Have you tried alcohol? Well, the statistics say that it’s likely you have. Did you know alcohol is one of the most commonly abused drugs on this planet before trying it? Although it may not have influenced your decision, maybe knowing that, despite its legality, alcohol is the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Those figures follow poor diet and physical inactivity, and tobacco. It’s unfortunate that such an addicting and poisonous substance accessible by almost anyone is advertised to the masses.

In previous years, alcohol took an estimated 88,000 lives per year, but the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) released their most current figures and found that alcohol now claims 95,000 lives each year. The numbers are overwhelmingly dominated by men (68,000) compared to women (27,000). The rate of alcohol-related emergency room visits also increased 47 percent between 2006 and 2014. An estimated 18.5 percent of all emergency room visits are related to alcohol.

It’s difficult to fathom that a drug of this potency can be obtained by anyone over the age of 21. Even then, teenagers and young adults have no problem accessing the drug. For example, college students from 18 to 24 are constantly consuming alcohol, which can prove to be fatal. In some instances, students were blacking out like a badge of honor and may not be aware of alcohol poisoning. 

Excessive alcohol consumption includes the following:

  • Binge drinking: This is defined as four or more alcoholic drinks in one sitting for men or five or more drinks in one sitting for women.
  • Heavy drinking: Heavy drinking is extremely dangerous and is defined as eight or more alcoholic drinks per week for women or 15 or more alcoholic drinks in a given week for men.
  • Any alcohol consumption by a person under the age of 21 or a woman who’s pregnant. 

Although alcohol poisoning is common on college campuses, it can happen to anyone at any time, but what are the signs? How can you tell if you or someone you’re with has alcohol poisoning? Knowing the symptoms of alcohol poisoning can save a life. If you believe someone has consumed too much alcohol and needs help, you must immediately call 911. Without immediate care, alcohol poisoning can cause long-term permanent damage or be fatal. 

Drinking alcohol of any amount has its risks, but obviously, the more you consume, the greater these risks become. Alcohol poisoning is one of those risks you take when drinking alcohol, which can cause permanent damage or be fatal without immediate medical intervention. Alcohol poisoning is the result of too much alcohol in your system at one time, causing your brain to shut down. It’s also referred to as alcohol overdose and affects people differently. 

As a depressant drug, alcohol affects the nervous system and brain and contributes to slowed heart rate, breathing, and a slowing of other necessary tasks your body completes. Despite the liver’s natural ability to filter alcohol toxins from the bloodstream, it can only do so much, and consuming too much alcohol in one sitting will be more than the liver can handle. 

As mentioned above, alcohol poisoning has the ability to cause long-term brain damage and even be fatal. If you’ve been drinking with someone and notice any of the following signs, it could indicate they have alcohol poisoning. Symptoms may initially appear mild but worsen dramatically. These include the following:

  • A strong odor of alcohol present on the person’s breath
  • Unusual clammy or damp skin
  • Poor coordination or stumbling around the area and needing help to stand up
  • Slurred speech that’s incoherent or noticeable confusion not knowing where they are

Other more severe symptoms that indicate more severe alcohol poisoning include:

  • Inability to stop throwing up
  • Severe confusion
  • Unable to stay awake – drifting in and out of consciousness 
  • Slowed heartbeat
  • Low body temperature
  • Slow breathing (less than eight breaths per minute)
  • Pale or skin that’s turning blue
  • Long pauses between breaths (ten seconds or more)
  • Slowed responses (no gag reflex)
  • Seizures

Other complications that may result from overconsumption of alcohol include:

  • Hypothermia
  • Unable to breathe due to vomit in the lungs
  • Choking on your own vomit
  • Severe dehydration
  • Brain damage
  • Seizures
  • Heart attack
  • Coma
  • Death

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In our alcoholic beverages, the chemical known as ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, is the cause of alcohol poisoning. Although other chemicals you have around the house, like rubbing alcohol or methanol, contain alcohol, they are toxic in different ways and should never be consumed. In extreme cases, addicts may resort to drinking mouthwash for its intoxicating effect, which can be extremely dangerous. 

Like we described above, binge drinking is the most likely scenario to result in alcohol poisoning. In men, binge drinking is when they drink five or more drinks in less than two hours. In women, binge drinking is when they drink four drinks in the same timeframe. Extreme binge drinking, which is double these amounts, can lead to fatal outcomes. 

A standard drink is considered:

  • 1.5 ounces of an 80-proof spirit, such as gin, vodka, or rum
  • A five-ounce glass of wine, which is 12 percent alcohol
  • A 12-ounce beer, which is five percent alcohol

Those with the highest odds of developing alcohol poisoning are middle-aged men. This occurs because men typically drink more than women. Another factor is that men in this age bracket are more likely to be prescribed medication than younger adults, increasing the chances of developing this severe reaction. 

Other factors that can lead to alcohol poisoning include the following:

  • How much and how fast you consume a beverage
  • Size and weight
  • Alcohol tolerance
  • How much alcohol is in the drink
  • Whether you’re using prescription or illicit drugs in conjunction with alcohol
  • If you recently consumed food
  • General health

If you’re with someone who’s been drinking heavily and you’re concerned that they’ve developed alcohol poisoning, don’t wait; get help. The sooner you reach out for help, the lower the chances of the individual developing potentially long-term damage. Take the following steps if you suspect alcohol poisoning:

  • Call 911
  • If the person is awake, have them sip on water.
  • Keep them sitting up to avoid them from getting vomit in their lungs.
  • Don’t leave them alone – stay by their side until emergency services arrive.
  • To prevent hypothermia, try covering them with a warm blanket.
  • If they’re unconscious, make sure they’re on their side to avoid choking.
  • Explain the entire situation to the paramedics and how much they drank.

Here is what you shouldn’t do:

  • Contrary to popular belief, a cold shower doesn’t work – it’ll lower their temperature more.
  • Don’t give them food since it can cause choking or vomiting.
  • Don’t tell them to walk it off as it can lead to a serious injury.
  • Don’t force them to vomit as it can cause choking.

You shouldn’t try to make a self-diagnosis – leave that to the medical professionals. Once admitted to the hospital, a physician will order blood and urine samples to get an idea of the amount of alcohol in your system. If you drank too much, they might order your stomach to get pumped to prevent leftover alcohol from entering the bloodstream. They might also perform the following:

  • Give you fluids through an IV.
  • Flush your stomach to remove any remaining toxins.
  • Provide extra oxygen to help you breathe.
  • Remove toxins that might be leftover in your blood.

Unless you’re dealing with an alcohol use disorder (AUD), the occasional alcoholic beverage consumed responsibility won’t cause much harm. A glass of wine to complement a meal or a beer with some BBQ occasionally is fine. However, if you’re planning on drinking, keep the following tips in mind to avoid alcohol poisoning happening to you.

  • Don’t engage in drinking games like beer pong or using funnels.
  • Don’t drink without eating.
  • Don’t drink any alcohol if you’re prescribed medication or use illicit drugs.
  • Always drink alcohol in moderation. Men shouldn’t drink more than two beverages in a day, and women should never have more than one.
  • Alternate your alcoholic beverages with water to stay hydrated and not get too drunk.
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