Alcohol poisoning can result when a person consumes a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time. Binge drinking – consuming more than 5 drinks in quick succession – is the most common cause of alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning can also occur if one consumes household products that contain alcohol.
The amount of alcohol that must be consumed in order to cause alcohol poisoning may vary widely from person to person. While binge drinking, defined as drinking more than 5 drinks in a row, is the most common cause of alcohol poisoning, it is possible for some people to develop alcohol poisoning from smaller amounts of alcohol. Some people can also drink even more than that without developing alcohol poisoning.
Alcohol poisoning can affect anyone who drinks, but it is particularly a problem among high school and college students. Young people in this age group are more likely to binge drink than adults. In addition, because they may fear getting into trouble if found drinking, they may hesitate to seek help for a friend suffering from alcohol poisoning.
Signs of alcohol poisoning include confusion, pale skin, irregular or slow breathing (fewer than 8 breaths per minute), a low body temperature, nausea and vomiting, seizures, and passing out. Not everyone with alcohol poisoning will have all of these symptoms, however.
Most symptoms of alcohol poisoning result because the alcohol depresses the nerves which control certain involuntary functions like heartbeat, respiration, and the gag reflex (which prevents you from choking). Excessive alcohol consumption can also cause a low body temperature, which can lead to cardiac arrest. In addition, blood sugar can drop dramatically, leading to seizures.
Alcohol is a stomach irritant and as such, can cause vomiting. When the gag reflux is depressed, a person can choke on their vomit. People can also vomit while passed out, causing them to choke on their vomit. There is also a chance of inhaling vomit into the lungs, which can cause asphyxiation. Alcohol poisoning can cause permanent brain damage. Severe alcohol poisoning can be deadly.
If you think you might have alcohol poisoning, you should seek medical help immediately. If you are with someone that you think might have alcohol poisoning, you should get medical help for them right away. If the person is unconscious or asleep and you can’t wake them, call 911. Don’t assume they will “sleep it off.”
The standard treatment for alcohol poisoning is simply to provide supportive care while the alcohol is eliminated from the body. Supportive care involves close monitoring, IV fluids to prevent dehydration, and protection of the airway to prevent breathing problems (a respirator may be required).
People often try a number of home remedies to treat intoxication, including black coffee, cold showers, “walking it off,” and “sleeping it off.” Not only do these things not work to treat alcohol poisoning, allowing someone to sleep while experiencing alcohol poisoning can be dangerous because they may vomit while unconscious and choke. Prompt medical care is essential in the case of alcohol poisoning.
Mayo Clinic Staff. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/alcohol-poisoning/DS00861/DSECTION=causes. Alcohol Poisoning.