9 Minutes

Edited & medically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 2,200 people die from acute alcohol poisoning, averaging approximately six individuals per day. Most of these individuals are men, and about three in four are between 35 to 65 years of age.

Despite being a socially acceptable drink in most parts of the world, consuming alcohol has been associated with numerous disadvantages. In addition to poor coordination, memory disturbances, and headaches, it can sometimes lead to poisoning, especially in people who consume too much of it in too little time. Without appropriate alcohol poisoning treatment, the condition can quickly prove fatal. At the same time, raising awareness about how the condition develops, its common symptoms, and what to do if you find someone with the classic signs of alcohol poisoning can help save lives.

two shots representing alcohol poisoning

Upon consumption, alcohol has a relatively quick and aggressive effect on the body. It takes the body roughly one hour to break down 0.25 ounces of alcohol. Because of this, alcohol can absorb into the blood in as little as 30 minutes. When someone consumes a large amount of alcohol in a relatively shorter time, their body cannot process the alcohol contents fast enough. The toxins in the alcohol quickly release into the body and can take a while before the body finally breaks them down, causing the individual to feel drunk longer.

Multiple factors tend to play a role in determining the alcohol consumption in a person, such as:

  • Gender
  • Tolerance level
  • Weight

Since every person is unique with a different bodily and genetic structure, there is no definitive way of determining how much someone can drink to be exposed to a risk of alcohol poisoning. Binge drinking remains one of the most common causes of alcohol poisoning as it involves using a large amount of alcohol in a shorter timeframe. The choice of alcohol an individual chooses to drink also makes a difference in how long it takes them to feel drunk and develop poisoning. In that reference, it is essential to remember to understand what a standard drink means. One standard drink refers to a beverage containing around 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is equivalent to:

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • Five fluid ounces of wine
  • One and one-half fluid ounces of hard liquor

To proceed with timely alcohol poisoning treatment, diagnosing and seeking help for the problem is imperative. The symptoms of alcohol poisoning vary from one person to another; however, they mainly depend on the blood-alcohol content (BAC), a term that describes how much alcohol is present in the blood at a given time. In general, it does not take a lot of alcohol in the blood to trigger problems:

Between 0.0 and 0.05%

At this level, alcohol starts triggering mild impairment in the body. Symptoms at this stage typically include some difficulty in remembering and speaking things. The individual may feel clumsy and a little sleepy.

Between 0.06 and 0.15%

At this level of BAC, an individual experiences increased impairment with worsening symptoms that significantly impact their driving skills.

Between 0.16 and 0.30%

At this level, alcohol starts impairing an individual’s decision-making skills and judgment. They may also suffer from frequent episodes of vomiting and blackouts.

Between 0.31 and 0.45%

As the BAC crosses 0.31%, the situation becomes life-threatening, with a significant risk of death due to the depressant effect of alcohol which can slow down vital life functions.

Unfortunately, there is no definitive alcohol poisoning cure that can reverse the problem. In all cases, the victim requires an immediate shift to a medical care unit to save their life. Calling 911 when you spot someone struggling with the classic symptoms of alcohol poisoning and staying with them until help arrives is the first and the most crucial step to help someone with this potentially-fatal problem.

Following are some elements of alcohol poisoning treatment in hospital:

IV fluids

Once the victim arises in the hospital, a medical professional may start them on intravenous fluids to replace the fluids they lost from excessive vomiting. Additionally, they may aim to balance any electrolyte disruptions due to excessive consumption of alcohol.


A healthcare provider may administer oxygen to provide respiratory support, especially if a person is experiencing slowed or irregular breathing.

Blood Pressure Medication

Medicine can be prescribed to regulate and fix any dips in blood pressure.

Stomach Pumping

Sometimes, a doctor may insert a tube in the stomach to remove excess alcohol, which prevents the body from metabolizing any more alcohol and controlling its concentration in the blood.

Blood Filtration

Blood filtration, or hemodialysis, is a procedure that makes use of a dialysis machine to filter the blood. Using this machine, a doctor may remove excessive alcohol along with its metabolites from the body.

Anti-Seizure Medication

If the person is experiencing fits, a short-term anticonvulsant or anti-seizure medication might be used to stop them.

Keep in mind that someone experiencing alcohol poisoning requires time to recover. Even after they receive initial medical intervention, they may continue to experience severe hangover symptoms until their condition becomes stable.

As a part of alcohol poisoning treatment, a healthcare provider may counsel the victim to seek help for their excessive alcohol use from a mental health professional. These mental health professionals can also provide treatment for co-occurring disorders, such as depression and anxiety if any.

In addition to the treatment offered by a healthcare provider at the hospital, there are several ways in which you can contribute to saving the life of a person with alcohol poisoning. An individual with suspected alcohol poisoning may not just sleep this condition off. Their symptoms are likely to worsen; they may choke on their vomit or stop breathing due to severe respiratory depression. Emergency medical help is the only way to be safe so if you spot someone with active symptoms suggestive of alcohol poisoning, immediately call 911. As you wait for the emergency responders to arrive at the scene, keep the following tips in mind to help the victim as much as possible:

If the individual is awake, try to keep them awake by talking to them or engaging their mind in some kind of activity:

  • Keep them in a sitting position if they are conscious
  • Keep them away from any drugs or alcohol
  • If the person loses consciousness at any point, lay them down on their side
  • Stay with the individual until help arrives

As soon as the paramedics arrive, be prepared to inform them whatever you can about the person. It might help to describe how much the individual drank and what they had been doing since you called them.

If someone you love has been showing dangerous intoxication symptoms, the following are some alcohol poisoning self-care tips to help them out:

Never leave them alone to sleep it off.

The amount of alcohol in an individual’s body may continue to rise even if they have stopped drinking as their gut might continue absorbing alcohol. So do not let them sleep on their symptoms, as excessive alcohol may stop their breathing as they sleep without any warning signs.

Don’t give them coffee.

Many people believe that because coffee is a stimulant, it can fight off the sedative effects of alcohol. In reality, just like alcohol, coffee severely dehydrates the body, and the cumulative effects of both drinks can trigger permanent brain damage.

Stop them from intentionally vomiting.

Another common misconception that people have regarding alcohol poisoning treatment is that self-induced vomiting can make it better. However, in people with severe intoxication, the gag reflex might be compromised, which can make them choke on their vomit.

Do not let them walk around.

As a depressant, excessive alcohol in the body can slow down the brain’s functions while negatively affecting the body’s balance. Walking an intoxicated person around in such a situation may lead to accidents.

Avoid putting them in a cold shower.

Giving an intoxicated person a cold shower is not a good idea, as alcohol itself lowers the body temperature to a significant extent. As a result, the victim may undergo hypothermia which may prove life-threatening. The best advice is to make the person lie down comfortably and wait for the paramedics to arrive.



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