When the alcohol starts flowing, and people are sipping away and having a good time, it can be easy for one fact to slip their minds: Alcohol is a drug, and too much of it can lead to a deadly alcohol overdose.
Once the central nervous system depressant enters the body, it hits the bloodstream and affects the brain, liver, stomach, and small intestines. It dulls the drinker’s senses, making them relax, giddy, or drowsy. Alcohol can also make some people feel increasingly anxious, irritable, and depressed.
Too much alcohol in the body makes it hard for the body to function normally. Despite this, some people will ignore the signs that they should stop drinking. This is when they may find themselves in a life-threatening health emergency.
Why Alcohol Overdose, Alcohol Poisoning Are the Same Thing
Drinking too much alcohol in a short time can lead to alcohol poisoning, a condition also known as alcohol overdose. The term “overdose” is synonymous with substance use involving drugs in other forms, such as pills, capsules, powders, or even injection liquids. But the definition of an overdose, as the CDC describes it, suggests that the terms alcohol overdose and alcohol poisoning mean the same thing.
Overdose, according to the CDC, is “injury to the body (poisoning) that happens when a drug is taken in excessive amounts.”
The federal health agency also notes that overdose can be fatal or nonfatal.
Alcohol poisoning injures the body in the following ways, as the CDC site shares: “Very high levels of alcohol in the body can shut down critical areas of the brain that control breathing, heart rate, and body temperature, resulting in death.”
The shutting down of the body can lead to permanent injury or death. For this reason, it is important to be able to recognize when someone who has had too much alcohol is in distress and needs immediate medical attention.
How much alcohol it takes to get to the point of overdose varies according to the drinker. Adult drinkers should have an idea of how much alcohol they can drink without harming themselves, but various factors can make it tricky for some people to keep track of that.
According to the CDC, a U.S. standard drink contains 0.6 ounces or 14.0 grams of pure alcohol. However, not all drinks contain the same amount of alcohol, which means it may take a little effort to investigate to see exactly how much alcohol content is in the beverage one chooses to drink.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans outlines the guidelines for moderate drinking. For women, drinking moderately is having up to one standard drink daily. For men, it is up to two drinks daily.
Getting “buzzed,” “hammered,” or “wasted” after drinking too much alcohol is so common that few people think that a person who has had too much to drink could be in trouble. In order to help someone who is suffering from an alcohol overdose, you have to recognize the signs and symptoms. Among them are:
- Slowed heart rate
- Slow or irregular breathing (10-plus seconds between breaths)
- Having trouble remaining alert, conscious
- Seizures (which can happen due to low blood sugar levels)
- Nausea, vomiting
- Clammy skin
- Lack of a gag reflex (which stops one from choking)
- Low body temperature (hypothermia)
This list is not exhaustive as there can be other signs. Also, a person does not need to have all of the signs listed above to have overdosed on alcohol. Healthline advises that if a person has fewer than eight breaths per minute, you should not leave them alone. Call 911 for emergency treatment.
Healthline also advises that you place the person on their side in case they vomit. It is dangerous to leave them lying on their back. They could choke as alcohol overdose often suppresses the drinker’s gag reflex. A person could also die if they inhale their vomit into their lungs, which can prevent them from breathing.
How Alcohol Overdose Happens
As noted earlier, alcohol intake affects various organs in the body. To put it simply, drinking more than your liver can process is dangerous. As Healthline explains, the stomach and small intestine quickly absorb alcohol when a person drinks. The more alcohol they drink, the more alcohol they will have in their bloodstream. The liver, which is responsible for filtering out the toxins from the body, can process 1 ounce of alcohol every hour, according to Medical News Today. However, how fast the body can do this depends on the person, including how healthy and efficient their liver is. If a person drinks so much that the liver can’t handle it, alcohol will back up into the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body, causing health complications.
Alcohol overdose is serious. A person dealing with alcohol poisoning can have organ failure, coma, and death. This is why it is critical that you get emergency medical help as soon as you suspect a person has overdosed on alcohol.
Treatment for Alcohol Overdose
It is possible for a person to recover from alcohol overdose if treatment is received in time. In serious cases, people who have overdosed on alcohol are usually treated in a hospital. While there, medical staff will monitor their vital signs and administer other treatment if serious medical complications arise.
Seizures are one possibility, which medical staff can treat with oxygen therapy, fluids and medications, and other methods appropriate for the patient being treated.
According to Mayo Clinic, a doctor can check for apparent signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning and order tests that can give them more information. These tests examine the blood and urine to check the patient’s blood alcohol levels and other signs of alcohol toxicity.
Can You Treat Alcohol Poisoning (Overdose) at Home?
Some people who overdose on alcohol may never make it to a hospital as they may survive the experience at home because they used a home remedy. However, if this is you or someone you know, consider yourself fortunate. Mayo Clinic advises against at-home treatments for alcohol poisoning, saying that the effects of alcohol overdose are irreversible and that home remedies can make things worse. Some of these include:
Sleeping it off. Mayo Clinic says people can lose consciousness while they are sleeping.
Taking a cold shower. A person can lose consciousness as a result of the cold water.
Walking it off. Physical activity does not speed up how fast the body metabolizes alcohol.
The health organization also says that drinking black coffee or caffeine does not reduce or fight off the effects of alcohol poisoning.
Even if you do come out OK after having alcohol poisoning, it might be a good idea to see a doctor about your condition. If you have a problem controlling your alcohol intake or suspect that you have a dependence on alcohol, you can seek help at an accredited substance use facility that specializes in helping people overcome their substance use.
Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
According to the CDC, about 2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths occur in the United States each year. Men make up the majority of deaths, and those who die are between the ages of 35 and 64.
Alcohol dependence, also known as alcohol use disorder or alcoholism, was identified as a factor in 30% of alcohol poisoning deaths, according to the CDC.
However, not everyone who dies from alcohol poisoning has an alcohol addiction. People who binge drink can also die from alcohol poisoning.
Binge drinking occurs when adult drinkers have four or more alcoholic drinks within a two-hour window, and their pattern of drinking raises their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level to 0.08 percent or higher, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
The higher one’s BAC is, the more at risk they are of having an alcohol overdose. This means that one binge drink episode can lead to overdose and possibly death, and unfortunately, alcohol poisoning can happen without warning. A person can lose consciousness and never wake up because their body can’t safely process the alcohol fast enough.
If you or a loved one binge drinks at any time or drinks heavily or frequently when you do drink, it is time to get help.
Going to a professional treatment facility for substance use disorders can give you clarity on how serious your alcohol use disorder is. In moderate to extreme cases, medical detox is usually recommended to help the recovering person manage withdrawal symptoms, which can include serious ones, such as seizures.
After detox comes a personalized treatment program to help the person work through their addiction and toward achieving long-lasting sobriety. If your alcohol dependence is in the mild stages, an outpatient treatment program may be recommended for you. It allows you to get treatment on a schedule that works for you.
Ending problematic alcohol use that can lead to poisoning is possible, and the addiction care specialists at Arete Recovery can help you.
Reach out today via phone or online to talk with us about your situation and what you need to start your life anew today. We are listening. We can help you make a change for the better so that you can be free of life-threatening alcohol use. Call us today.