In the Know: Signs of Alcohol Poisoning and What to Do | PBI
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In the Know: Signs of Alcohol Poisoning and What to Do

You may have gone out for a night on the town to have a couple of drinks to unwind after a long day. In the spirit of the moment, you may have had a few too many and begin to feel effects that are not normally felt when one is intoxicated. You may have trouble staying awake and go in and out of consciousness. You also may not know where you are or remember simple details such as where you live or what day it is. Additionally, you may have difficulty breathing and are unable to speak.

Whether it is during happy hour, at home or on a typical Friday night, there may be times where people may have too much to drink. However, there is a fine line between intoxication and experiencing life-threatening complications. If you witness people who fall in and out of consciousness, are confused and having trouble breathing, those symptoms are telltale signs they are experiencing alcohol poisoning.  Alcohol poisoning is a very serious condition and death can occur if you aren’t aware of the signs and symptoms and take immediate action.

The Effects of Alcohol Poisoning



Alcohol poisoning occurs when excessive amounts of alcohol is present in the bloodstream. When high concentrations of alcohol are present, the areas of the brain that controls breathing and heart rate begin to shut down. Besides binge drinking, there are also several other factors that can contribute to alcohol poisoning. Some of these factors include age, drinking experience, unknown allergies to alcohol and the amount of food eaten among other factors.

When a person is struggling with the effects of alcohol poisoning, they will experience substantial mental confusion where they may not know where they are, who they are with and what they are doing. Due to the fact that alcohol is a depressant, excessive amounts will begin to shut down the body’s essential functions. When that occurs, people will experience great difficulty staying awake and will drift in and out of consciousness or become unconscious. Additionally, people with alcohol poisoning will have difficulty breathing or experience irregularity in their breathing.

A troubling symptom of alcohol poisoning is that it inhibits a person’s gag reflex. Alcohol irritates the stomach lining which can cause vomiting. With no gag reflex, a person who is intoxicated to the point of passing out is in danger of choking on their vomit which could lead to asphyxiation and even death. If you notice that someone has vomited and has not woken up, they are experiencing alcohol poisoning and will require immediate medical help.

What Can You Do?

If a person becomes unconscious, you need to try and wake them by any means necessary. Try to wake the person by slapping their face, pinching them or by calling their name. Even if they wake up, you still need to stay with them and be aware of other signs and symptoms. No matter what the situation, never leave them alone. If they become awake, try to sit them up and give them water if they are able to drink.

You also want to evaluate the person for slow or irregular breathing as well as monitoring their heart rate. If a person has a heart rate of less than 8 beats per minute or takes more than 10 seconds between breaths, you need to call 911 as soon as possible. While you are waiting for medical personnel to arrive, be sure to keep the person warm.

If a person is not conscious or barely able to stay awake, make sure they don’t choke on their vomit. You can start by putting their arm above their head and bend their opposite knee and roll them toward you. You want to be sure that they are laying on their side, and preferably their left side. By putting them on their left side it will slow the progress of alcohol to the small intestine and also will allow air to surface from the right lung. Therefore, if a person is able to throw up, they are more likely to do so by this method.

Alcohol Poisoning: A Sign of a Deeper Issue


Alcohol poisoning is often a sign that a person is struggling with alcohol abuse and alcoholism. It is important that once a person is out of immediate danger from the effects of alcohol poisoning they seek treatment immediately. Since the physical and psychological withdrawals from alcohol can be severe and life threatening in of themselves, medical detoxification is needed to minimize those symptoms so they can transition to formal inpatient drug treatment. The dangers of alcohol poisoning are significant and real; by knowing the signs and symptoms, you can save somebody’s life and give them a second chance.

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