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Signs & Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning

Written by Rob Alston

& Medically Reviewed by Maureen McNulty

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Updated 07/15/2020

People who have alcohol poisoning display certain signs and symptoms. Anyone who binge-drinks should be aware of these signs and be prepared to call for help.

Alcohol poisoning is more than just being drunk — it is an overdose. People who have many drinks at a time are putting themselves at risk of alcohol poisoning, which can cause permanent damage and even be fatal.

When someone takes a drink, different enzymes metabolize the ethanol molecules so that the body can process and remove it. During this process, some toxic chemicals are made that can cause damage to the organs. Alcohol poisoning happens when someone has so much alcohol that their body can’t process it fast enough. Alcohol and toxins build up in the bloodstream and can damage the brain and force the body to shut down.

How do you know if you have alcohol poisoning? There are many symptoms to look out for. Anyone who binge-drinks or spends time around people who binge drink should learn about alcohol poisoning signs so that they know when things are serious enough that they need to seek help.

Mild Alcohol Poisoning

To stay within safe limits and avoid alcohol poisoning, it is important to avoid binge drinking. People who are trying to drink in moderation should drink slowly, alternate between drinking alcohol and water and limit the total number of drinks they have in one day. When a woman has four drinks or a man has five drinks within a two-hour period, this is considered binge drinking.

Someone drinking at this level is more likely to start showing mild alcohol poisoning signs, which may eventually become more severe if the person continues to drink. People may develop alcohol poisoning more quickly if they are women, have lower body weight, lower tolerance for alcohol or have been mixing alcohol with other drugs.

Alcohol poisoning warning signs, which indicate that someone has had more alcohol than their liver can safely process, include:

Alcohol Poisoning Warning Signs

Confusion Sleepiness or passing out Vomiting Cold, clammy skin Slow or labored breathing Slow heart rate Feeling cold Blacking out

Anyone who has these symptoms should stop drinking immediately and keep an eye out for more dangerous side effects. The more a person drinks, the more at risk they are of having alcohol poisoning. It’s also important to remember that the body processes ethanol slowly, and the effects of alcohol may not be fully felt until 30-40 minutes after the person takes a drink. People who have these symptoms and keep drinking are much more likely to develop severe alcohol poisoning.

Severe Alcohol Poisoning

Someone who has had dangerous amounts of alcohol will start to show signs of severe alcohol poisoning such as:

Signs of Severe Alcohol Poisoning

Seizures Hypothermia, including low body temperature and blue skin or lips Heart attack Inability to breathe on their own Permanent brain damage

It is important to take alcohol poisoning seriously. In the United States, six people die because of alcohol poisoning every day. If someone has had a lot to drink and is showing signs of alcohol poisoning, they need immediate medical attention to prevent symptoms from getting worse.

How to Treat Alcohol Poisoning

If someone suspects that a friend is struggling with alcohol poisoning, they should dial 9-1-1 right away. The person should be seen by a professional who knows how to treat alcohol poisoning as soon as possible. Helplines that can guide people in learning more about alcohol poisoning include the National Poison Control Center (800-222-1222) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (800-662-4357).

If someone is showing signs of an alcohol overdose, there are things others can do to assist until medical help arrives. First, it is crucial to not leave the person alone. Alcohol poisoning often causes a person to lose their gag reflex, and as a result, they are at risk of choking on their vomit. Try to keep the person awake and sitting up. If the person suffering from alcohol poisoning has passed out, roll them onto their side in order to help keep their airway clear. Once emergency responders arrive, be prepared to give them information about the patient, including how much they had to drink and whether they were also using other substances.

Things that don’t help a person recover from alcohol poisoning include taking a cold shower, going on a walk or having caffeine. These things can all make alcohol poisoning symptoms worse and should be avoided. The only thing that helps someone sober up is time, and it is best for this to happen under medical supervision in case a person’s heart or lungs shut down.

Alcohol poisoning is a sign that someone is severely abusing alcohol. If you or someone you know is drinking so much that they are getting sick, it may be time to get help from substance abuse professionals. People interested in alcohol treatment centers in South Florida should contact The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health. Our teams of medical experts can help people safely detox from alcohol and learn to gain control over their drinking. Call us today to learn about how our treatment plans can help you!

View Sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol Poisoning Deaths.” January 6, 2015. Accessed September 6, 2019.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Overdose.” October 2018. Accessed September 6, 2019.

Patrick, Megan E.; Terry-McElrath, Yvonne M. “Prevalence of High-Intensity Drinking from Adolescence through Young Adulthood: National Data from 2016-2017.” Substance Abuse, January 12, 2019. Accessed September 6, 2019.