Signs of Alcohol Poisoning

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Acute alcohol poisoning or intoxication is a serious, life-threatening condition. It results from drinking too much alcohol in a short period of time. Since alcohol can be so deadly, it’s important to know how to recognize the signs of alcohol poisoning and how to tell if you have alcohol poisoning. It is also essential to know how to treat alcohol poisoning at home. Alcohol poisoning is life-threatening and should be addressed immediately by emergency medical personnel.

What Are Signs of Alcohol Poisoning?

When someone has consumed a large volume of alcohol, they may begin to exhibit some of the following signs:

  • A loss of impulse control
  • A loss of coordination
  • Impaired decision making

If they continue to drink then they are likely to develop alcohol poisoning. Such a person should stop consuming alcohol before it becomes too dangerous. However, a person may also develop symptoms of alcohol poisoning without showing these warning signs first.

Common signs of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Loss of or difficulty maintaining consciousness
  • Mental confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizures
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Loss of gag reflex (can lead to choking)
  • Clammy skin
  • Low body temperature

If you do recognize these signs in yourself or in anyone you are with, call an ambulance immediately.

A mnemonic device can help you to identify the symptoms of alcohol poisoning:


  • Cold or clammy skin that may also be bluish or pale
  • Unconsciousness
  • Puking uncontrollably and/or frequently
  • Slow or shallow breathing


Treatment for Alcohol Poisoning

Anyone who suspects alcohol poisoning should call for medical help immediately.

While waiting for medical assistance to arrive, follow these guidelines:

  • Keep victims in an upright position
  • If they are able to drink safely, give them water
  • Keep them warm
  • Never leave them alone
  • Those who have become unconscious should be laid on their side in a recovery position to prevent them from choking in the event of vomiting
  • If the victim is unconscious, it is also important to frequently monitor their breathing and heart rate.

It is vitally important to never just leave a person alone to sleep it off. Alcohol blood levels continue to rise for 30 minutes to an hour after their last drink, and symptoms can become severe quickly. Other common misconceptions and dangerous home remedies include drinking coffee or caffeine, taking a cold shower (which can cause loss of consciousness), or walking it off. All of these are ineffective and can be dangerous.   

If medical intervention is sought, acute alcohol poisoning may be treated via several methods. The individual may be intubated in order to open their airways and aid breathing. They will receive an intravenous drip which provides water for hydration, and other vitamins or minerals to stabilize blood sugar levels and nutrient deficiencies. The patient may also need to be fitted with a catheter to prevent urinating on themselves as the alcohol leaves their body and fluids are replenished. Once the patient is stable, the medical staff will then assess any further needs that may have resulted from alcohol poisoning. This may include tests such as brain scans. The hospital staff will also address any injuries that may have occurred as a result of intoxication.

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How To Prevent Alcohol Poisoning

Once a state of alcohol poisoning has been reached, alcohol consumption should have stopped several drinks prior. It is best to be aware of how much alcohol is being consumed and to do so slowly, moderately, and responsibly. 

The amount of alcohol consumption that leads to alcohol poisoning varies from person to person, although there are recommended limits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) [1] recommends limiting alcohol consumption to 1 standard drink or less a day for women and 2 standard drinks a day or less for men. This is considered moderate alcohol consumption; the ideal is obviously to abstain from alcohol completely.

A Standard Drink of Alcohol is Defined as:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer (about 5 percent alcohol)
  • 8 to 9 ounces of malt liquor (about 7 percent alcohol)
  • 5 ounces of wine (about 12 percent alcohol)
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof hard liquor (about 40 percent alcohol)

How Do You Get Alcohol Poisoning?

Binge drinking is strongly associated with most cases of acute alcohol poisoning. Binge drinking is defined by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) [2] as, “drinking amounts of alcohol that bring blood concentration levels (BAC) to 0.08 percent or higher”. This often corresponds to having 4 or more drinks within 2 hours for females, and 5 or more drinks within 2 hours for males.

What Is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning is a medical phenomenon in which high levels of blood alcohol cause crucial areas of the brain to shut down. This includes breathing, heart rate, and temperature control, and can be lethal. Essentially, the individual has consumed such a large quantity of alcohol that their body becomes overwhelmed by alcohol to a life-threatening extent. Those who are fortunate enough to live through alcohol poisoning are still at risk of permanent brain damage as a result.

Preventative Measures

Rather than focusing on alcohol poisoning treatment, it is best to understand its seriousness, causes, and preventative measures. Following standard drink recommendations or abstaining from alcohol completely is the best way to prevent alcohol poisoning. Women are recommended not to have more than 1 standard drink per day, and men no more than 2 per day - less than that is certainly better. Part of drinking responsibly is consciously keeping track of the amount of alcohol you have consumed; mindlessly drinking alcohol is dangerous and can easily lead to alcoholism, intoxication and alcohol poisoning.

Diagnosis And Prognosis

A positive alcohol poisoning diagnosis is reached by checking vital signs and symptoms, along with a blood and urine test to check alcohol levels. These results combined with low blood sugar and other alcohol toxicity symptoms result in a diagnosis and intervention.

Another common question concerns the timeframe of alcohol poisoning. How long does alcohol poisoning last? Alcohol poisoning technically lasts until BAC levels are back within a safe range, typically when all the alcohol is out of the blood. This can take hours or days, depending on the amount of alcohol consumed, so it is very common to exhibit alcohol poisoning symptoms the next day. However, the side effects of alcohol poisoning can last far longer – even a lifetime.

Alcohol Poisoning Risk Factors

While anyone can experience acute alcohol poisoning, there are certain ages, genders, professions, and other characteristics that can make some more at risk than others.

Factors that increase a person’s likelihood of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Body weight
  • Whether or not they have eaten recently
  • The amount of alcohol in their drinks of choice
  • Their individual tolerance level
  • Whether they are combining alcohol with other drugs.


In the United States alone, alcohol statistics show that 76% of deaths from alcohol poisoning were among people between the ages of 35 to 64 years old. Of those ages, 76% were men. The rates of binge drinking among teens have also risen in recent years, to nearly 5% in ages 12 to 17 years old. 27 - 33% of young adults (ages 18 to 22) were reported as binge drinking, depending on college enrollment.

Knowing the Signs of Alcohol Poisoning Could Save a Life

Alcohol poisoning is serious and occurs more frequently than many assume. It doesn’t only happen to those who imbibe alcohol regularly, as it’s possible to reach toxic blood alcohol levels the first time one consumes alcohol. Drinking responsibly requires paying attention to the amount and type of alcohol you are consuming, and keeping others accountable for their own safety as well. If you notice signs of alcohol poisoning in anyone around you, call for medical help and do not leave them alone.

If you or a loved one are suffering with an alcohol addiction, there is help available. Avenues Recovery, leaders in addiction rehabilitation, offer medical alcohol detox programs around the USA that provide professional and personal comprehensive support and care. Contact us today and start your journey towards recovery!

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