Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning

symptoms of alcohol poisoning header image
Last Edited: March 6, 2024
Caroline King
Clinically Reviewed
Jim Brown, CDCA
All of the information on this page has been reviewed and certified by an addiction professional.

There is a big difference between drinking too much, then texting your ex and alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning is dangerous and you may have already experienced it dogging a bullet. Below are some of the symptoms you can expect;

  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing (less than eight breaths a minute)
  • Irregular breathing (a gap of more than 10 seconds between breaths)
  • Blue-tinged skin or pale skin
  • Low body temperature (hypothermia)
  • Passing out (unconsciousness) and can’t be awakened

The Dangers: Don’t kid yourself, alcohol poisoning can be fatal or at the least cause serious other problems. If you think you or a friend is suffering from alcohol poisoning Please Call 911.

symptoms of alcohol poisoning Infographic

Alcohol is a very popular drug; the majority of adults in this country drink Alcohol and it is perfectly legal to do so as long as you are over the age of 21. The problem with Alcohol is that a large number of citizens in this country end up drinking far too much leading to issues with Alcoholism and Alcohol Poisoning. The CDC has stated that about 2,200 people die of Alcohol poisoning every year in this country, which equates to six individuals each day.

Since it is legal to drink alcohol, people don’t really think much about what it does to their body. Initially, over time Alcoholism will induce skin damage and attack major internal systems. Because of this, it is possible for people to experience sudden symptoms of Alcohol poisoning without even being aware of it entirely.

What Happens When You Get Alcohol Poisoning?

If an individual was to drink too much Alcohol, they will begin to experience Alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poising is when the bloodstream is flooded by Alcohol that then travels to the brain. The brain is no longer able to control important things like heart rate, breathing, and body temperature. Breathing becomes uneven and depressed, the body cools down and people may begin to experience seizures as a result.

Alcohol poisoning doesn’t always happen out of choice, as it can occur accidentally. The active ingredient in Alcohol is ethanol, which can also be found in various household products. While the vast majority of cases happen because someone chooses to drink too much in one sitting, there have been cases of Alcohol poisoning happening through accidental ingestion. The liver is responsible for processing Alcohol, and it is only capable of processing a single serving of Alcohol per hour. Single servings for various kinds of Alcoholic drinks are as follows:

  • 1.5 oz of distilled spirits or hard liquors
  • 5 oz of wine
  • 8 oz of malt liquor
  • 12 oz of beer

Culture of Binge Drinking

Of particular concern is the culture of binge drinking in this country, which has already caused so many avoidable deaths. What is binge drinking? Binge drinking means that women have more than four drinks in a two hour period, or that men have more than five drinks in that same time period. What is strange is that binge drinking is very much a part of college culture, but the majority of cases of Alcohol poisoning happen in those whose ages range between 35 and 64. This may be because body chemistry changes with age. Also, older people are more likely to be prescribed medication that could possibly interact with Alcohol, or because there have been changes in preferences for certain drugs. The demographic most at risk of Alcohol poisoning death are white, middle-aged men.

90 percent of binge drinkers did not have an Alcohol Use Disorder, meaning they were neither dependent nor addicted to it. AUD was found to be present in 30% of all deaths related to Alcohol. This means that having an AUD is a risk factor in Alcohol poisoning.

The Effects of Alcohol Poisoning on the Body

As the liver can process no more than one serving per hour, if someone drinks a second serving, there will be one serving that remains in the system of the individual. This will take another hour to process. Most people consume Alcohol as a drink, which means it is much easier for it to enter the bloodstream and get to the brain through the digestive system. Compared to other drugs, this is one of the slowest ways of becoming intoxicated, and in this lies the danger. When people start to feel intoxicated, they are already well over their limit, but there is certain amounts Alcohol that hasn’t been processed yet. Even if they were to stop drinking once they start to notice intoxication symptoms, they may still develop Alcohol poisoning. In the worst cases, people don’t stop drinking even when they start to show symptoms of intoxication, meaning that they already have enough Alcohol in their body but by consuming more, they put themselves at greater risk for alcohol poisoning.

effects of the alcohol on the body infographic

The effects of Alcohol poisoning on the body are severe and include:

  • A slowing down of general brain function, which starts with coordination and balance, and then slowly affecting more systems in the body
  • Irritation of the stomach, leading to nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of sensitivity in the muscles, which stops the gag reflex, which can cause people to choke on their own vomit
  • Problems with the nerves controlling breathing and heart rate, leading to a slowing down or stopping both functions
  • A drastic drop in blood sugar level, which can cause a seizure
  • A drop in body temperature, potentially leading to hypothermia
  • Dehydration, which can cause brain damage

If you drink to excess or know people who do, it is important to be aware of the symptoms of Alcohol poisoning. Recognizing them means that you could potentially save a life. Most common symptoms include:

Most common symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning include:

  • Vomiting
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness
  • Hypothermia
  • Clammy, cold skin
  • Inability to walk or other forms of lack of physical coordination
  • Depressed breathing
  • Irregular pulse
  • Choking
  • Seizure
  • Loss of control of bladder and/or bowel functions
  • Blue tints around the fingernails and lips

How Do I Help Someone With Alcohol Poisoning?

When you encounter people who appear to be suffering from alcohol poisoning, it is vital to take the right action immediately and call 911. You must then stay with them to ensure that they cannot come to self-harm. If they are unconscious they could choke on their own vomit. Make sure emergency help is on its way, even if they have not lost consciousness and are still speaking. Alcohol in the stomach may not have been processed yet and the symptoms of alcohol poisoning could still get worse.

What To Do

Once you have phoned emergency services, there are a few other things that you should do.

  • Try to keep them conscious
  • Talk to them so that they know what is happening. Some people with alcohol poisoning can become aggressive, so always give them plenty of warning before you move or touch them.
  • Try to keep them in an upright sitting position
  • Try to get them to slowly drink water if they are conscious and capable of swallowing.
  • If they are unconscious, try to roll them into the recovery position. This means placing them on their side and lifting their arms above their head. This will prevent them from choking on their own vomit.
  • Make sure they are kept warm, as their body temperature will likely drop

What NOT To Do

There is also a lot of things you should NOT do.

  • Giving them a caffeinated drink like tea, coffee, or coke, as this can dehydrate them more.
  • Giving them food. This can increase the possibility of choking, because they may find it hard to swallow, particularly because their gag reflex has been compromised.
  • Giving them medication, as many ingredients in drugs, including over the counter ones, that have negative interactions with alcohol.
  • Making them throw up in an attempt to empty the stomach of alcohol. Because their gag reflex has been impaired, this could cause to them choke.
  • Making them walk around. Because they have impaired physical coordination this could lead to them falling and accidentally hurting themselves.
  • Making them have a cold shower. Because their core temperature has already been reduced, they could end up with hypothermia.
  • Leaving them to “sleep it off”. They will continue to digest alcohol as they sleep, which means the symptoms could still get worse.
  • Leaving them alone
  • Allowing them to consume more alcohol

Once the emergency medical services arrive, they will provide them with emergency medical care and take them to the hospital. The patients will be monitored until it can be ascertained that all the alcohol has been processed and no further damage will require treatment.

 Emergency Treatment for Alcohol Poisoning

  • Continuous monitoring by nurses and doctors
  • Intubation so that breathing can continue and prevent them from choking
  • Oxygen therapy to ensure sufficient oxygen can travel to the various organs
  • Hydration therapy, usually through IV saline solutions
  • Glucose and vitamins to prevent a seizure and increase levels of blood sugar
  • Pumping the stomach for any remaining alcohol that has still not been processed
  • Hemodialysis, which is generally provided to people who accidentally consume ethanol, helping the body to filter waste and toxins directly from the blood.
  • Use of activated charcoal, which absorbs toxins in the blood

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

There is a difference between Alcohol poisoning and Alcohol withdrawal, even though they can appear to be quite similar. There are three phases of Alcohol withdrawal, all of which come with similar symptoms as those seen in Alcohol poisoning.

  • Anxiety, extreme agitation, confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Headache
  • Sweating
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Tactile hallucinations, including numbness, burning, or itching
  • Visual & auditory hallucinations, including hearing voices

When someone undergoes severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, it should be considered a medical emergency. Call 911 and remain with the person until they arrive.

Alcohol Poisoning Symptoms Next Day

If you have had too much to drink the night before, you will probably wake up still tasting some of the alcohol in your mouth, and smelling of it on your body. You will notice a terrible headache, and you may also struggle to remember everything that happened and whether or not you threw up. It’s not always clear whether those feelings are caused by a hangover, or whether they actually have alcohol poisoning.

Hangovers are unpleasant but rarely dangerous. They are characterized by:

  • Headaches
  • Being very sensitive to sound and light
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Decreased attention span
  • Irritability
  • Extreme weakness
  • Feeling very tired
  • Muscle pains
  • Lack of appetite, or a strong desire for greasy, filling food

Different people experience hangover’s in different ways, and it depends on how much alcohol was consumed. Essentially, the more you had to drink, the worse your hangover will be. Alcohol poisoning is like a hangover, only worse. It is more dangerous and more intense, as well as happening much more quickly. A hangover appears after a night sleep, whereas alcohol poisoning is more likely to occur while the drink is being consumed.

It is possible to experience alcohol poisoning the day after, mainly if there was still a lot of alcohol in your stomach. So how can you tell the difference? The main symptoms of alcohol poisoning instead of a hangover are:

  • Chills all over your body
  • Low blood pressure and increased heart rate
  • Continuous vomiting
  • Breathing rate slowing down or finding it difficult to breathe
  • Stupor or confusion
  • Seizures
  • Cyanotic skin, which means it is blue tinged, particularly around the nail beds, lips, and extremities.

A key difference is that most people will be able to tell that they have a hangover, but they will need someone else to spot alcohol poisoning and phone for medical assistance. The most important thing is that you are aware of how to prevent alcohol poisoning – and even a hangover – from happening in the first place. To do that:

  • Always drink in moderation, one serving per hour is all your liver can cope with
  • Have a glass of water after each drink or after every two at least
  • Make sure you have had something to eat before you drink
  • Do not partake in drinking games and avoid situations in which you will be pressured to drink
  • Never mix alcohol with any other substance, which includes prescription drugs