Key Signs of an Alcohol Overdose

What to do if you are exhibiting these signs?

Alcohol overdose (AOD), also known as alcohol poisoning, is a serious and sometimes fatal condition caused by overconsumption of alcohol in a short amount of time. While alcohol overdose can affect anyone, those at a higher risk include:

  • Young people are more likely to binge drink and less likely to know their limits
  • Individuals on prescription drugs or medications that may interact with the alcohol and increase the risk of overdose
  • Females, persons of a smaller stature (height or weight), or those who have not eaten. All of these conditions cause alcohol to enter the bloodstream faster
  • Those in poor health, since compromised health may cause a person to become more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol.

Alcohol overdose occurs when enough alcohol enters the blood stream and begins shutting down the parts of the brain responsible for basic functions such as breathing, heart rate, and temperature control. Alcohol overdose can affect your breathing, gag reflex, heart rate, and consciousness and lead to coma or death. It is possible to experience alcohol poisoning even after one stops drinking or becomes unconscious because the alcohol in the stomach continues to enter the bloodstream, further depressing the nervous system.

If you suspect alcohol poisoning, even if the person isn’t displaying the classic symptoms, seek medical care immediately.

Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning

Signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Loss of consciousness, not easily roused
  • Confused mental state, in a stupor, incoherent
  • Vomiting, especially without waking
  • Slowed and/or irregular breathing (less than eight breaths per minute or more than 10 seconds between breaths)
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature), loss of color, turning blue

It is important to note that it is not necessary to experience all of these symptoms before seeking medical attention. Alcohol overdose is very serious and can be life-threatening. A person who has lost consciousness and cannot be awakened is at risk of dying.

Possible Complications
Alcohol poisoning can lead to severe complications including:

  • Choking on vomit. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to vomiting and suppression of the gag reflex. This combination of effects could result in a person choking on his own vomit.
  • Stopped breathing. Alcohol overdose slows and may completely stop breathing. Inhalation of vomit could also lead to asphyxiation.
  • Hypoglycemia. Alcohol poisoning may cause a dramatic drop in blood sugar (hypoglycemia) which could also lead to seizures.
  • Hypothermia. This severe loss of body heat could lead to cardiac arrest.
  • Dehydration. Loss of fluids due to excessive vomiting leads to dehydration.
  • Death. Any of the above complications can be life threatening.

What Do To
If you suspect a fatal dose of alcohol has been consumed, get medical help immediately. Only proper medical treatment can help someone who is suffering from alcohol overdose. It is a myth that you can reverse alcohol poisoning by consuming black coffee or caffeine, taking a cold shower, walking or sleeping it off. These things will not help and may even cause further damage. However, there are steps you can take to assist someone with alcohol poisoning while you wait for medical personnel to arrive.

  • Stay with him or her. Never leave the affected person alone. Check on the person often to ensure s/he is still conscious and responsive.
  • Turn the individual onto a side. Lying on one’s back can lead to choking while vomiting.
  • Communicate calmly with the person. Remember that intoxication can increase aggressive behavior. If you need to touch or move him, let him know ahead of time to avoid startling him. Be supportive without criticizing or causing undo tension, anxiety or anger.
  • Provide a comfortable spot out of the sun. If the person is cold, offer a blanket.
  • Refrain from providing food, drink, or medication.
  • Provide as many details to medical personnel as possible. This includes the symptoms the patient is experiencing and how much he drank.

Remember, your actions could determine the fate of the affected person. Don’t allow embarrassment, fear of overreacting or possibility of legal or parental repercussions stop you from getting the help someone needs.

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