics.
While waiting for the ambulance, don’t leave the person alone. Be watchful for complications like choking, asphyxiation, and severe dehydration.
First, keep the individual awake as much as possible. If they become unconscious, they can easily slip into a coma and the risk of brain damage or death increases dramatically. Also, try to keep them in a sitting position so that they don’t choke if they vomit. Try to give them as much water as they will take to combat dehydration. Don’t give them any coffee, as this can also dehydrate, and definitely do not give them any more alcohol.
Once the individual is in the hospital, the severity of the alcohol poisoning will decide what type of treatment they need. If it is not too severe, they may simply be hooked up to IV fluids and be closely monitored as their alcohol levels go down.
More severe cases may require their stomach to be pumped to flush out the toxins. Cases in which the person has ingested household products containing methanol or isopropyl alcohol may also need dialysis.
Alcohol poisoning doesn’t always indicate that the individual has a usage problem or is struggling with alcoholism. However, it certainly shouldn’t be ruled out. If you or a loved one has experienced alcohol poisoning, you may benefit from undergoing psychiatric treatment to seek any underlying issues that may have contributed to over-drinking in the first place.
Anyone can fall prey to alcohol poisoning, though those most at risk are college students, middle-aged adults, and young children.
College students, especially first-timers, tend to feel independent and free from their parents’ authority. They’re usually quite excited to have free reign and not having to report to anyone. As a result, some will take on more dangerous risks without thinking through the consequences. This happens a lot at parties where there are drinking games going on.
Binge drinking is also a huge factor. College students will gamble to see who can drink the most shots, play drinking games, or dare each other as to who can drink the most. Not aware of the immediate effect of the alcohol on their bodies, these young adults can get alcohol poisoning far too quickly.
For middle-aged adults, the heightened stress from work, piling bills, family issues, etc. can contribute to a habit of drinking, especially if they started drinking in their adolescent years. The more stress you feel, the more tempted you are to reach for a drink in an attempt to relax. Middle age can be quite tough for those that have gone through a divorce, lost a job, or maybe even have lost a loved one. This can lead to binge drinking, which can lead to alcohol poisoning.
Parents who don’t keep dangerous household chemicals locked away are putting their young children at severe risk for alcohol poisoning. A toddler’s natural tendency is to explore and learn about the world they live in. If they gain access to something dangerous, they won’t know that it isn’t safe to drink.
Because a child’s body is so small, alcohol poisoning will affect them faster and more severely than if an adult drank the same product. If you suspect a child to have alcohol poisoning either by drinking alcohol or a household product that includes alcohol, call 911 immediately and get them to the hospital.
Good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to prevent alcohol poisoning. The following are ways you can keep your drinking in check, so you can keep yourself safe, drinking only in safe amounts.
Above all, use moderation when drinking alcohol. Learn how much your body can tolerate and act accordingly. If you know you can only handle three drinks before you feel drunk, stop before three – even if your friends are drinking more. Not only will you be healthier overall, you’ll avoid dangerously poisoning your body.
Don’t Drink On An Empty Stomach
If you’re going to drink alcohol, make sure to have something to eat along with it. The food will help slow down the alcohol absorption into your bloodstream, so you can avoid getting alcohol poisoning.
Educate Your Teens
Make sure your teenagers understand the dangers of drinking and how it affects the body. Reports show teens that are educated about alcohol use and feel free to have open and honest communication with their parents about the topic are less likely to start drinking or drinking excessively.
Store Products Safely
If you have products in your home that contain harsh chemicals, make sure to store them safely so young children can’t get to them.
If you’ve experienced alcohol poisoning, you may want to seek professional help to really look at your drinking behavior. Not being able to restrain yourself from over-drinking can indicate that you’re struggling with some things. You may have the disease of alcoholism and not be aware of it. Over-drinking time and time again is a symptom of the disease.
Even if you haven’t experienced alcohol poisoning, but you’ve woken up many times with a hangover due to excessive alcohol consumption, you may want to face the fact that you could be struggling with alcoholism. Or, at the very least, a dependence on alcohol.
Know that you’re not alone and help is available to address your drinking behavior.
There are effective treatment options available for problem drinking, binge drinking, and alcoholism. Your first step toward treating this is admitting that you’re in need of some help, and then, reaching out for that help.
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College Drinking Prevention. Facts About Alcohol Overdose. from https://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/parentsandstudents/students/factsheets/factsaboutalcoholpoisoning.aspx
Medical News Today. What To Know About Alcohol Poisoning. from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/215627.php
(n,d). Alcohol Poisoning or Overdose. Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. from https://www.ddap.pa.gov/overdose/Pages/Alcohol-Poisoning-Overdose.aspx
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. College Drinking. Alcohol poisoning and college students. (December 2019) from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/college-drinking
Cleveland Clinic. Alcohol Poisoning. Who is at the greatest risk for alcohol poisoning?. (October 12, 2017) from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/16640-alcohol-poisoning
National Capital Poison Center. Poison Control. Alcohol: A Dangerous Poison for Children. (n.d.) Gould Soloway, R., RN, BSN, MSEd, DABAT emerita Clinical Toxicologist from https://www.poison.org/articles/2013-feb/alcohol-a-dangerous-poison-for-children