In the U.S., we often talk about drug overdoses, substance abuse, and alcohol problems, but we seldom understand the seriousness of another kind of overdose–alcohol poisoning. It doesn’t happen often because your body has a process to protect itself when you are drinking and you drink too much. Normally you go to sleep or lose consciousness to stop drinking. However, if someone engages in binge drinking, particularly at a party, there is a much higher risk they will ingest too much alcohol before they hit that protective mechanism that makes them pass out.
Don’t think it can happen to you? Have you ever done multiple shots of alcohol in succession while playing a game? Have you ever tried a “beer bong”? Have you ever drank extremely high alcohol content liquors such as Everclear? Those are the kinds of things that cause alcohol poisoning.
Maybe you don’t drink alcohol very often, but with holidays such as St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner, you might find yourself in a celebration where you party a little too heartily with deadly consequences.
What Happens During Alcohol Poisoning?
If you’ve ever passed out drunk or experienced vomiting from drinking too much, that’s your body trying to protect you from a case of alcohol poisoning. It may not be fun, but the alternative could be a whole lot more serious.
Bear in mind that alcohol is a depressant that affects vital functions of your body. Your breathing may slow down, as well as your heart rate. You may have a decrease in temperature or feel cold. Eventually, you will pass out, but the question is have you already drunk too much alcohol?
The basic guideline for alcohol consumption is how much the body can process in one hour. Because alcohol concentrations are different, there is some variation in how much of each particular alcohol a particular person can drink per hour. For instance, you can drink a can of beer which is 12 ounces or you can drink 5 ounces of wine, 8 ounces of malt liquor, or 1.5 ounces of harder liquor like vodka. Those are usually safe guidelines for most people. Some people are more susceptible to alcohol and some have a greater tolerance than what the general guidelines recommend. Generally speaking, however, that is how much alcohol your liver can process in an hour.
Unfortunately, someone with a substance abuse problem is probably going to exceed that. Maybe the bartender feels like you should know your limits and will keep serving. Maybe you live on a “dry” Native American reservation where they have to lock up such things as rubbing alcohol and hairspray to try to keep people from consuming too much alcohol. Maybe you just like to have a few beers after work or you like to party at college with your fraternity every night of the week. If you exceed the limitations you are at risk for alcohol poisoning, plain and simple.
What Are the Signs of Alcohol Poisoning?
We often laugh at someone who is so intoxicated that they are confused. But this is one of the first signs of alcohol poisoning. We consider vomiting or “worshiping the porcelain god” as something to expect when we drink too much alcohol. We may stagger because we drank so much alcohol to the point of hardly being able to walk. These are not funny antics but symptoms of alcohol poisoning.
Unconsciousness is a late symptom of alcohol poisoning but you can also see the signs earlier in cases where somebody feels hypothermic, their skin is cold and clammy, their breathing is shallow and low, or they may even lose control of their bladder. They may choke on their vomit or their lips and fingernails may turn blue from a lack of oxygen. These are emergencies and no laughing matter. Call for medical help right away.
What Happens to the Body?
Once you see the signs of alcohol poisoning, bear in mind that the body may be still processing the alcohol that the person drank and the symptoms may get even worse once they stop drinking. Having said that, these are the things you can expect from alcohol poisoning:
- Slowing brain function
- Slow respirations under 12 per minute
- Lowered body temperature
- Lack of muscle coordination in the legs or the gag reflex for vomiting
- Low blood sugar can trigger seizures
What Should I Do if I Suspect Alcohol Poisoning?
First, call 911. It’s much better to overreact to alcohol poisoning than to go to a funeral. While you’re waiting for emergency personnel, if the person is awake you can offer sips of water and a blanket to help keep them warm. If they are unconscious, turn them on their side to prevent choking. Often people want to do things like offer coffee, but this is a big mistake because the caffeine in coffee can cause further dehydration, which can be dangerous. Certainly don’t try to give them any medications or try to administer any other kind of food because you don’t know how intact their gag reflex is going to be. Likewise, trying to get that person to vomit to get the alcohol out of their system may cause them to choke because of a reduced gag reflex.
Let the professionals handle this.
How Can I Avoid Alcohol Poisoning?
Stick with the recommended limit of one drink per hour. Don’t drink on an empty stomach or mix alcohol and medications. You can even make a rule for yourself that you have one glass of water for every one or two drinks that you consume. That way you can rehydrate yourself to some extent as you dehydrate yourself with alcohol.
Better yet, avoid alcohol altogether. You can have plenty of fun while you’re sober.
We don’t often hear about alcohol poisoning in the news–or so we think. What about legends like Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin who allegedly choked to death while passed out from alcohol? Alcohol poisoning is no laughing matter. When we binge drink, we can bypass our body’s safety mechanisms of vomiting or of passing out. Our body loses consciousness to stop our intake of alcohol, but what if we just consumed several shots of hard liquor or did multiple “beer bongs” before we lost consciousness? Our body still has to process that alcohol. If we stick to one drink per hour, we can avoid alcohol poisoning. If you suspect someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning, get immediate medical help. Don’t let a celebration turn into tragedy. Binge drinking isn’t necessarily an indicator of a substance abuse problem, but we can help. Through detoxification to counseling, Everlast Recovery Center gives you the tools to succeed in recovery and stay sober. Get sober with our help in Riverside, California. Call us today and learn how we can help at 866-DETOX-25, (866-338-6925).