Drinking in moderation usually is not a cause for concern. However, excessive drinking and alcohol abuse can be extremely dangerous and result in what is known as alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol poisoning can be incredibly serious and detrimental to a person’s health, which is why it’s so important to understand what to look out for. In this article, we’ll explain what alcohol poisoning is, its risks, common causes, and symptoms. We’ll also guide you on what to do if you believe someone has alcohol poisoning.


What is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning is comparable to an overdose, and it typically occurs when a large amount of alcohol is consumed in a short amount of time.

As with any type of poisoning or exposure to toxins, the body will react badly to excessive drinking and drinking too much alcohol too quickly has a number of dangerous side effects. Alcohol poisoning occurs when our blood alcohol content (BAC) is so high that your liver can no longer cope with the amount of alcohol that it needs to process, and this has a negative effect on your normal body functions, like heart rate, body temperature, blood sugar, breathing, and gag reflex.

Those who experience alcohol poisoning risk becoming extremely ill in the short term and have serious long-term health consequences, including permanent brain damage. In the worst-case scenario, an alcohol overdose can be life-threatening and even fatal.

Unlike food, which usually takes hours to digest, alcohol is absorbed quickly by the body, but your liver can only process or metabolise it at a certain speed. Typically speaking, even once alcohol consumption has stopped, our BAC can continue to rise by 0.02 percentage points per hour, meaning that the full impact of the alcohol will not be obvious until sometime after the last drink has been consumed.


What Causes Toxic Alcohol Poisoning?

Binge drinking is the major cause of alcohol poisoning.

Typically speaking, a man who consumes five or more drinks within two hours or a woman who consumes four drinks in two hours can develop alcohol poisoning. But this is not a hard and fast rule, and your overall health, the type and amount of food you consumed prior to drinking, your size, weight and tolerance level for alcohol, any drugs and medications that you are taking, and the percentage of alcohol in each drink, will also determine how your body reacts to the effects of the alcohol and increase your risks of an alcohol overdose.


Types of Toxic Alcohol

Ethanol (ethyl alcohol) is the key ingredient in alcoholic drinks, and this is what ultimately causes intoxication.

Ethanol alcohol poisoning is generally the result of heavy or binge drinking in a short period of time. There are, however, a number of other forms of alcohol that are also dangerous to ingest, and a common cause of alcohol poisoning is the intentional or accidental consumption of household products that contain high levels of methanol, ethylene glycol, and isopropyl alcohol. This may include items such as mouthwash, cough mixture, cleaning products, solvents, paints, and antifreeze.

Drinking even a small amount of methanol, ethylene glycol, and isopropyl alcohol can be extremely dangerous and will require immediate intervention. Any form of alcohol poisoning should never be taken lightly, and if you suspect that anyone is suffering from alcohol poisoning, don’t wait for the symptoms to get worse, seek immediate medical attention.


Common Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning

The signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning can differ from one person to the next, and this sometimes makes it hard to spot if you do not know what you are looking for or if you have not experienced it before.

It’s important to be aware of the fact that you do not need to display all of the signs of alcohol poisoning to be at risk of serious or fatal consequences.

If one or more of the following signs are present after consuming alcohol, it may be indicative of alcohol poisoning.

  • Confusion.
  • Irregular or slow breathing (less than 8 beats per minute).
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Seizures.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Extremely pale, blue-hued or clammy skin.
  • A significant drop in body temperature.
  • Passing out or drifting in and out of consciousness.
  • Loss of the ability to stand.
  • Loss of coordination, balance or bowel control.
  • Uncontrollable shivering and shaking.
  • Blurred vision.


The Risks Associated With Alcohol Poisoning

There are both short-term and long-term risks associated with alcohol poisoning.

The Short-Term Risks of Alcohol Poisoning

  • Choking – consuming excessive amounts of alcohol can cause you to vomit, but because alcohol affects your gag reflex, individuals are more likely to choke on their own vomit if consciousness is lost.
  • Asphyxiation – accidentally inhaling vomit into your lungs can lead to asphyxiation, which is extremely life-threatening.
  • Dehydration – excessive vomiting can lead to severe dehydration, dangerously low blood pressure and an increased heart rate.
  • Hypothermia – excessive alcohol consumption can cause a drop in body temperature and, ultimately, cardiac arrest.
  • Irregular heartbeat – alcohol poisoning can cause an irregular heartbeat or, in severe cases, a heart attack.
  • Hypoglycemia – alcohol poisoning causes your blood sugar to drop, and this, in turn, can lead to confusion, heart palpitations, and uncontrollable shaking.
  • Seizures – if your blood sugar drops too low, individuals can experience seizures.

The long-term Risks of Alcohol Poisoning

  • Brain damage – heavy drinking, binge drinking, and alcohol poisoning can cause irreversible brain damage.
  • Stroke or heart damage – excessive alcohol consumption can lead to permanent heart damage and, ultimately, cardiac arrest, heart failure or a stroke.
  • Pancreatitis – this is the inflammation of the pancreas and can be the result of alcohol poisoning.
  • Certain cancers – alcohol poisoning increases your risk of developing certain types of cancer, including cancer of the liver.
  • Liver disease – binge drinking and excessive alcohol consumption can cause several liver diseases.


Tips to Avoid Alcohol Poisoning

The most obvious way to avoid alcohol poisoning is not to drink alcohol at all. But, if you do choose to drink alcohol, see below for advice on how to avoid alcohol poisoning.

  • Choose not to drink – The surest way to avoid alcohol poisoning is by abstaining from alcohol.
  • Know your limit – Generally speaking, consuming more than 4 standard alcoholic beverages in one day will take you over the recommended guidelines on safe drinking.
  • Eat before drinking alcohol – Although eating doesn’t make drinking alcohol risk-free, consuming food before alcohol can slow its absorption.
  • Stay hydrated – Make sure to drink enough water in between alcoholic beverages to stay hydrated and help dilute the alcohol in your system.
  • Take a closer look at what you’re drinking – Individuals sometimes aren’t aware of how high certain alcohol percentages can be in some beverages.
  • Plan ahead – Decide on a set number of drinks you’ll have before you start drinking and stick to it.
  • Opt for low-alcohol beverages – Go for drinks with a lower alcohol content to decrease the overall amount of alcohol you consume.
  • Recognise the symptoms of alcohol poisoning – Educate yourself on the signs of alcohol poisoning so that swift action can be taken if necessary.
  • Don’t drink rapidly –  Sipping your drink rather than consuming it quickly can help your body metabolise alcohol more efficiently.
  • Don’t mix alcohol with medication – some medications can increase the effects of alcohol or cause harmful interactions.

Remember, alcohol poisoning can be life-threatening. If you suspect that someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning, you need to seek medical help immediately.

Find Help For Alcohol Addiction Today

If you’re struggling to control your alcohol intake, please be aware that help is available for you. Contact our team at Ocean Recovery Centre today to find out more about the treatment options available at our rehabilitation clinic.

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: October 10, 2023

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.