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 Alcohol Poisoning

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You were celebrating a promotion at work, so you decided to go out for drinks with friends. Your friends lined up a bunch of shots for everyone. Your friend who doesn’t drink often decided to participate just for fun. Within an hour, she has become unconscious and is struggling to breathe. You call an ambulance. Later, you find out that the doctor told her that she had alcohol poisoning and it was a good thing that she got help when she did. 

At Pacific Sands, we have heard many stories similar to this one. In California, 19,335 people died from excessive alcohol use from 2020-2021. We know these deaths are preventable, so we work hard to ensure our Orange County communities know we are here for them. We also know treatment doesn’t work with a one-size-fits-all approach, so we offer individualized treatment plans for each client. But what is alcohol poisoning? How can you tell if you’re experiencing it? 

What Is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning can happen from any type of alcohol. It doesn’t matter if it is beer, wine, whiskey, or fill-in-the-blank here. Alcohol raises your blood alcohol level, and your liver breaks it down. However, when there is too much alcohol in your blood, your liver becomes overwhelmed and can’t remove the alcohol. This results in an overdose, also known as alcohol poisoning.

Who Is Most at Risk? 

Anyone is at risk of experiencing alcohol poisoning, but younger people are more often the ones who binge drink. Those with an alcohol use disorder might also be more likely to experience alcohol poisoning. If you take many shots in a short period, you could end up with alcohol poisoning. Alongside this includes participating in drinking games. Smaller people and women are also more likely to experience alcohol poisoning. 

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The Dangers of Alcohol Poisoning

The most significant danger of alcohol poisoning is death. However, knowing the signs of early alcohol poisoning can save someone. Life-threatening signs include loss of consciousness and trouble breathing. If you notice these symptoms in someone, call 911 immediately. All it takes is more than your body can handle for it to be life-threatening. 

When Does Alcohol Poisoning Occur?

Alcohol poisoning occurs when people consume more than their body can handle for 2 hours. Alcohol affects genders differently. Females can typically drink less than men can. Also, smaller people typically can’t drink as much as well. One drink is different for different types of alcohol. Regular beer is 12 fl oz, while malt liquor is 8-10 fl oz. Table wine is 5 fl oz, and fortified wine is 3-4 fl oz. Cordial is 2-3 fl oz, and all other forms of alcohol including brandy, tequila, and whiskey is 1.5 fl. oz.

Alcohol poisoning is different from intoxication because the brain controls breathing and heart rate, and when it shuts down, those functions also shut down. Alcohol poisoning typically occurs when symptoms of intoxication such as speech or coordination impairments are ignored. Many factors are at play, including sensitivity to alcohol, medications you are taking, and age. Alcohol poisoning can also occur when alcohol is combined with illicit substances such as opioids or benzodiazepines. 

What Happens When You Have Alcohol Poisoning?

Experiencing alcohol poisoning is a medical emergency. Left untreated it can lead to long-term brain impairment or death. You also are at an increased risk of having others try to take advantage of you. These advantages can include physical assault, robbery, and sexual assault. 

Alcohol Poisoning and the Brain

Alcohol poisoning impacts the brain. One symptom that can happen is seizures. Mental confusion is also a possible symptom of alcohol poisoning. Experiencing dulled responses, such as no gag reflex, is a shared experience. Increasing memory problems are also common in those experiencing alcohol poisoning. 

Alcohol Poisoning and Vital Organs

Your vital organs are also impacted when alcohol poisoning happens. One of these symptoms is irregular or slow breathing. You will have 10 seconds or more between breaths, or you might have fewer than 8 breaths per minute. A slow heart rate is another symptom of alcohol poisoning. They might also experience vomiting, clammy skin, or blue skin.

Other Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning

People can experience other symptoms as well. These include speech, coordination, and balance impairment. They will have an increased risk of injury to themselves and others. Their judgment may also be impaired and become unconscious. 

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When to Seek Medical Attention for Alcohol Poisoning

Medical attention is needed for alcohol poisoning immediately. It is important not to give them a cold shower, hot coffee, or encourage them to walk because it will not reverse the effects of alcohol poisoning and might worsen it. There are some things that you can do while waiting for medical help. 

  • Do not leave them alone. This will help keep them from choking or getting injured. 
  • They should remain upright on the ground instead of a chair. This prevents them from falling.
  • If someone is vomiting, lean them forward to prevent them from choking. 
  • Be able to provide information to first responders such as how much they drank and any medical information you know about the person.
  • Roll them to the side with an ear toward the ground if unconscious. This prevents them from choking. 

You should never assume that someone can sleep off alcohol poisoning. They have a chance of choking on their vomit and dying from a lack of oxygen. 

For those wishing to recover from an alcohol use disorder following an experience with alcohol poisoning, they might decide to attend an alcohol detox. This is a powerful experience that alcohol withdrawal symptoms might accompany. While these symptoms might seem scary to experience, your body uses these symptoms as a way of healing. It has become dependent on alcohol, and now it is recovering. 

Pacific Sands provides people with the first step towards a new life in Santa Ana, CA. We help you overcome any barriers that you might be experiencing. This includes those with mobility issues, as we provide accommodations that allow them to get around easily. For more information on alcohol use treatment, you can call us at 949-426-7962.


How to prevent alcohol poisoning?

You can prevent alcohol poisoning by only drinking as much as your body can handle in 2-hours. For women, this is 4 drinks; for men, it is 5 drinks, but it also depends on other factors such as medications you are already taking, amount of food eaten, and age. One drink can be different depending on the alcohol. Regular beer is 12 fl oz, while malt liquor is 8-10 fl oz. For table wine, it is 5 fl oz, and fortified wine is 3-4 fl oz. Cordial is 2-3 fl oz, and all other forms of alcohol including brandy, tequila, and whiskey is 1.5 fl. oz.

What are symptoms of an alcohol overdose?

Symptoms of an alcohol overdose include unconsciousness, no gag reflex, vomiting, slow heart rate, and slow breathing. 

What is the difference between alcohol poisoning and being drunk?

Alcohol poisoning differs from being drunk because alcohol poisoning can become life-threatening. It also comes from binge drinking or drinking with combined other factors such as prescription medications or using alcohol with illicit substances. 


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