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What Is Alcohol Poisoning? Here Are the Causes, Symptoms, and Management

Alcohol poisoning is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Learn about its causes, symptoms, and how to manage it effectively.

By Jake Parks
Nov 15, 2023 7:00 PM
Man with hangover after drinking alcohol. Flat vector illustration of tiny drunk person sitting with bottle and glasses of liquor. Dizzy brain.
(Credit: SurfsUp/Shutterstock)


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Alcohol, often deployed as a social lubricant, can easily turn into a poison. It's a thin line between enjoyment and danger. Alcohol poisoning is a serious — and sometimes deadly — consequence of drinking large amounts of alcohol over a short period of time.

Understanding what alcohol poising is, recognizing the symptoms, and knowing how to respond could be lifesaving. So in this article, we’ll go over the basics of alcohol poisoning.

What Is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning occurs when a person drinks too much alcohol, usually over a particularly short period of time. The body can only process a certain amount (about one serving) of alcohol per hour[JP1] . Beyond this, alcohol can start to accumulate in the blood, eventually reaching toxic levels.

Alcohol poisoning impacts the body's vital functions, including heart rate, breathing, and temperature regulation. And in severe cases, it can even lead to coma or death.

Read More: How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?

What Are the Signs of Alcohol Poisoning?

Recognizing the signs of alcohol poisoning is crucial for timely intervention. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning can vary in severity and may include:

  • Confusion and stupor

  • Vomiting

  • Slow or irregular breathing

  • Blueish or pale skin

  • Low body temperature (hypothermia)

  • Unconsciousness or inability to stay awake

  • Seizures

It's important to understand that a person does not need to exhibit all these symptoms to have alcohol poisoning. So if you suspect someone you are with may have alcohol poisoning, it’s vital to immediately seek medical assistance.

Read More: What Happens To Your Brain When You Stop Drinking?

How Long Does Alcohol Poisoning Last?

The duration of alcohol poisoning depends on various factors, such as the amount of alcohol consumed, the individual's gender, height and weight, overall health, and whether they have recently eaten.

The body metabolizes alcohol at a steady rate. But the effects of alcohol poisoning can last for many hours as the body works to eliminate all the alcohol from the system. Though the primary effects of alcohol poisoning will typically wear off within several hours, it may take a few days for your body to fully recover.

Read More: Uncovering the Truth About Alcohol: Is It Really That Bad For You?

Why Does Alcohol Make You Throw Up?

Vomiting is a common response to excessive alcohol consumption. Alcohol irritates the stomach lining and increases the production of stomach acid, which can lead to nausea, stomach pain, and vomiting. Alcohol also prompts a response from the brain's area postrema, which detects toxins and triggers vomiting to rid the body of harmful substances.

To help a person who is vomiting, lean them forward to prevent choking. If they are unconscious, roll them on their side with their ear to the ground.

Read More: Even Moderate Drinking Is Not Good for Your Health

What To Do After Drinking Too Much Alcohol

If you believe someone you are with has alcohol poisoning, it's important to act quickly and calmly.

1. Seek Medical Help

Call emergency services immediately. Alcohol poisoning is a medical emergency, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

2. Keep Them Awake and Sitting Up

If they are conscious, try to keep them awake and sitting up.

3. If Unconscious, Turn Them on Their Side

To prevent choking, place them in the recovery position if you are unable to keep them awake.

4. Stay With Them

Continuously monitor their condition. Don't leave an unconscious person alone.

5. Hydrate

If they can drink, give them water. Excessive alcohol consumption, especially paired with vomiting, can quickly lead to dehydration.

6. Don't Rely on Home Remedies

Coffee, cold showers, and sleeping it off won't reverse the effects of alcohol poisoning.

After an episode of alcohol poisoning, rest and hydration are key. Avoid alcohol in the following days and consider a health check-up. This is also an opportune time to reflect on drinking habits and possibly seek advice or support if you think you are drinking too much.

Understanding Alcohol's Impact on the Body

Alcohol affects numerous body systems. While moderate drinking might have some reported health benefits, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to a range of health issues beyond poisoning, including liver disease, cardiovascular problems, and increased risk of certain cancers. Understanding these risks can motivate safer drinking practices.

Read More: What Are Short and Long-Term Effects of Alcohol On the Brain?

Preventing Alcohol Poisoning

Prevention is always better than cure. Limiting alcohol intake, drinking slowly, eating before and while drinking, and avoiding "rounds" or "drinking games" can all help you keep your alcohol consumption in check. Being mindful of your personal alcohol tolerance and not succumbing to peer pressure are also important strategies to adopt.

Alcohol poisoning is a serious, potentially fatal condition that demands a prompt response. But by being aware of the signs and knowing how to act in an emergency, you can help prevent tragic outcomes. Moderation, understanding your limits, and being informed are all key to enjoying alcohol in a safe and responsible way.

Read More: What Is Alcoholics Anonymous, and How Effective Is It?

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