Alcohol poisoning is much more deadly than you’d think. On average, 6 Americans a day die from alcohol poisoning. That’s not a small sum. Non-hispanic white men between the ages of 35 and 64 years old have a higher risk of dying from an overdose than any other demographic.
Many people don’t know the limits of their body. As a result, they might drink too much booze, like wine, beer, cocktail or hard liquor. They may chug too much booze down while they’re waiting for the effects to kick in. Dependence may also play a huge role. Studies show that alcohol dependence was involved in 30% of alcohol poisoning cases.
During an overdose, the alcohol overwhelms the entire body and causes the neurochemicals in the brain to act up. The GABA and glutamate systems are particularly vulnerable to alcohol. Interference with these systems causes the side effects involved with alcohol abuse. It’s also responsible for the signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning.
When alcohol is broken down, the metabolites can also damage the body. In conjunction with neurochemical changes, these metabolites are responsible for the health-related issues associated with drinking alcohol.
Since alcohol poisoning is so dangerous, it’s vital that those who are affected get help as soon as possible. Treatment can help them recover completely. Knowing what signs and symptoms to look out for is half the battle. Alcohol poisoning can be easy to miss. Here are 5 clear signs to look out for.
The Relationship Between Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) and Alcohol Poisoning
Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is the weight of ethanol, in grams, in 100 milliliters of blood. BAC measures a person’s level of intoxication or the percentage of alcohol in their blood. It can be very telling on how intoxicated a person is. With that said, everybody reacts to alcohol in a different way. While a certain BAC may cause impairment in some individuals, it may not affect someone else who has developed a higher tolerance.
The more a person drinks within a specific time frame, the higher their BAC will usually be. There are many other factors that can influence BAC levels in a person’s body.
It’s common for signs of alcohol poisoning to emerge once BAC exceeds 0.16. At these levels, the body may still be able to clear the alcohol by itself successfully. With that said, a BAC higher than this level is considered binge drinking. This is not healthy for the body. A BAC higher than 0.31 puts the individual’s life at risk for life-threatening symptoms.
#1. Slow or Irregular Breathing
Alcohol is a depressant. It acts on the central nervous system (CNS) to calm it down. One of the side effects of alcohol use is that it will slow down the respiratory breathing. A sign of an overdose is when a person’s breathing slows down too much or when their breathing becomes irregular.
You can tell if someone has alcohol poisoning by monitoring his or her breaths. Anything less than 8 breaths per minute or anything more than 10 seconds between each breath is a cause for concern. The irregular breathing could cause long-lasting damage to the body. If it doesn’t, the person is still at risk for cardiac depression and failure.
Someone who is breathing irregularly should be under close supervision. It’s best if they receive medical attention right away. In worst-case scenarios, their breathing could stop, leading to asphyxiation.
#2. Hypothermia, or Low Body Temperature
There’s a myth going around that drinking alcohol keeps you warm. That’s actually the furthest thing from the truth since alcohol actually causes your body temperature to drop. You will feel warmer, however, as your BAC level rises. This is because alcohol dilates arteries and increases blood flow to your extremities. Another interesting fact is that alcohol acts as an anesthetic when BAC levels rise above 0.3g/100 milliliters of blood.
Someone who was drinking heavily will also be more likely to develop hypoglycemia. They are less likely to shiver. As a result, their body produces less heat. Heavy drinkers may struggle with impaired thermoregulation. They may be able to regulate their own body temperature.
Chronic alcoholics often struggle with hypothermia. Their body temperature drops below 95 °F. Unfortunately, they don’t feel cold due to dilated skin arteries. With that said, they also lose more body heat because the veins are dilated. This means that they can be in a cold room and not feel cold. However, their body temperature continues to drop. Their brain tricks their body into thinking that they’re warm when they’re actually freezing. Due to these reasons, heavy drinkers have a high risk of dying from hypothermia.
Your body is marvelous. It has mechanisms in place to protect itself. Vomiting is one of them. When your body detects the presence of toxins or poisons, it will induce vomiting in hopes of getting rid of it. This is precisely what happens with alcohol poisoning.
Vomiting is a sign of ethanol poisoning. It indicates that you have drunk too much booze. Your body realizes it and feels the alcohol working on the body. To protect the body from sustaining any further damage, certain mechanisms trigger vomiting. The goal is to empty your stomach and get rid of all of the toxins before your body has a chance to absorb it.
Although vomiting can help, it does not necessarily guarantee that the body avoids harm. It also doesn’t mean that further action is not needed. It’s possible that your body has already absorbed an excessive amount of alcohol. In this case, your BAC will continue to rise. You may still need to seek medical attention.
People should know that vomiting can be dangerous for those who are intoxicated. Alcohol hinders the gag reflex. Without a gag reflex, someone who vomits is at risk of choking on the vomit. This could lead to death by asphyxiation. Even if the person survives, the lack of oxygen can lead to long-lasting brain damage.
Seizures are another common sign of alcohol poisoning. It can happen to anyone. Chronic and heavy drinkers are more likely to experience seizures than occasional drinkers. Seizures are not only signs of an overdose, but they can also happen when a person is withdrawing from alcohol. In these situations, the seizures can turn deadly quite quickly. Seizures can also be caused by alcohol intolerance.
Seizures that happen because of alcohol poisoning are usually triggered by hypoglycemia and severe hydration. The body runs out of essential resources and can no longer maintain its own function. Alcoholics experience strong muscle convulsions during the seizures. They may also experience a loss of bladder or bowel control.
Alcoholics experience seizures when their brain activity is disrupted. It can be an indication that something is wrong with the wiring. It may also happen if neurochemical levels become imbalanced.
#5. Loss of Consciousness
When the body becomes too overwhelmed by the alcohol, it could lead to a loss of consciousness. It’s difficult for many people to gauge whether someone has lost consciousness or is sleeping. This is why it’s important to rouse alcoholics after a night of heavy drinking. It’s important to note that those who are sleeping can easily lose consciousness as well. Telling who is drunk to “sleep it off” can be very bad advice. A loss of consciousness can also conceal other signs of an overdose.
With that said, it’s much easier to lose consciousness if you drink on an empty stomach. The intestines absorb a larger percentage of liquor. When the alcohol gets absorbed into the bloodstream, it becomes much easier for it to travel to the brain and wreak havoc.
What Should You Do If You Suspect Someone Has Alcohol Poisoning?
If you suspect that someone may have alcohol poisoning, it’s vital that you get him or her medical attention immediately. Call 9-1-1 for help. Leave it to the professionals to assess the situation. Don’t wait for all of the symptoms to kick in. By then, the affected individual may be in danger. If the person loses consciousness, they have a high risk of dying. If treated, 96.88% cases of alcohol poisoning result in a complete recovery. 0.7% cases resulted in death.
So for everyone that’s ever wondered, “Can I die from alcohol poisoning?” The answer is yes. You can die even if you receive treatment. If you don’t receive treatment, you may succumb to the symptoms even more easily. With treatment, you’ll at least get around-the-clock medical supervision. If something was to happen, you’ll get the help you need immediately. This reduces the amount of time that the alcohol has to induce permanent damage to your body or brain.
If left untreated, a person struggling from alcohol poisoning may experience seizures, cardiac depression or respiratory depression. They may even choke on their own vomit. Severe vomiting can lead to dehydration, which can cause severe brain damage. It’s a dangerous situation to be in.
If the Individual Is Still Conscious
If the individual is still conscious and responsive, it might be easier to gauge whether they have ethanol poisoning. With that said, dealing with an incoherent drunk can be difficult. The affected individual may be uncooperative. Here’s what you do:
- Get the person to stay on their side. Don’t let them lie down on their back because they could die if they choke on their vomit after they’ve passed out.
- Tell them what you’re going to do exactly before you touch them. Watch out for signs of aggression.
- Remain calm and firm. Now is not the time to be angry or to lecture them about their choices.
- Try to keep them as comfortable as possible. Give them a blanket if they’re cold or offer to help them move to a warm place.
- Call 9-1-1 and give them as much details as possible.
- Stay with the affected individual until help arrives. You never know if they may lose consciousness at any time.
It’s important to remember that only time can sober someone up. Showering them or giving them coffee won’t do a thing to help them. In fact, it may worsen the situation. Also, don’t give the affected individual food, drinks or medication of any kind. It won’t help them at all. Food and drinks may choke them, and medications can have adverse reactions to the alcohol. If the afflicted individual took any medicine when they were drinking, you should include this information when calling 9-1-1.
It’s also time to think about getting help for them. You want to want consider looking at the various types of intervention programs that are available. These programs can help you get your point across. They’ll help you reach out to the affected individual, and decide what steps to take if they don’t get help.
If the Individual Becomes Unconscious
It’s not unusual for someone with alcohol poisoning to lose consciousness. Alcohol lowers blood pressure. The blood pressure of someone with alcohol poisoning can drop twice as much when they stand up as someone who is sober. The scary thing is that it doesn’t take long for someone to lose consciousness. It can happen with a snap of your fingers.
If you are treating someone who has lost consciousness, it can be difficult to gauge how he or she is doing. Their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) can continue to rise even after they have passed out. This is what makes the situation even more dangerous. As the BAC levels rise, the affected individual is in more and more danger. Here are some different things you should do:
- Try to wake the person up by either shaking them or pinching their skin
- Call 9-1-1 immediately and provide as much details as you know
- Place the person in a recovery position using the Bacchus Maneuver, so that they do not choke on their own vomit
- Place a blanket on them if they are cold to the touch
- Stay with the affected individual until help arrives
It can be difficult to gauge how to help an individual that has lost consciousness. The one thing that you can do is to get them immediate medical attention. The medical professionals will usually take them to the hospital and monitor their vitals and condition. They may give the affected individual intravenous supplements to keep them healthy.
Don’t Ignore the Wakeup Call
An alcohol poisoning experience should be a wakeup call. If it happened to you, it’s time to get help. Reach out to one of our specialists to learn more about our alcohol detox and rehab program. If it happened to someone close to you, it’s time to stage an intervention. Clearly, their drinking has gotten out of control. It’s time that they get help, and it’s time for them to face the severity of their addiction.
If you’re an alcoholic, don’t let alcoholism dictate how you live your life anymore. Getting sober will change your life for the better. You’ll finally be able to achieve your dreams and reach different heights. Although the recovery process is not easy, we’re here to lend a helping hand. Our specialists try to make things as easy and simple for you as possible. We know how difficult facing any addiction can be, but we also know that you can treat and recover from an alcohol use disorder (AUD). All you need is motivation, discipline and a little help.