Alcohol Poisoning Signs, Risks, & Treatment

Between 2019 and 2021, yearly rates of alcohol-related deaths in the United States grew significantly, from approximately 79,000 deaths to more than 108,000 deaths, respectively.1 Many of these deaths were the result of alcohol poisoning, which can be an outcome of binge drinking and/or alcohol use disorder.2

This article will go into further detail about what alcohol poisoning is and how it occurs, what the signs of it are and what to do in the event of an emergency, and how to seek professional treatment for alcohol misuse or addiction.

What is Alcohol Poisoning?

Also known as alcohol overdose, alcohol poisoning occurs when enough alcohol is present in the bloodstream to not just slow down key parts of the brain, but to shut them down entirely.2 Since alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, it works to slow down the activity in the brain.3 When alcohol poisoning occurs, however, the areas of the brain that shut down are responsible for promoting vital functions such as breathing, heart rate, and body temperature.2 The cessation of these functions is what can lead to severe outcomes, including death.

At What BAC Does Alcohol Poisoning Occur?

Blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, is the proportion of alcohol in the bloodstream based on grams of alcohol to milliliters of blood.4 When someone repeatedly consumes alcoholic beverages, their BAC rises, which leads to several impairments that can intensify from mild to life-threatening as drinking continues.

Blood alcohol levels ranging from 0.0-0.05% can produce mild impairments, such as relaxation and slight impairments related to speech and memory.2 A blood alcohol concentration in the range of 0.06-0.15% comes with increasingly more significant impairments, including heightened aggression, further decline in coordination, impairments in driving skills, and greater risk of injury to oneself and others.2 This is when one’s BAC can get them into trouble with the authorities, as the legal limit is 0.08%.

A BAC that is between 0.16-0.30%, however, is going to cause severe impairment to speech, memory, coordination, driving skills, and decision-making.2 It is also possible for individuals to experience blacking out and vomiting.2 Once someone’s BAC reaches 0.31-0.45%, alcohol poisoning can occur, which can turn fatal due to depression of vital functions within the body such as breathing and heart rate.2 At this time, emergency medical attention is critical.2

Some factors that influence the speed at which a person’s BAC increases can include the following:5

  • How hydrated the person is
  • The person’s weight
  • The presence of medications in the person’s system
  • How much food the person has consumed and how quickly it has been digested
  • The level of tolerance the person has developed to alcohol

Additionally, the rate at which alcoholic beverages are being consumed and what the alcohol content is in those beverages also serve as important factors that influence how quickly one’s BAC rises.5

Signs & Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning

Recognizing if someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning can help save a life. Therefore, being knowledgeable of the signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning is extremely important. Some of these signs and symptoms can include, but are not limited to, the following:2

  • Difficulty remaining conscious
  • Trouble breathing
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Dulled responses (such as gag reflex)
  • Low body temperature
  • Vomiting
  • Mental confusion
  • Seizures

Alcohol poisoning can quickly turn deadly. Calling 911 immediately at the sign of these symptoms can reduce severe health-related repercussions and possible death.2

How Does Alcohol Poisoning Happen?

Alcohol poisoning occurs when someone drinks too much alcohol too quickly.2 This usually occurs as a result of binge drinking or high intensity drinking. Binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks for men or four or more for women in one sitting, while high-intensity drinking is defined as drinking twice as much as binge drinking limits.2 Studies have shown that teenagers and young adults are at particular risk for alcohol poisoning, as binge drinking and high-intensity drinking often occur at parties or other social gatherings.2

It is also possible for alcohol poisoning to occur when someone is unaware that they have other factors that increase this risk, such as their weight, tolerance, and certain medications they may be using.5 Understanding these factors while also having the ability to moderate alcohol consumption are good protective factors against alcohol poisoning.

How is Alcohol Poisoning Treated?

The approach to treating alcohol poisoning is mostly supportive, as there isn’t one surefire fix for this type of crisis.6 Considering that the primary life-threatening complication of alcohol poisoning is respiratory depression, medical professionals will work to secure the airway first.6 From there, intravenous fluids are usually started to help improve hydration levels and some testing may be done to help determine glucose and thiamine levels.6 This allows providers to determine the next course of action, such as potentially starting an IV of multivitamins.6 These same medical professionals will keep monitoring the patient for any other health issues that arise and continue to treat them appropriately.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment in Las Vegas 

If you are struggling with the misuse of alcohol or alcohol use disorder, know that there is help available. Call our inpatient rehab in Las Vegas right now at to be connected to one of our compassionate rehab admissions navigators. They can help answer any questions you may have, including those about the types of rehab care we offer, insurance coverage, paying for rehab, and more.

Do not let one more day go by without getting the help you deserve. Get started on your road to recovery right now by having your insurance with us.

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