What Happens to Your Body When You Have Alcohol Poisoning?

Reviewed on 3/26/2021
Alcohol poisoning is the condition when alcohol reaches dangerous levels in your blood
Alcohol poisoning is the condition when alcohol reaches dangerous levels in your blood

Alcohol poisoning is the condition when alcohol reaches dangerous levels in your blood known as increased blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The more the BAC, the more is the effect of alcohol on your body. Alcohol poisoning usually occurs when you drink an excessive amount of alcohol quickly. Known as binge drinking and alcohol overdose, this translates to four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men in 2 hours.

When you have alcohol poisoning, your breathing, heart rate, and temperature get severely affected. Alcohol poisoning affects your body because it

  • Slows down brain functions and causes
    • Mental confusion.
    • Difficulty staying conscious or awake.
    • Impaired judgment.
    • Decreased motor coordination.
    • Amnesia (blackouts).
  • Irritates the stomach and causes vomiting.
  • Causes you to choke on your own vomit that can stop your breathing.
  • Slows down your breathing to as less as eight breaths per minute.
  • Makes your breathing irregular (a gap of more than 10 seconds between breaths).
  • Lowers your heart rate.
  • Reduces your blood sugar levels and causes seizures or sometimes coma.
  • Lowers your body temperature and can lead to cardiac arrest.
  • Makes your skin pale or bluish.
  • Dehydrates your body.
  • Can cause irreversible brain damage.
  • Causes pancreatic damages.
  • Can cause death in severe cases.

What causes alcohol poisoning?

You may get alcohol poisoning by consuming large quantities of alcohol in a short period. Alcoholic drinks contain ethanol (also known as ethyl alcohol). There may be accidental consumption of alcohol-containing household products by small children. The alcohol present in household items can be isopropyl alcohol, ethylene glycol, or methyl alcohol.

Alcohol differs from foods by taking very little time to get digested and absorbed in the body. It appears in your blood quickly. However, it takes a lot more time to get eliminated from the body. The more alcohol you consume in a short time, the more severe is alcohol poisoning.

What puts you at risk of alcohol poisoning?

Anyone can get alcohol poisoning by taking an overdose of alcohol at a time. However, certain factors affect your risk of alcohol poisoning. These include:

  • Your size and weight
  • Your tolerance to alcohol
  • Your overall health (if you have issues such as liver problem, they will hasten the poisoning)
  • Medications (examples include medications to induce sleep such as zolpidem and antihistamines) that you take with alcohol
  • The time between alcohol drinking and eating
  • The percentage of alcohol in your drink

How to prevent alcohol poisoning

If you drink alcohol, ensure that you drink in moderation. If you are a healthy woman or man older than 65 years, restrict drinking up to one drink a day. If you are a man younger than 65 years, do not drink more than two drinks a day.

Enjoy your alcoholic drinks slowly. Drink one to two glasses of water after one drink.

Do not drink on an empty stomach. It is better if you eat your meal or something and then relish your alcohol. You can also have alcohol with food or salads.

Do not take medications along with alcohol. Ask your doctor about the minimum time interval needed between your last medicine dose and alcohol.

Store products that contain alcohol safely, away from the reach of your children. Read the labels to find out which products contain alcohol. Examples include rubbing alcohol, paints, lotions, antifreeze, and some cleaning liquids.

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References
Alcohol toxicity. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/812411-overview#a6

Alcohol Poisoning. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-poisoning/symptoms-causes/syc-20354386

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