Is an Alcohol Overdose?
Alcohol is a drug that affects your central nervous system.
It’s considered a depressant because it slows down your speech, movement, and
reaction time. Most people consume alcohol because it has a relaxing effect. Drinking
can be a healthy social experience, but consuming large amounts of alcohol on a
regular basis can lead to serious health complications.
An alcohol overdose, or alcohol poisoning, is one health
problem that can result from too much alcohol consumption. An alcohol overdose
can happen when you drink too much alcohol at one time.
Call 911 if someone you know experiences an alcohol overdose.
This is a serious condition that can be life-threatening.
Causes an Alcohol Overdose?
Alcohol affects all of your organs. An alcohol overdose happens
when you drink more alcohol than your body can safely process. First, the
stomach and small intestine quickly absorb alcohol so that it enters the
bloodstream at a rapid rate. The more alcohol you consume, the greater the
quantity that enters your bloodstream.
The liver also metabolizes alcohol, but it can only break
down so much at one time. Therefore, what the liver can’t break down is
redirected throughout the rest of the body.
Usually, the body can safely process 1 ounce of alcohol per
hour. If you drink more than this, you may consume so much alcohol that it
causes your body to stop working properly because your liver can’t break it
What Are the Risk Factors for an Alcohol Overdose?
The most common risk factors that can raise your chances of having
an alcohol overdose are:
- body size
- binge drinking
- drug use
- certain health conditions
Young adults are more likely to drink excessively, leading to an
Men are more likely than women to drink heavily, resulting
in a greater risk for an alcohol overdose.
Your height and weight determine how fast your body absorbs
alcohol. People with smaller bodies may experience the effects of alcohol more
quickly than someone with a larger body. The smaller-bodied person may
experience overdose after drinking the same amount that a larger-bodied person can
Having a high tolerance for alcohol or drinking quickly by
playing drinking games can put you at increased risk for alcohol overdose.
People who binge drink (drink more than five drinks in an
hour) are also at risk for alcohol overdose.
Other Health Conditions
If you have other health conditions such as diabetes, you may
be at greater risk for having an alcohol overdose.
If you combine alcohol and drugs, you may not feel the
effects of the alcohol. This may cause you to drink more, increasing your risk
for alcohol overdose.
Are the Symptoms of an Alcohol Overdose?
Symptoms of an alcohol overdose can include:
- changes in mental state, including confusion
- pale or blue skin
- a decrease in body temperature (hypothermia)
- passing out (unconsciousness)
Alcohol depresses your nervous system, so you may experience
serious complications if you drink at a rate that is much faster than your
liver can process the alcohol. These include:
- slowing or stopping breathing, heart rate, and
gag reflex, all of which are controlled by your nervous system
- cardiac arrest following a decrease in your body
- seizures as a result of low blood sugar levels
You don’t need to have all of the symptoms listed above to
have an alcohol overdose. If someone’s breathing has slowed to less than eight
breaths per minute or if the person cannot be woken up, you should call 911.
If you suspect an alcohol overdose and the person is
unconscious, do not leave the person alone. Be sure to place the person on their
side in case they vomit.
An alcohol overdose can suppress a person’s gag reflex.
Someone could choke, and possibly die, if they vomit while unconscious and
lying on their backs. If vomit is inhaled into the lungs, it can cause a person
to stop breathing.
You should remain with the unconscious person until
emergency medical help arrives.
Is Alcohol Overdose Diagnosed?
If you experience an overdose, your doctor will ask you
about your drinking habits and health history. Your doctor may also perform
additional tests such as blood tests (to determine your blood alcohol and
glucose levels) and urine tests.
Alcohol overdose can damage your pancreas, which digests
food and monitors the levels of glucose in your blood. Low blood sugar can be an
indicator of alcohol poisoning.
Is Alcohol Overdose Treated?
An alcohol overdose is typically treated in the emergency
room. The emergency room physician will monitor your vital signs, including
your heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature.
If you develop more serious symptoms, such as seizures, your
doctor may need to provide additional treatments, including:
- fluids or medications provided through your vein
- supplemental oxygen provided through a mask or
tube inserted in your nose
- nutrients, such as thiamin or glucose, to
prevent additional complications of alcohol poisoning such as brain damage
Is the Long-Term Outlook for Alcohol Overdose?
If you experience an alcohol overdose, your outlook will
depend on how severe your overdose is and how quickly you seek treatment.
Prompt treatment of alcohol overdose can prevent
life-threatening health problems. However, severe alcohol overdose may cause
seizures, resulting in brain damage if oxygen to the brain is cut off. This
damage can be permanent.
If you survive an overdose without these complications, your
long-term outlook will be very good.
Can You Prevent an Alcohol Overdose?
You can prevent an alcohol overdose by limiting your alcohol
intake. You might consider sticking with one drink, or abstaining from alcohol
altogether. Seek help if you have a drinking problem.
Take action to protect your loved ones from alcohol
overdose. Talk to your children about the dangers of alcohol and possible overdose.
According to the Mayo
Clinic, open communication has been shown to greatly reduce the incidence
of teen drinking and subsequent alcohol poisoning.