Alcohol Poisoning: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

Overview

Alcohol poisoning, also known as alcoholism, is a serious — and sometimes life-threatening — consequence of consuming too much alcohol in a short period of time. When alcohol is consumed, it has a very quick and aggressive effect on your body. In fact, it takes roughly one hour for the body to metabolize 0.25 ounces of alcohol. The alcohol then floods the bloodstream and your blood alcohol content (BAC) level continues to climb, impairing the functions of central nervous system(CNS) that affects breathing, heart rate, and body temperature. Only a few people realize the limit of alcohol tolerance in the body, hence alcohol poisoning can occur rapidly, without many signs as warnings. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 2,200 people died of alcohol poisoning per year, which means 6 alcohol poisoning deaths per day.

Though binge drinking has long been considered one of the common causes, alcohol poisoning can also occur when adults or children accidentally or intentionally drink household products that contain alcohol. Moreover, a great number of factors play a role in a person’s alcohol consumption limit. For example, the limit may vary among people with different genders, weight and alcohol tolerance levels. Therefore, there is no way to determine how much a person can drink before they’re at risk of alcohol poisoning.

Symptoms

It’s critical to know the symptoms of alcohol poisoning so that you may be more aware of the early warnings and seek medical help if you’re at risk of alcohol poisoning.



In some cases, people with alcohol poisoning may have the following symptoms:

  • Smelling like alcohol
  • Damp or clammy skin
  • Poor coordination or stumbling
  • Confusion or slurred speech


For some people, they may experience other symptoms which become worse as time passes by:

  • Lowered blood sugar, leading to seizures
  • Slow breathing
  • Long pauses between breaths
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Bluish or pale skin
  • Low body temperature
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Inability to stay awake
  • Severe confusion or stupor

Complications

In extremely severe cases, alcohol poisoning can be fatal, causing symptoms like:

  • Fatal coma
  • Brain damage
  • Extreme dehydration
  • Difficulty in breathing due to the vomit that gets into the lungs
  • Stopped gag reflex as muscles lose sensitivity and coordination, leading to choking on your own vomit

Diagnosis

If you’ve been around someone who’s had too much alcohol, you probably have noticed some obvious symptoms such as poor coordination, slurred speech, vomiting, etc. In this case, you must call 911 right away and then get the person to the hospital for emergent medical care.

When the patient arrives, the doctor may first check for visible signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning. In addition, the doctor will likely order blood and urine tests to check blood alcohol levels and identify other signs of alcohol toxicity, such as low blood sugar.

Treatment

One should bear in mind that it’s crucial to seek medical treatment immediately at any sign of alcohol poisoning, because alcohol poisoning not properly treated can lead to a great number of short- and long-term side effects such as hypothermia, hypoglycemia, permanent brain damage, irregular breathing, abnormal heartbeat and even death. What’s worse, the patient may be more likely to continue the dangerous pattern of excessive drinking, increasing the likelihood of over-consuming again. You can make the difference in someone’s life by recognizing the warning signs of alcohol poisoning and seeking out immediate help.

Alcohol poisoning treatment usually involves supportive care while your body rids itself of the alcohol. This usually include:

  • Oxygen therapy
  • Prevention of breathing or choking problems
  • Fluids given through a vein (intravenously) to prevent dehydration
  • Use of vitamins and glucose to help prevent serious complications
  • Careful monitoring

In detail, doctors may “pump” his stomach to keep any leftover alcohol from getting into the patient’s bloodstream. They may also flush his stomach of toxins and remove toxins from his blood.

In addition, adults and children who have accidentally consumed methanol or isopropyl alcohol may need hemodialysis — a mechanical way of filtering waste and toxins from your system — to speed the removal of alcohol from their bloodstream.

What You Can Do to Help Someone with Alcohol Poisoning

Remember, home remedies for alcohol poisoning won’t work because alcohol poisoning is a life-threatening emergency. If you suspect someone is experiencing the symptoms of alcohol poisoning, the very first step is to call 911 right away. Until an ambulance arrives on-scene, you are recommended to do the following:

  • Stay alert and don’t panic.
  • Keep the person in an upright sitting position.
  • Sit near the person and don’t leave him alone.
  • Have him sip water if he’s awake.
  • Cover him with a warm blanket.
  • Get him onto his side to prevent choking on vomit if he’s passed out.
  • Get ready to tell the medical professionals about his symptoms and how much he drank.

Related Posts

Three Stages of Alcoholism

Medication in Treating Alcohol Abuse

Blood Alcohol Test — Meaning of the Numbers



Keywords: alcohol poisoning, alcoholism

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.