Alcohol Poisoning: When Drinking Turns Toxic

Alcohol poisoning happens when you drink a large amount of alcohol, usually over a short period of time. Your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is so high that it is considered to be toxic.

Alcohol depresses the nerves that control involuntary actions such as breathing and the gag reflex (to prevent choking). A fatal dose of alcohol will eventually cause these functions to shut down. Since alcohol is an irritant to the stomach, excessive vomiting is also common. If the person is unconscious, this could lead to death by asphyxiation.

Some of the symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Confusion
  • Irregular breathing (a gap of more than 10 seconds between breaths)
  • Loss of coordination
  • Low body temperature (hypothermia)
  • Pale or blue-tinged skin
  • Seizure
  • Slow breathing (less than eight breaths per minute)
  • Unconsciousness or passing out
  • Vomiting

If you think someone has alcohol poisoning, call 911 right away. Illinois State Law provides amnesty from any criminal liability related to underage drinking if you call for yourself or a friend. So don’t worry about getting in trouble or getting a drinking ticket; the police care significantly more about your health and safety than about issuing a ticket.

While you wait for help, DO

  • ….Stay with them.
  • …Keep them warm.
  • …If they are unconscious, put them in the recovery position and check that they are breathing.
  • …If they are awake, try to keep them in a sitting position and awake.

If someone has drunk too much, DO NOT

  • …leave someone to sleep it off. The amount of alcohol in someone’s blood continues to rise even when they stop drinking.
  • …give them coffee. Alcohol dehydrates the body, as does coffee. Having both can lead to severe dehydration and permanent brain damage.
  • …make them throw up. Alcohol can interfere with a person’s gag reflex, causing them to choke on their own vomit.
  • …walk them around. Alcohol slows brain function and affects coordination and balance. Walking around might cause accidents.
  • …put them under a cold shower. Alcohol lowers body temperature. A cold shower could make them colder than they already are and lead to hypothermia.
  • …let them drink more alcohol. The amount of alcohol in their bloodstream could become even higher – which could put them in more danger.

***A number of blog posts will be repeated throughout the year. This post was originally published on March 2, 2017.***

[Ben Boltinghouse is a public safety officer with Parkland College.]

3 thoughts on “Alcohol Poisoning: When Drinking Turns Toxic”

    1. You can help someone into the recovery position from their back by following these steps: 1. Extend the arm closest to you straight out from their body, then bend their elbow at a 90 degree angle so that their forearm points up towards their head. 2. Move their opposite arm across their chest, placing the back of their palm against their cheek. 3. Lift their opposite leg at the knee and place their foot on the ground. 4. Using their knee as a lever, pull them towards you until they’re on their side. Here’s a video on it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dv3agW-DZ5I

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *