The Difference Between Alcohol Poisoning and a Hangover

It is not uncommon for a social group to go out for a few drinks. Perhaps the group may drink beer, fancy drinks, or maybe even stronger selections. With drinking comes various short-term effects. This can be especially true with the aftermath, particularly the symptoms of a hangover.

In this scenario, one of the people may drink an excessive amount of alcohol and pass out. While their friends may just brush it off and assume he’ll wake up with a hangover, it is important to know the true situation. There is a big difference between a simple hangover and alcohol poisoning. 

Knowing the facts can potentially save a life. While there are similarities between alcohol poisoning and a hangover, alcohol poisoning is much more dangerous and serious. It is crucial to spot the difference and get help if necessary. While drinking during social gatherings or events is normal, excessive drinking and problem drinking can be a completely different situation. 

Spotting the Difference

Both alcohol poisoning and hangovers share some of the same symptoms. However, alcohol poisoning is a much more dangerous situation that requires medical attention. Hangovers can be uncomfortable and unpleasant for a short period of time. Alcohol poisoning, on the other hand, can potentially lead to death if it’s not spotted in time. 

Around six people die every single day from alcohol poisoning, which is over 2,000 people every year. These numbers continue to rise and it’s important to be aware of the differences. Let’s take a look at each of these separately to truly understand the different symptoms between the two alcohol-induced conditions. 

The Signs and Symptoms of a Hangover

A hangover occurs after a person drinks too much alcohol. The more someone drinks the more of a chance they have of being hungover the next day. A hangover usually consists of a number of uncomfortable and unpleasant symptoms that can last up to 24 hours. These symptoms usually hit their peak the next morning after excessive drinking.  

Hangover typically occurs because of several reasons. Common reasons for a hangover include:

  • Decreased blood sugar levels
  • Inflammation caused by alcohol
  • Headaches caused by blood vessels expanding
  • Stomach issues caused by alcohol in the system
  • Dehydration (usually because of constant urination)

When waking up the next morning a person will feel a range of feelings. These can include headaches, nausea, and other aches. These can range depending on how much alcohol the person drank. Some of the common symptoms of a hangover include the following:

  • Dizziness
  • Muscle aches
  • Weak and tired
  • Extreme thirst
  • Increased heart rate
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Shaking or trembling hands
  • Loss of appetite (due to nausea)
  • Problems focusing or keeping attention

Commonly, a person who’s hungover will be startled or bothered by bright lights or loud noises. Sometimes people may try to eat greasy food (burgers, pizza, etc.) to soak up the alcohol in their system. However, this usually ends up making things much worse when the morning comes. 

Dealing with a Hangover

A hangover is not a huge problem in itself, while it has its unpleasant symptoms a person can still go about their day and still function. There are a few things you can do to cope with a hangover the next day. While there is no specific ‘cure’ for a hangover, these are common tips to help ease the symptoms. 

  • Hydrating with water (or other liquids) Dehydration is a big aspect of being hungover. One of the best ways to deal with a hangover is to drink a lot of water. Gatorade and other liquids with electrolytes can also be helpful. 
  • Try Caffeine (Coffee or Tea) – While a person may want to just sleep it off, they may have to go to school or work. Coffee or tea can offer some energy and combat that slow, sluggish feeling throughout the day.
  • Sleep – After a night of excessive drinking a person doesn’t get the proper REM cycles needed for a good night’s rest. It might be best to get some sleep and write off the day (after drinking lots of water and eating something first).
  • Over the Counter Pain Medication – Sometimes taking over the counter pain relievers like Ibuprofen (Advil or other brands) can be a safe, effective route. Avoid acetaminophen (Tylenol) due to its effects on the liver when paired with alcohol. 
  • Eating the Right Food – After excessive drinking, a person’s blood sugar can change dramatically. This is why it’s important to eat healthily (with carbs and potassium in mind). Wheat bread, vegetables, fruits, bananas, yogurt, and juices are all great options. 

The Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning 

Alcohol poisoning is much more severe and intense than a regular hangover. It happens much faster, sometimes while the person is still drinking. It is important to understand and be able to spot alcohol poisoning symptoms. If you noticed any of these signs, get medical help immediately. 

Common signs of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Seizures
  • Pale skin
  • Fast heart rate
  • Intense confusion
  • Constant vomiting
  • Blue fingers or lips
  • Dropped blood pressure
  • Shallow or slowed breathing
  • Unconsciousness or not waking up
  • Irregular breathing (cyclical pause) 
  • Lowered body temperature (hypothermia)

These symptoms can sometimes resemble those of simply being intoxicated. However, alcohol poisoning is a serious situation that needs medical attention. If a person is not responding to your attempts to wake them up or their skin turns blue, seek medical attention immediately. 

Dealing With Alcohol Poisoning

Figuring out if a person has a hangover‌ ‌or‌ ‌alcohol‌ ‌poisoning is the first step. Once you’ve identified a person’s situation by looking at their lack of response or other symptoms, it’s important to act fast. If you see any of these indicators call 9-11 immediately or the poison control center. 

Never leave a person experiencing alcohol poisoning alone or in a tub. This increases the risk of them choking on their own vomit and potentially dying. To avoid this, stay with the person and sit them upright. If you suspect someone might be experiencing alcohol poisoning, don’t leave them alone. A person’s body temperature will drop substantially, so cold showers are a bad idea. Provide them with a blanket or jacket to keep them warm. 

Rehydration is absolutely key in this situation. In this dangerous situation, it’s important that the person is able to intake water, even if the water is vomited back up.  The person should be able to drink water on their own, do not try to force water down their throat (this could result in drowning). 

After staying with the person until medical assistance arrives, be prepared to answer questions. Provide as much information about how much alcohol they were drinking, what kind of alcohol, and when the symptoms began. These are all crucial pieces of information that can help medical personnel understand the situation at hand. 

How to Avoid Alcohol Poisoning 

One of the most effective and easiest ways of avoiding alcohol poisoning is to control how much you drink from the beginning. Drink a glass of water between alcohol to prevent dehydration while slowing down intoxication. 

It’s important to be aware of your limits and control how much you are drinking. Typically, two drinks is a good limit to have so you don’t overdo it. Eating a meal before or during drinking can be a great way to avoid a hangover or alcohol poisoning. Drinking responsibly and safely is the best way to avoid alcohol poisoning. 

Also, it’s important to keep an eye on those around you. Make sure those around you are not drinking too much (avoid the temptation to binge drink or play drinking games). Lack of coordination, not being able to stand straight, and slurred speech are all indicators to stop drinking. 

In certain cases, alcohol poisoning can happen by accident, especially around children. Children may accidentally or unknowingly drink alcohol. This is why it’s extra important to be aware of the signs of possible alcohol poisoning and to keep alcohol out of reach of children. 

Alcoholism and Alcohol Addiction 

Hangovers and alcohol poisoning are both consequences of excessive drinking, however, if this is a frequent problem, there may be a greater issue at hand. Alcoholism occurs when someone excessively drinks on a frequent basis. Those with alcoholism may be completely dependent on alcohol, which means they need alcohol in their system to function.  

It is an issue that surpasses casual drinking here and there. Hangovers and other negative issues (failed performance in school, relationships, withdrawal symptoms, financial issues, etc.) are both consequences of alcoholism. Alcohol poisoning is a very severe consequence of untreated alcoholism. After continuous drinking a person’s chances of accidents and alcohol poisoning skyrocket. If you notice any possible signs of alcoholism or alcohol addiction, it may be time to get help. 

Getting Help

Knowing the symptoms of a hangover or alcohol poisoning can be incredibly important (especially for alcohol poisoning). If you are concerned that a loved one or someone you know may be struggling with a drinking problem, Coastal Detox may be able to help. Contact us today to learn more about our treatment options and alcohol addiction resources.

Real Client Testimonials

  • Before coming to coastal I was hopeless, helpless, and my family wanted nothing to do with me. It wasn’t the first detox I’d ever been to, but it was the only one who showed me so much love and compassion. They gave me hope. It’s hard to put into words the amount of gratitude I have for this facility. The employees were my family when I had none. The staff went out of their way to make sure not only were my physical needs taken care of, but my emotional needs as well. From the first phone call prior to admission, to helping me set up continuing care, they never missed a beat. Even going as far as to help me with my legal issues via Zoom court. This isn’t just a detox, they are the family I never had. All of the techs, especially Karen, are phenomenal. They will take the time to listen to you, laugh, and cry(if needed) with you. If you are reading this and you or your loved one is suffering like I was, go to Coastal Detox. The level of care is more than I could ever put into a review. It wasn’t the first detox I’d been to, but it has been my last; I owe them everything I have today, including my life.

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    12/07/2020
  • Had a really good experience at Coastal. The staff really went above and beyond in helping me get in and gave me the respect l, space and care I needed after I first got there. As I started to fell better they encouraged me to take part in groups which helped get me out of my head and bring positivity and health to my thinking. They had a great massage therapist, who came daily and it was evident the nursing staff genuinely cared. Got to know some of the staff as well and I’m grateful for the cooks Joe and Chris. Those guys literally made us sirloins and pork chops for dinner. Also I gotta thank Chris and Chris for helping me get in and setting me up with a transition plan. Real grateful for that help, I’m not sure if it’s management intention to hire guys named Chris but they got a good thing going there. Overall, I’m clean and sober today and walking it out. Coastal gave me a base that set me up for the success that I’m walking in today

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    1/16/2020
  • My family is very thankful for Coastal Detox. They have went above and beyond for my son a few times. Unfortunately he has needed their help more than once and they have ever turned their back on him, even when he was at his worst. Jeannie and Chris have been amazing and kept me informed through the entire process. They truly care about the addict and want to help them especially when it would be easy to give up on them. I had many detox facilities be rude and uncaring to me when I was searching for help for my son, but Coastal never did that to us. I don't know the names of all the team members that have helped my son but I know their are many and y'all are angels!! One day we will be able to pay it forward and help someone as you have helped us. Thank you for all you do!!

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    1/01/2020
  • Can not say enough nice things about Coastal Detox & staff. Family member was there, told me five stars for the facility & all whom she interacted with. Said the facilities, ambience..., cleanliness, grounds, food, (think their chef is five stars), were all top shelf. All I interacted with personally & on the phone were patient, professional, responsive & caring. Kudos to so many: Jeannie Jones, Clinical Director whom I spent the most face to face time with: great oversight, patience & follow thru. Raquel Barker, Therapist was so understanding & on spot with her assessments/care. Kris Garrigus Admissions Director, another Coastal professional whom I cannot say enough nice things about, always so patient & responsive to my probably too frequent inquires. Not to be forgotten is Judy Tucker, Director of Operations she too so patiently "put up with me"
    I highly recommend Coastal Detox

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    Susan C.
    11/13/2019
  • Can not say enough nice things about Coastal Detox & staff. Family member was there, told me five stars for the facility & all whom she interacted with. Said the facilities, ambience..., cleanliness, grounds, food, (think their chef is five stars), were all top shelf. All I interacted with personally & on the phone were patient, professional, responsive & caring. Kudos to so many: Jeannie Jones, Clinical Director whom I spent the most face to face time with: great oversight, patience & follow thru. Raquel Barker, Therapist was so understanding & on spot with her assessments/care. Kris Garrigus Admissions Director, another Coastal professional whom I cannot say enough nice things about, always so patient & responsive to my probably too frequent inquires. Not to be forgotten is Judy Tucker, Director of Operations she too so patiently "put up with me"
    I highly recommend Coastal Detox

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    Susan C.
    11/06/2019

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