The most common form of alcohol poisoning is drinking too much too quickly. Alcohol overdose kills and is all too common in both adolescents and adults.
- Historically, death by alcohol poisoning has been under-reported in the US.
- The general perception that alcohol poisoning deaths are most common among college students is not the case. Middle aged, unmarried and less educated men appear equally or more at risk.
- Evidence indicates that fatalities due to a mix of alcohol and other drugs is a significant problem.
When someone dies of alcohol poisoning one of two things usually happen. Either the depressant level of the alcohol was so high that the drinker stopped breathing and their heart stopped beating or they passed out and choked on their own vomit. Either way, many of these deaths are preventable through greater intoxication monitoring, alcohol education, and public awareness of the signs of reaction to the symptoms of alcohol overdose.
What is Alcohol Poisoning?
Alcohol is a depressant which acts on the brain and central nervous system function. A lethal dose of alcohol will slow and eventually stop breathing. Death may also be hastened by a loss of the gag reflex which normally prevents one from choking on their own vomit. Even if death does not occur, an alcohol overdose can leave its victim with irreversible brain damage. It is a good idea to educate yourself, your family and your friends to recognize and react to the symptoms of alcohol overdose. Allowing an overdose victim to “sleep it off” can be deadly.
Lethal Dose Definition
A "lethal dose" is defined as the BAC level at which death from alcohol poisoning occurs in half the population. BACs in .4 - .5 range meet this criteria. A 100-pound woman who consumes 9-10 standard drinks in less than one hour would put themselves in the lethal dose range.
Just as individual tolerances to alcohol differ, each and every sign of alcohol poisoning may not be present in every victim. However, any of the following should be cause for serious alarm.
- Binge drinking. The consumption of large amounts of alcohol in a short time.
- Vomiting is common with alcohol poisoning since alcohol irritates the stomach. When combined with unconsciousness, vomiting can easily lead to death by asphyxiation. Many alcohol overdose fatalities are found with their lungs full of vomit.
- Coma, unconsciousness or the inability to be roused. Don’t assume that “sleeping it off” is the right, best or only course of action. A person's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) can continue to rise even while passed out.
- Increasing mental confusion and stupor even after ceasing to drink. Alcohol in the stomach and intestine continues to enter the bloodstream well after the drinking has stopped. Don’t assume BAC levels are stable or declining if no alcohol is present. Rapid increases in BAC levels is especially dangerous in binge drinking.
- Slow breathing (fewer than eight breaths per minute).
- Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths).
- Hypothermia (low body temperature), pale or bluish skin color.
- Seizures from hypoglycemia or too little blood sugar.