Alcohol poisoning occurs when there is so much alcohol in the bloodstream that areas of the brain controlling basic life-support functions—such as breathing, heart rate, and temperature control—begin to shut down. As BAC continues to rise even when a person is unconscious, alcohol in the stomach and intestine continues to enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body. It is wrong to assume that an unconscious person will be fine by sleeping it off. Alcohol acts as a depressant, hindering signals in the brain that control automatic responses such as the gag reflex. Alcohol also can irritate the stomach, causing vomiting. With no gag reflex, a person who drinks to the point of passing out is in danger of choking on vomit, which, in turn, could lead to death by asphyxiation. Even if the drinker survives, an alcohol overdose can lead to long-lasting brain damage.
How Can I Identify Alcohol Poisoning?
Critical Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning
- Mental confusion, stupor, coma, or inability to wake up
- Slow breathing (fewer than 8 breaths per minute)
- Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)
- Hypothermia (low body temperature), bluish skin color, paleness
What Should I Do If I Suspect Someone Has Alcohol Poisoning?
- Know the danger signals
- Do not wait for someone to have all the symptoms
- Be aware that a person who has passed out may die
- If you suspect an alcohol overdose, call 911 for help
What Can Happen to Someone With Alcohol Poisoning That Goes Untreated?
- Choking on his or her own vomit
- Breathing that slows, becomes irregular or stops
- Heart that beats irregularly or stops
- Hypothermia (low body temperature)
- Hypoglycemia (too little blood sugar), which leads to seizures
- Untreated severe dehydration from vomiting, which can cause seizures, permanent brain damage, and death