Alcohol Poisoning: Causes, Symptoms, And Prevention

Alcohol poisoning, also called alcohol overdose, happens when you have a high amount of alcohol in your bloodstream. It can occur as the result of heavy alcohol use or binge drinking and can lead to brain damage and even death.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are 2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths in the United States every year. This is one of the largest risks and dangers of alcohol abuse and addiction.

The effects of high alcohol content in your bloodstream can lead to devastating consequences if it reaches a dangerously high level like 0.4%.

Causes Of Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning occurs when your alcohol consumption increases your blood alcohol level to a concentration that is unhealthy.

Different behaviors with alcohol use can result in an alcohol overdose. One of these is a general alcohol use disorder.

Drinking heavily for long periods of time can result in increased tolerance, which can lead a person to drink more than their body can handle in a shorter period of time. This can sometimes lead to alcohol poisoning.

Binge Drinking

A more specific form of alcohol use disorder that can lead to alcohol poisoning is binge drinking. Binge drinking occurs when a person consumes several alcoholic drinks in a short period of time to become intoxicated.

This type of drinking can easily lead to alcohol poisoning because the behavior raises blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to dangerous highs, which can result in alcohol overdose.

High Level Of Alcohol In The Blood

Alcohol becomes dangerous when it reaches levels in your bloodstream that are too high.

A high blood alcohol concentration level is an indicator that alcohol is affecting your central nervous system and other parts of your brain.

Symptoms Of Alcohol Poisoning

It is important to know the signs of alcohol poisoning. Such knowledge could save your life or the life of your loved one.

Mild Symptoms Of Alcohol Poisoning

Mild symptoms of alcohol poisoning may not necessarily be fatal but can have consequences all the same.

Mild symptoms can include:

  • impaired reflexes
  • impaired motor control
  • nausea
  • difficulty thinking

Mild symptoms of alcohol poisoning can result in poor decision-making that can put you in dangerous situations that you might normally avoid.

These situations can include:

  • violent confrontations
  • falls
  • drunk driving
  • unprotected or even lack of awareness of sexual behavior

Severe Symptoms Of Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning can result in severe symptoms that can lead to permanent brain damage or even death.

These symptoms can include:

  • vomiting
  • seizures
  • mental stupor
  • loss of consciousness
  • blackouts
  • difficulty waking up
  • slow heart rate
  • low body temperature
  • clammy skin
  • uneven respiration (more than ten seconds between breaths)
  • slow respiration (eight breaths or less per minute)
  • impaired gag reflex

These symptoms can result in life-threatening complications. Slowed breathing or irregular breathing can stop altogether as alcohol continues to depress the central nervous system.

Vomiting can result in severe dehydration or choking on your own vomit because of an impaired gag reflex. This is especially dangerous if you see a person passing out.

Prevention Of Alcohol Poisoning

It is possible to drink alcohol and prevent alcohol poisoning. If you follow some simple rules, you can drink safely.

Don’t drink alcoholic beverages if you don’t know the alcohol content of the beverage. This is especially important if someone gives you a drink without telling you what is in it.

Also, don’t mix drinking alcoholic beverages and energy drinks. Caffeine and other stimulants in energy drinks can cover up the effects of alcohol on your brain.

Here are some more simple rules to follow.

1 Drink Per Hour Rule

This means when you are at social gatherings, have only one drink for every hour that you are drinking.
This forces you to limit your alcohol content and also the rate at which you are consuming an individual drink, keeping your BAC at safe levels.

Don’t Drink On An Empty Stomach

When you drink on an empty stomach, alcohol metabolizes more quickly, which can increase the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream at a faster rate.

Under certain conditions, this can also lead to hypoglycemia, because the blood alcohol level suppresses normal blood sugar levels.

Don’t Mix Prescription Medications And Alcohol

Any time you are on prescription medications you should not use alcohol, especially if the prescription says to not take it and drink alcohol at the same time.

There are many prescriptions, including opioids, that have a specific risk when taken with alcohol.

Risk Factors For Alcohol Poisoning

Knowing what the risks factors for alcohol poisoning are can help you determine whether or not they apply to you.


The older you get, the more at risk you are for alcohol poisoning. The risk of slower breathing and heart rate can increase through other age-related complications.


People who have an alcohol use disorder are at a greater risk for alcohol poisoning because, over the course of time, they have built up a tolerance for alcohol.
As a result, they drink more alcoholic beverages to get the effect of alcohol. As they consume greater amounts of alcohol, the risk for alcohol poisoning increases.


Women are typically at greater risk of the negative effects of alcohol than men. The Mayo Clinic recommends that women of any age should have only one drink a day, while men should have no more than two.

How Long Will Alcohol Poisoning Last?

After alcohol from one drink enters your bloodstream, it typically takes your liver about an hour to process it.
After taking several drinks, your liver will struggle to process all the alcohol.

Because blood alcohol tests are only accurate for six to 12 hours after your last drink, it is safe to assume that the effects of alcohol poisoning could last that long.

Treatment For Alcohol Poisoning

Do not try to treat alcohol poisoning in a loved one on your own. Coffee, walking, and cold showers do not help a person experiencing an alcohol overdose.

Get medical attention and start treatment for alcohol poisoning right away.

Doctors treating alcohol poisoning will offer supportive care such as:

  • oxygen therapy
  • monitoring
  • IV fluids
  • choking prevention
  • glucose and vitamin supplements

Find Alcohol Abuse Treatment At Bedrock Recovery Center

At Bedrock Recovery Center, we understand the dangers of alcohol overdose and the unique difficulty of achieving sobriety from alcohol abuse.

Call our helpline today and let us guide you to an alcohol rehab near you.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  2. Mayo Clinic
  3. Mayo Clinic
  4. Medical Science Monitor,damage%20simulating%20ischemic%20brain%20damage.
  5. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
  6. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2023 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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