7 Signs Of Alcohol Poisoning And What To Expect During Recovery

signs of alcohol poisoning

Six people per day die from alcohol poisoning. Over 75% of them are between the ages of 35-64.

Part of the problem is that it’s not always easy to recognize the signs of alcohol poisoning. Many people wrongly assume that all someone has to do is to “sleep it off.”

Others believe they know how to cure alcohol poisoning but unfortunately, many methods can do much more harm than good. If you or someone you know has been drinking too much, there are steps you can take.

Keep reading to learn the seven signs of alcohol poisoning and learn what someone can expect while they’re going through recovery.

1. Mental Confusion is One of the Signs of Alcohol Poisoning

When someone is drunk they often exhibit signs such as slurred speech, slowed reaction times, and difficulty walking. That’s because alcohol affects the brain.

Some impairments can show up after a drink or two.

If you see someone who is obviously impaired and is having trouble speaking or walking, it’s a good sign they’ve had way too much to drink. They could be at risk for alcohol poisoning.

Also, besides confusion, it’s not uncommon for people to also exhibit signs such as being in a stupor. Alcohol poisoning can also put someone into a coma.

Blood Alcohol Levels Rise Even After You Stop Drinking

It’s often difficult to spot the signs because it can creep up on someone slowly. And it can get worse before it gets better, even if the person has stopped drinking.

Blood alcohol levels can rise for up to 40 minutes after someone’s last drink.

If you spot someone stumbling and having difficulty speaking, it’s time to step in to help. Try to get them to stop drinking immediately and call 911 to ensure they aren’t overdosing on alcohol.

2. They’re Unconscious of Semi-Conscious

Not all signs of alcohol poisoning are so easy to recognize. But if you see someone who is unconscious or semi-conscious, you need to call 911 immediately.

Try to keep them awake and alert. Do not leave them unattended.

Use your voice to try to wake them. Try pinching them or shaking them gently.

Even if they are responding in some capacity, they still are better off being treated by a medical practitioner.

3. Shallow or Slow Breathing

Too much alcohol can cause a person to have more difficulty breathing. If their breathing is shallow or slow, it’s time to call 911.

Signs of slow breathing is someone take eight or fewer breaths within one minute. Signs someone is having lapses in their breathing is being able to count 10 seconds or more between breaths.

If someone has a serious drinking problem, it’s not uncommon for them to experience symptoms of alcohol withdrawal within six to 12 hours of their last drink. One common symptom of withdrawal is problems breathing.

It’s best to be under the care of a physician to ensure a person goes through withdrawal safely and as much comfortable as possible.

4. They Exhibit Signs of Hypothermia

It’s common for people to think they can warm themselves up by consuming alcohol. Unfortunately, alcohol is one of the worst ways to warm yourself.

That’s because the alcohol may make your body feel warm but in reality, your blood vessels are expanding, which causes you to lose heat rapidly from the surface of your skin.

Drinking too much can also cause people to not realize how cold they are and take steps to get warm. Heavily intoxicated people are also more likely to pass out while outside in cold weather where they can easily develop hypothermia.

As a result of drinking too much, someone may exhibit signs of alcohol shivering. Shivering is also common when someone is withdrawing from the effects of alcohol addiction.

5. Clammy Skin

Pale, bluish and/or blotchy skin are all signs of alcohol poisoning. If you notice that someone has cold, clammy skin, it’s not good.

It’s another, more visible sign that someone is suffering from low body temperature. And hypothermia is dangerous.

If your body temperature drops below 95-degree Fahrenheit it can disrupt your nervous system, heart, and other organs. If left untreated, it can lead to heart failure and/or death.

6. Seizures

You have more to worry about than just low body temperature. It’s not uncommon for excess drinking to also lead to hypoglycemia.

Hypoglycemia is low blood sugar. Having low blood sugar can lead to someone feeling dizzy, light-headed, and even seizures can result.

7. They’re Vomiting

When you drink too much alcohol, you’re poisoning yourself. Your body has a self-defense mechanism built in which helps you expel the excess alcohol by having you vomit it out of your system.

But there are two problems that can occur. The first is that it’s easy to choke on your own vomit, especially if you’re lying down flat.

The second problem is that your brain controls automatic responses like your gag reflex. Alcohol hinders your brain’s ability to control automatic responses, making it easier for you to choke and die.

Causes of Alcohol Poisoning

Your liver does a lot more than most of us realize. Yet we take it for granted.

As a result, alcohol abuse is one of the main causes of liver damage and failure in the industrialized world.

Every drink we take means our liver has to filter out the alcohol. Alcohol is a toxin.

And we absorb alcohol far more quickly than food. But the liver can only process so much alcohol at once. About one drink of alcohol per hour is processed.

When someone consumes two or more drinks in one hour, there is an excess of those amounts in the bloodstream. The faster someone imbibes, the higher their BAC is.

Drinking rapidly raises the BAC to levels that negatively affect mental and physical functions in people. If your BAC is too high, it can cause severe health problems and even lead to death.

Home Remedies for Alcohol Poisoning to Avoid

It’s not uncommon to get lots of advice on how to handle alcohol poisoning treatment at home. While some may work, many others can end up being more dangerous to the person.

Here are a few things you should avoid at all costs. While you might want to avoid hospitals, trying to do an alcohol poisoning treatment at home isn’t safe and there’s not much you can do without medical help.

What to Avoid

Do not try to make them sick. If they have to throw up on their own, fine but don’t try to get them to vomit unless they need to.

Do not leave someone you suspect has overdosed on alcohol alone to sleep it off. They could end up on their back and choking on their vomit. Instead, stay with them to ensure they’re safe.

Do Not Let Them Consume Anything

Do not give a drunk person coffee. Combining alcohol with caffeine only makes someone more alert and tends to make them drink more.

Do not let them eat food, drink anything but water or take any other types of drugs- even if it’s a prescription medication until helps arrives.

Helping someone “walk it off” or taking a shower won’t work, either. And never let them drink any more alcohol.

Remain calm and if you feel they may harm you, keep yourself safe until help arrives.

How to Cure Alcohol Poisoning Safely

If you recognize the signs of alcohol poisoning, there are things you can do to help someone safely. The first step is to call 911.

If you can, make a list of every alcohol (or drug) they ingested recently to provide to the EMTs.

The next step is to try to keep the drunk person awake until help arrives.

You also want them sitting up, rather than lying down. Sitting up will help them keep the contents of their stomach down so they won’t vomit and choke.

Keep them alert to help their bodies process the effects of the alcohol.

If they do ask to drink something, only give them water to help them prevent dehydration.

If the person is already passed out, make sure they’re lying on their side to prevent choking on their vomit. Use the Bacchus Maneuver to put them in the proper position.

Make sure they’re warm and stick close by to monitor them until help arrives.

What to Expect While Recovering from Alcohol Poisoning

There is no real alcohol poisoning cure except to get treated by a medical health practitioner who can check your BAC level. Health professionals can also more readily read the signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning and respond by providing proper treatment.

It may be that the person suffering from poisoning only needs to be monitored until their alcohol levels drop. But it’s not easy for a lay person to make that call without knowing all the facts.

In more serious cases, a tube is inserted into the windpipe to assist with breathing. An intravenous drip helps manage hydration, bring up blood glucose levels, and increase vitamin levels.

It’s also common for someone to experience incontinence. That’s hard to manage at home. A urinary catheter can help control the issue until the person is feeling better.

And in extreme cases of alcohol poisoning, doctors will pump the patient’s stomach. Fluids are then flushed through a tube that’s placed down their mouth or nose.

How Long Alcohol Poisoning Lasts

Many people experience alcohol poisoning as a result of binge drinking. Binge drinking for females is consuming four or more drinks during an occasion.

For males, it’s commonly five or more drinks. You should avoid allowing your BAC (blood alcohol concentration) go over 0.08 g/dL.

While there is no set limit due to a variety of health, gender, and size factors between different people, but anything over 0.31 is life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.

If you do go a bit too far with your drinking, be aware it can take several hours for you to recover. It can take longer if you suffer any complications or any long-term damage as a result of your drinking.

If you have existing liver or kidney problems, it’s more difficult to recover from alcohol poisoning. And in severe cases, permanent brain or liver damage happens.

And just because you have a higher alcohol tolerance, it doesn’t mean you aren’t a candidate for alcohol poisoning. According to the CDC, 30% of alcohol poisoning deaths are the result of long-term alcohol dependence.

How to Get Help

Alcohol poisoning treatment at home isn’t safe. The only way to ensure someone gets the help they need is to seek out medical treatment.

Emergency care professionals can make sure the person is still breathing and that their heart is still pumping properly. While in most cases, it’s more about monitoring the patient, medical professionals also have access to life support machines to help with respiratory and blood circulation issues that may arise.

Hospitals also have the fluids dehydrated patients need to rehydrate and stay safe. Patients also benefit from access to important vitamins, glucose, medicines or oxygen that most lay people don’t have at home.

Nor do most people have any clue as to what vitamins or medicines are safe to give to a person suffering from alcohol poisoning.

Don’t Wait, Act Quickly

If you know of someone suffering from alcohol poisoning, your best defense is acting quickly. Time will help the person eliminate ethanol from the body.

But if the person has consumed too much, life support may be required which can only be provided for by medical professionals.

Alcohol poisoning is often a sign that someone is struggling with alcohol. Sometimes, alcohol poisoning is the wake-up call that someone needs to ask for help and make necessary changes.

But the next steps are just as vital to their recovery. Patients struggling with alcohol issues may require therapy, medications, lifestyle changes, and a lot of support.

We Can Help You Stop Drinking

While knowing how to recognize the signs of alcohol poisoning are important, it’s not enough. Most people who end up with alcohol poisoning are already struggling with alcohol addiction.

It’s not always easy to ask for help but it is necessary. Most people need support and medical supervision to safely and effectively stop drinking.

We can help. We accept a variety of insurance plans.

And our highly trained staff can help you manage the triggers and struggles that caused you to drink too much. Don’t go it alone. You deserve help. Contact us today to learn how we can help support you in recovery.

Content Reviewed by Jacklyn Steward

Jacklyn StewardJacklyn is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and an EMDR trained trauma therapy specialist with over 6 years of experience in the field of addiction. She has a Masters Degree in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling from Nova Southeastern University.