Alcohol poisoning is the number one killer nobody seems to be wary of. After all, there’ve been substantial increases in alcohol use and high-risk drinking in the U.S.
This worrisome trend is prevalent among adults, underage drinkers, and even pregnant women. Drink abusers don’t realize that, at any moment, they could lose their lives.
In the quest to socialize and have fun, people are drinking more than is advisable. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate drinking is the healthier choice. It involves women taking only one alcoholic drink a day, while men take two.
Beyond these figures, you could be exposing yourself to greater danger than hangovers.
Read on to learn more about alcohol poisoning.
Details and Effects of Alcohol Poisoning
The question everyone is asking is “What is alcohol poisoning and how do you know if you’ve got it?”
Alcohol poisoning occurs when there is excess ethanol or alcohol in your bloodstream. Ethanol is in products such as paint thinners, liquid detergents, pesticides, and oils. Excess alcohol comes from drinking too much on a single occasion.
If you ask the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excessive drinking involves binge or heavy drinking. With binge drinking, women take more than four drinks and men take five in one sitting. With heavy drinking, it is eight for women and 15 for men per week.
Though research shows moderate amounts of alcohol being good for your heart, its other effects are harmful. Alcohol’s effects on your body include:
- Weakening the liver and causing liver disease
- Depressing the brain and impairing coordination
- Causing high blood pressure, rapid heartbeats, and stroke
- Leading to various cancers
- Damaging the pancreas and hinders proper digestion
- Leaving you susceptible to other diseases by weakening your immune system
Short-term effects of alcohol include slurred speech, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, and impaired coordination. It can also result in drowsiness, dizziness, blackouts, and distorted vision.
These are the effects of drinking too much. Alcohol poisoning or toxicity goes a step further. Since alcohol is a depressant, poisoning involves depressing normal body functions. It can affect your breathing or even put you in a coma.
Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning
Toxicity occurs when the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) gets very high. People who drink responsibly keep themselves between 0.001 and 0.060 BAC. Within this range, they have lower inhibitions, are happier, talkative, and relaxed.
Beyond 0.060, drinkers are in a higher state of euphoria. Moreover, they are less sensitive to pain and take more risks. When you get to 0.080, you are at the legal intoxication level. This applies to many states except Utah. At this point, the police will arrest you for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). Commercial drivers have their limit at 0.040.
When you go over 0.150, there’s about a cup of alcohol in your blood. The average person weighing about 150 pounds has about 5 liters of blood in their system. This is where people get nauseous or start vomiting.
It is safe to say the point of toxicity starts from 0.250 onwards. People start experiencing blackouts and loss of consciousness. That’s because alcohol is depressing the central nervous system.
At 0.400, the central nervous system suppression is so severe that the individual may go into a coma or die. Breathing and heart rates are impaired.
Last, when you get to 0.450 and beyond, there is a high possibility you will die.
Excessive drinking doesn’t allow the body to process the alcohol fast enough. Its usual speed is one ounce per hour. Thus, the more you drink, the tougher it is to filter toxins. As the BAC rises, the effects of alcohol will be greater.
Other symptoms of alcohol poisoning include hypothermia, stupor, seizures, confusion, and impaired coordination. Also, look out for irregular or shallow breathing, skin color changes, constant vomiting, and loss of consciousness.
These symptoms can last a few hours or longer depending on the treatment.
Please note, there are risk factors heightening your chances of overdosing on alcohol. They include age, gender, body size, and tolerance. Others are health conditions, substance abuse, and drinking patterns.
Before we go any further, let’s clear up the confusion about alcohol poisoning and hangovers.
Differences between Alcohol Poisoning and Hangovers
Hangovers occur the next day after a night of heavy drinking. They are a result of your blood alcohol concentration dropping to or near zero. As such, you wake up feeling terrible.
Symptoms of hangovers include:
- Headaches and dizziness
- Intense fatigue, weakness, and lethargy
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Stomach upsets and vomiting
- Muscle aches and pains
- Moodiness, anxiety, depression, and irritability
- Thirst and bad breath
- Bloodshot eyes
Many people also regret what they did the previous night. Yet, they never remember most of it anyway.
The difference between hangovers and alcohol poisoning is the severity of the symptoms. Alcohol poisoning is a medical emergency. Hangovers go away after a while.
Some people try to prevent hangovers beforehand. They recommend eating well, taking water and multivitamins, and drinking clear liquor. Also, they urge people to avoid smoking. Combined with alcohol, it affects your sleep, which worsens how you feel in the morning.
Others recommend taking home remedies to treat the hangover. Examples include honey, ginger, lemon, toast, poached eggs, tomato juice, and bananas. They suggest drinking a lot of water to counter alcohol’s dehydrating effect. Some recommend avoiding eating a greasy breakfast.
Whatever you do, don’t drink any more alcohol in the morning. Choose an Alka-Seltzer instead. Some people take alcohol in the morning because it helps break down congeners. These are by-products of fermentation such as acetones, acetaldehydes, and methanol. People believe congeners play a role in causing hangovers.
Moreover, morning drinking could be a sign or a precursor to alcohol dependence and abuse. It may make it difficult for your body to function without taking a sip of alcohol.
A final solution for hangovers is to get Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain relievers (NSAIDs). Go to a pharmacist and ask for an over-the-counter remedy.
With the confusion on hangovers out of the way, let’s look at the key contributors to alcohol poisoning.
Binge Drinking and Its Role in Alcohol Poisoning
Binge drinking involves consuming a lot of alcohol within a short period. Some people drink quickly to get high faster. Some don’t know how to pace themselves. Others, due to age or inexperience, take more than the recommended alcohol limits.
This risky drinking pattern opens the individual to several physical and health-related dangers. Acute intoxication leads to accidents, injuries, violence, and spousal abuse. It impairs coordination, spatial awareness, and concentration. It also hampers memory processing and decision-making.
It plays a role in impulsive and risky sexual behavior. This exposes people to STDs, sexual assault, and rape. Some people report lower libido, while others say it causes infertility.
Binge drinking causes high blood pressure, heart disease, brain damage, and abdominal pain. It increases the risk of having an Ischemic stroke. It happens when there is a decrease in blood supply to the brain. This is due to blood clots, which appear when a high BAC influences coagulation.
Intoxication affects women’s reproductive system. It also impairs fetal development and damages adolescent brain development.
Depression, anxiety, and suicide are key negative effects of binge drinking. Young people at risk of suicide might take action because alcohol removes inhibitions. It also enhances feelings of depression and shame. These could contribute to suicidal thoughts.
At the same time, getting drunk masks or suppresses stress and life problems. Failing to address these issues could lead to abusing stronger substances.
One long-term effect of drinking is the deterioration of nerves. Sufferers feel painful sensations and numbness in their extremities. They suffer muscle spasms and aches.
There is a connection between binge drinking and binge eating. Every time people consume alcohol in large amounts, they end the night at a fast food joint. Researchers believe heavy drinking causes an increased appetite and leads to overeating.
Last, social or genetic factors turn drinking to alcohol abuse, dependence, and alcoholism.
Alcohol Dependence, Addiction, and the Risk of Poisoning
Alcohol addiction and dependence sufferers are at great risk for poisoning. Addicts can’t control their cravings. Moreover, once they start drinking, they are unable to stop until they blackout.
On the other end is alcohol dependence. Dependence is an adaptive state where an individual becomes tolerant to alcohol. As such, they drink larger amounts and for extended periods to feel the same high. They experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking.
Alcohol-dependent and addicted individuals spend a lot of time trying to get alcohol. Though they may want to quit drinking, they find they are unable to do it. They develop physical and psychological dependence to the drink. In addition, their social and professional lives deteriorate.
The frequent drinking of alcohol changes your brain. Your thoughts start revolving around when you are going to get your next drink. The name they give to this medical diagnosis is alcohol use disorder (AUD). The term people know is alcoholism.
In 2015, more than 15 million adults in the U.S. had AUD. As for adolescents with AUD, the estimated number was over 600,000. This shows how big of a problem it is.
Some factors contribute to the likelihood of having an AUD. They include genetic factors, presence of mental health problems, and early-age drinking. Others include stressful events, low self-esteem, peer pressure, and an alcoholic home environment.
Look out for cravings, high tolerance for alcohol, and disregard for personal hygiene. Sufferers may experience blackouts, memory loss, tremors, and withdrawal symptoms such as vomiting.
Another red flag is when they stop paying attention to their work or their relationships. They continue chasing after alcohol even when legal or financial problems arise. What’s more, they get angry when confronted about their habit.
Being an alcoholic gets to the stage where they drink to avoid the pain of withdrawal rather than to get high. If no one intervenes, they become malnourished and risk severe alcohol-related illnesses. Examples include liver and heart damage. This high tolerance for alcohol leaves them open to poisoning.
There is another dangerous trend increasing the risk of poisoning. It involves mixing drugs or other substances with alcohol.
Poisoning Risk: Mixing Drugs or Substances with Alcohol
Dealing with alcohol alone is a big enough problem. Yet, some people risk their lives by mixing it with other substances.
Mixing Alcohol with Drugs
Emergency department visits are high for people who combine alcohol with other drugs. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), the patient statistics in 2011 was 14.3 percent.
The drugs involved are cocaine, marijuana, heroin, sedatives, stimulants, antidepressants, and antipsychotics. The interactions between alcohol and these drugs can yield shocking results. Not only does it cause serious side effects, it could cause death.
Common symptoms include respiratory depression, liver and heart damage, stroke, and impaired cognition. There is also the risk of drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, vomiting, and overdose.
Some of the prescription medications – such as laxatives – contain alcohol. Taking these will be adding to your blood alcohol concentration. This may cause poisoning. Women are susceptible to organ damage if their BAC is high. That’s due to having less water in their bodies than men.
Mixing Alcohol with Energy Drinks
Energy drinks cause health problems due to their caffeine content. Mix them with alcohol and you increase the potential for alcohol poisoning.
Popular energy drinks such as Red Bull and Monster are stimulants. They boost your energy and make you alert. Alcohol’s depressant qualities don’t go well with these stimulants.
Researchers found mixing alcohol and energy drinks motivates you to drink more alcohol. That’s because caffeine prevents drinkers from feeling intoxicated. Thus, they end up binge drinking to get high.
Other effects show the brain experiencing similar changes to those caused by cocaine. This means the drinker will crave alcohol all the time. As you’ve seen, that’s one of the symptoms of alcohol dependence. It makes it likely they will suffer poisoning.
Concurrent Tobacco-Alcohol Use and Smoking Alcohol
Earlier, we mentioned the effect of tobacco on hangovers. Concurrent alcohol and tobacco use is very common. Many drinkers admit to smoking and vice versa. This concurrent use leads to cross-tolerance and cross-sensitization. This means you may become alcohol and nicotine dependent.
Combining the two causes cancer, respiratory diseases, cardiovascular disease, liver damage, and death. As if this wasn’t bad enough, smoking alcohol has now become a popular trend.
Smoking alcohol involves inhaling alcohol vapors. The two techniques for getting these vapors involve using dry ice or a vaporizing kit. The vapors go from the lungs and into the bloodstream immediately. It makes it easy to get drunk faster.
The problem with smoking alcohol is the high potential for overdosing. Alcohol abusers get sick and start vomiting. That’s usually the sign someone has had too much to drink. Who knows the sign for those who inhale alcohol? It is difficult because they can’t keep count of how much they’ve had.
Alcohol smokers put their health at great risk. It is possible they will suffer alcohol poisoning. In addition, the vapors damage their nasal passages and lungs. It might also lead to addiction.
Now that we’ve seen the dangers of alcohol poisoning, how do we deal with it?
Dealing with Alcohol Poisoning
Watching someone affected by alcohol poisoning can be a traumatizing moment. Here are some steps you should take:
- Call 911 for urgent medical help
- Try to keep them awake and sitting up. Losing consciousness is a sign of potential death. Sitting up will prevent them from choking on their vomit.
- If they are conscious, give them water. Tell them to drink slowly. This counteracts the dehydrating effect of alcohol.
- If they are unconscious, put them in the recovery position. This is a first aid technique where you roll them onto their side and tilt the head back. Tilting the head opens up their airway. This is important since alcohol poisoning causes shallow breathing or complete depression. Make sure nothing is blocking their airway.
- Don’t move the person if you suspect they have a spinal injury.
- Cover them with extra clothing or blankets. This is because poisoning lowers their body temperature.
- Stay with them and monitor them until the first responders arrive. Provide them with any relevant details.
Remember, you should not give them any drink other than water. You don’t know how it may interact with the alcohol. The most important one to avoid is coffee. Caffeine doesn’t interact well with alcohol. Don’t let them drink any alcohol as well.
Be careful when taking care of them. Some might become aggressive or violent. Explain what is happening as you wait for the ambulance. Don’t let them walk around as their coordination is impaired. It might cause injuries or accidents.
Last, do all you can to keep them awake. But don’t become forceful in your attempts. Don’t give them a cold shower either. Alcohol causes hypothermia and making them colder won’t help their condition.
Treatment for Alcohol Poisoning
Once paramedics arrive, they will assess the person and provide intubation if needed. This means putting a tube into the airways to provide ventilation. They may provide oxygen therapy as well. Also, they will use an intravenous drip to provide water, glucose, and vitamins.
At the hospital, they will do blood and urine tests. These will determine their blood alcohol concentration. If the patient is experiencing seizures, the doctor will know what to do.
Depending on their condition, treatment may help them survive without adverse effects. In some cases, patients suffer brain damage or permanent alcohol-related injuries. Others discover damage to their kidneys and liver.
The only way to avoid these problems is to avoid drinking. If you are the victim of alcohol poisoning, ask for help before it is too late.
Beyond this, anyone who suffers alcohol overdose effects should think about their lifestyle. Do they have an alcohol problem or was this a one-time event? A treatment facility will provide the tools to overcome alcohol addiction and dependence.
Such facilities use detox, therapy, counseling, medications, and support groups. You might experience withdrawal symptoms like headaches, anxiety, and insomnia.
The good news is treatment centers use controlled detox processes. These reduce the withdrawal effects. They use medication such as benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and anti-seizure drugs.
Recovering from Alcohol Poisoning
As you can see from this guide, excessive drinking and substance abuse may lead to your death. If not, they may leave you with debilitating health issues. It is better not to take the risk.
Moving on from a medical emergency such as overdosing on alcohol is not simple. The key is to enter a rehab center and start addiction treatment soon. There are many people counting on you to get better and start living a fulfilling life again.