How to Prevent Alcohol Poisoning: A Guide
Drinks after work on a Friday. Drinking by the pool on the weekend. Celebrating a 21st birthday at the bar. All of these are commonplace in our society. While drinking in moderation can be ok, drink a little too much, and you might wake up with a hangover.
But, if you don’t know when to stop drinking, it could be life-threatening. The higher the blood-alcohol level, the higher the risk of alcohol poisoning. It’s important to learn the signs of drinking too much and how to prevent alcohol poisoning.
What is Alcohol Poisoning?
Alcohol poisoning can happen after drinking a large amount of alcohol, typically in a short amount of time. When the blood-alcohol level gets so high, it becomes toxic, and the body can no longer function normally.
A person may become extremely confused, unresponsive, disoriented, take shallow breaths, pass out, or go into a coma. Alcohol poisoning can be life-threatening and usually requires urgent medical attention.
Drinking heavily is a common cause of alcohol poisoning. But, it can also happen if someone intentionally or unintentionally drinks household products that contain alcohol. Knowing how to prevent alcohol poisoning begins with understanding who’s at risk for it, what causes it, and the symptoms of alcohol poisoning.
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Who is Most at Risk for Alcohol Poisoning?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “More than three-quarters of deaths from excessive drinking are among males, totaling more than 97,000 deaths each year in the U.S.” Also, the rates of alcohol-related hospitalizations are higher among men than women. Anyone who drinks heavily can experience alcohol poisoning.
Factors for alcohol poisoning include:
- A person’s age
- The amount of food in the stomach
- Previous experience drinking alcohol
But how much alcohol is too much alcohol? Let’s break down the percentages of blood-alcohol content (BAC).
What Causes Alcohol Poisoning?
The cause of alcohol poisoning is too much alcohol in the blood. It is also called an alcohol overdose. The percentage of the blood-alcohol content is measured to determine the amount of alcohol in the blood. However, it doesn’t take much for the alcohol in the blood to cause issues. For example:
- BAC between 0.0 and 0.05% – Considered a mild impairment. Symptoms include some trouble speaking and remembering things, being clumsy, and feeling tired.
- BAC between 0.06 and 0.15% – Effects of mild impairment worsen, with a significant impact on driving skills
- BAC between 0.16 and 0.30% – Effects of impairment worsen. Judgment and decision-making skills are significantly impaired. Vomiting is common, and blackouts can happen.
- BAC between 0.31 and 0.45% – These levels are life-threatening with a significant risk of death due to the depressant effect slowing down crucial body functions.
Even when drinking alcohol stops, the BAC can continue rising for 30 to 40 minutes. This can result in symptoms worsening.
What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning?
Alcohol poisoning is extremely dangerous. Knowing and understanding the symptoms of alcohol poisoning can be life-saving.
Common alcohol poisoning symptoms include:
- Trouble staying conscious
- Cold, clammy, or bluish-colored skin, especially around the lips and fingernails
- Confusion, slowed responses, lack of coordination, or inability to walk
- Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths) or heart rate
- Difficulty controlling bowels and bladder
- A strong smell of alcohol
In severe cases:
- Heart attacks
- Risk of choking on vomit
- Breathing can stop completely
- Blood glucose levels drop, causing seizures
- Losing too much fluid, leading to brain damage
When alcohol poisoning is extremely severe, it can cause a person to go into a coma, or it can be fatal.
How Do You Test to See if Someone Has Alcohol in Their System?
Testing a person’s BAC can happen in two main ways, including:
- Breathalyzer test – When a person drinks, the alcohol goes through the bloodstream to the lungs. It evaporates into the lungs, and then a person breathes it out. As they blow through the breathalyzer, it estimates the amount of alcohol on their breath.
- Blood test – A lab technician uses a needle to draw a small amount of blood. The blood is then analyzed for its BAC. This test is most accurate within six to 12 hours of the last drink.
What Can Happen from Alcohol Poisoning?
A person who drinks so much alcohol they overdose can have:
- Blackouts or amnesia
- Irregular or stopped heartbeat
- Low body temperature (hypothermia)
- Loss of consciousness can lead to death quickly
- Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) (which can cause seizures)
- Severe vomiting leading to dehydration, seizures, brain damage, or death
How Do You Treat Alcohol Poisoning?
Depending on the level of alcohol poisoning, a person may need immediate life-saving treatment. Once at the emergency room, medical professionals use the following treatments:
- IV fluids – Intravenous fluids are given to treat dehydration and increase blood sugar levels.
- Oxygen – Oxygen is given through a nasal cannula ( a tube in the nose). Doctors may insert a tube down the throat if the person struggles to breathe.
- Stomach pumping – By inserting a tube into the stomach, doctors can remove the alcohol.
- Blood filtration – If the kidneys struggle to clear the alcohol from the blood, doctors may put the person on dialysis to help.
If you have been treated for alcohol poisoning, you may need to ask yourself if you need alcohol addiction treatment.
What to Do If Someone Has Alcohol Poisoning
If you see someone showing signs of alcohol poisoning, there are things you can do. They include:
- Call 911 for help
- Stay with the person and keep them awake
- If they are awake, give them sips of water
- Cover them with a blanket and keep them warm
- Talk to them and explain what you are doing
- If the person is unconscious, turn the person on their side to prevent them choking on their vomit
When paramedics arrive, tell them what you know about the person, including how much they drank. They will also need to know what you have done since calling 911.
Tips on How to Prevent Alcohol Poisoning
Alcohol poisoning can occur when a person drinks a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time. It can be a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. Here are some tips on how to prevent alcohol poisoning:
Drink slowly and take breaks between drinks to allow your body to metabolize the alcohol.
It’s important to know how much alcohol you can handle and to stick to your limit.
Binge drinking, defined as consuming four or more drinks in a row for women or five or more drinks in a row for men, can increase the risk of alcohol poisoning.
Drinking water or other non-alcoholic beverages can help you stay hydrated and slow down the absorption of alcohol.
Eating food before and while drinking can slow down the absorption of alcohol and help prevent alcohol poisoning.
Mixing alcohol with other drugs, such as prescription medications or illegal drugs, can increase the risk of alcohol poisoning.
Talk to your teens about the dangers of alcohol, especially binge drinking.
In a home with small children, keeping products containing alcohol, such as mouthwash and medication, out of their reach can prevent accidental alcohol poisoning. Parents should lock up no matter the child’s age, alcoholic beverages.
If you or someone you know has symptoms of alcohol poisoning, such as confusion, vomiting, seizures, or slow breathing, seek medical attention immediately.
Excessive Alcohol Use, Alcohol Poisoning, and Men’s Health
Men are more likely to drink in excess than women. But excessive drinking significantly increases the risk to men’s health. And the more they drink, the higher the risk becomes. Men are also more likely to combine drinking with other substances, such as opioids.
Men binge drink more than women on average. For example, 21% of men and 13% of women report binge drinking. Of those men, 25% binge drink five or more times a month, and 25% consume at least nine drinks during their binge.
Excessive drinking can interfere with male hormone production and testicular function, resulting in erectile dysfunction and infertility. The more a man drinks, the higher their risk of engaging in unprotected sex. This risky behavior can result in sexually transmitted diseases.
Overcome Alcohol Addiction at Eagle Creek Ranch Recovery
Now that you know how to prevent alcohol poisoning, learn how Eagle Creek Ranch Recovery can help men overcome their alcohol addiction. The stigma surrounding men seeking help for alcohol addiction causes men to be in denial of a problem and feel shameful.
And while many men need treatment, only a small number actually get help. A big benefit of seeking help at Eagle Creek Ranch Recovery is that we are a men-only addiction treatment center. This can help men feel free to express themselves without the pressure of being a “tough guy.”
Our continuum-of-care programs mean you step up or down depending on your needs. This offers men the best chance of lifelong recovery.
Alcohol addiction treatment programs we offer include:
- Residential treatment
- Outpatient treatment
Since many men struggling with alcohol addiction have underlying mental health struggles such as anxiety and depression, we also offer dual diagnosis treatment. Men entering our treatment center are evaluated for mental health disorders and, if needed, may attend the following therapies.
- Group therapy
- Family Therapy
- Individual or psychotherapy
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Get Help Today at Our Idaho Treatment Center
If you or a man in your life is struggling with substance abuse, it is time to stop struggling and reclaim your life. Contact us today and find out how our men-only rehab can help you.
Kendall Maloof is the clinical director at Eagle Creek Ranch Recovery. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has held multiple leadership roles before settling here at Eagle Creek. Kendall received her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology in 2016. Her career in mental and behavioral health began in 2014 when she took up internships in both the nonprofit and for profit sectors. She interned at multiple reputable companies, such as The Living Success Center and 449 Recovery in California.
In 2019, Kendall became the clinical director of Sunsets Recovery for Woman, a dual diagnosis program in southern California. Kendall is a natural leader. She has an incredible ability to problem solve and stay calm in any situation. Kendall never fails to show up when she is needed, and her calm demeanor makes her team and clients feel at ease. Eagle Creek Ranch Recovery is proud to have Kendall as our clinical director.