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Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is an overdose of alcohol. Alcohol poisoning is deadly. The brain begins to shut down involuntary functions that regulate breathing and heart rate, sometimes resulting in death. The amount of alcohol that causes alcohol poisoning is different for every person. It is not possible to accurately predict for each person what amount will cause an overdose.  Alcohol poisoning is not pretty - it involves crude, bodily functions, bad smell, and messes. It typically involves one of two things:
1. The person stopped breathing. The depressant level of the alcohol was so high that the drinker simply stopped breathing and the heart stopped beating.
2. The person choked on vomit. The drinker passed out, was laying on his/her back, threw up, and choked on the vomit.
Alcohol poisoning deaths can happen to people of any age. Alcohol poisoning has happened to people who never drank before, some who typically drink moderately but for a variety of reasons drank heavily on that one occasion (spring break, hard semester, break up, family issue, 21st birthday, big football game, pre‐partying,...), and some who were heavy drinkers.

Strategies to Prevent Alcohol Poisoning

 Drink no more than one drink per hour.

 Eat a full meal shortly before you start drinking.

 Drink non-alcoholic drinks between alcoholic drinks to slow the rate of consumption.

 Do not mix alcohol with other drugs, legal or illegal.

 Do not let others pressure you to drink.

 Know your limits and stick to them.

 Leave any drinking situation that is out of control before you become involved.

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning

 Person is known to have consumed large quantities of alcohol

 Person is unconscious and cannot be awakened

 Person has cold, clammy, unusually pale or bluish skin

 Person is breathing slowly or irregularly, less than 8 times per minute or 10 seconds or more between breaths

 Person vomits while passed out and does not wake up during or after.

If one or more of these are present, you need to take action!!!

Taking Action

There are steps that you can take if you encounter someone who could be suffering from acute alcohol poisoning. It is dangerous to assume a person will be fine by "just sleeping it off."

Try to wake the person. First, try to find out if the person is at all attentive. Are they unconscious? Can they be woken up? Try and call their name. Pinch their skin - they should have some reaction. Remember, alcohol is a depressant and it will numb the nerves so by pinching the skin you can gauge how far along in the "overdose" process they are.

Turn the person on his/her side and do not leave the person alone. You turn the person on his/her side so that if they sick and vomit, the airways will not be blocked and they will not choke. Stay with them. Only leave them alone if you have to go to a phone or get someone to help you. Monitor the breathing. Make sure they do not roll over on their back.

Check skin color or temperature. What is their skin color and temperature? Is enough blood getting to the skin? A sign that you should get help is if a person has pale or bluish skin, or the skin is cold or clammy. This person is not getting enough oxygen.

Check the person's breathing. How is the person breathing? If a person is breathing irregularly with a few breaths and then nothing for awhile, this is a sign that medical attention is necessary. If the person's breathing is too slow or too shallow - less than 8 breaths a minute - or more than 10 seconds in between breaths - this is another sign you should get help.

There are no absolutes. Everyone is different. These are just some of the potential signs of acute alcohol poisoning. A person may have one or all. For instance, there is no guarantee that if a person is breathing 9 times a minute, they will be fine, or if they are breathing 7 times a minute they will die. If you cannot wake the person up at all, it is a serious situation. If you are at all concerned, get help!!!! Call 911, CSB Security at 5000 or SJU Life Safety at 2144.


Additional Resources

Alcohol Poisoning Facts