wikiHow to Recognize and Treat Alcohol Poisoning

Three Parts:Identifying Alcohol PoisoningGetting Treatment for Alcohol PoisoningDrinking Responsibly

Many people enjoy having an alcoholic beverage or beverages on occasion, but consuming too many drinks in a short period of time can lead to alcohol poisoning.[1] This condition can affect your body’s ability to function properly and may even cause death.[2] But by identifying and treating a case of alcohol poisoning and drinking responsibly, you can avoid serious health consequences or even death.

Part 1
Identifying Alcohol Poisoning

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    Be aware of your risk for alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning can happen as a result of binge drinking, which is consuming at least four drinks for women and five for men within two hours.[3] However, certain factors can increase your risk for developing the condition. These include:[4]
    • Your size, weight, and overall health
    • If you’ve had anything to eat recently
    • Drug use
    • Alcohol percentage in your beverages
    • Frequency and quantity of alcohol consumption
    • Your tolerance level, which can drop dangerously if the temperature is high, you are dehydrated or have been exerting yourself physically
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    Watch consumption rates. Pay attention to how much you or a friend is drinking as much as possible. This may help you more easily identify the signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning, inform medical personnel, or even minimize the risk of getting the condition. One drink equals:
    • 12 ounces (355 ml) of regular beer containing about 5% alcohol
    • 8-9 ounces (237-266 ml) of malt liquor containing about 7% alcohol
    • 5 ounces (148 ml) of wine containing about 12% alcohol
    • 1.5 ounces (44ml) of 80-proof hard liquor containing about 40% alcohol.[5] Examples of hard liquor include gin, rum, tequila, whiskey, and vodka.[6]
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    Observe physical symptoms. Alcohol poisoning often presents with specific physical symptoms for which you should watch. You don’t have to have all of the symptoms to have alcohol poisoning, but you should look out for:[7]
    • Vomiting
    • Seizures
    • Slow breathing, which is defined as less than eight breaths per minute
    • Irregular breathing, which is defined as more than 10 seconds per breath
    • Skin that is pale or blue-tinged
    • Hypothermia, or low body temperature
    • Passing out
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    Notice cognitive signs. In addition to the physical symptoms of alcohol poisoning, there are also some cognitive signs of the condition. You or a friend should look out for:[8]
    • Mental confusion
    • Stupor
    • Coma or unconsciousness
    • Inability to wake up
    • Loss of orientation/balance
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    Get help immediately. Alcohol poisoning is an emergency and can lead to serious consequences including death. If you suspect that someone has consumed too much alcohol, cut them off and get medical care immediately.[9] Not getting help in time can lead to the following medical consequences:[10]
    • Choking on vomit
    • Slowed or stopped breathing
    • Cardiac arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat
    • Stopped heartbeat
    • Hypothermia, or low body temperature
    • Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, which can cause seizures
    • Severe dehydration from vomiting that can lead to seizures, permanent brain damage, and death.
    • Acute pancreatitis
    • Death

Part 2
Getting Treatment for Alcohol Poisoning

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    Seek emergency medical services. Contact emergency medical services or take the person to a local hospital if you suspect alcohol poisoning, even if the person isn’t exhibiting signs or symptoms of the condition.[11] This can ensure that the person doesn’t develop any other serious conditions or die, and get the necessary treatment to overcome alcohol poisoning.
    • Avoid driving if you’ve consumed alcohol. Instead, call 911 or a taxi to take you to a hospital.
    • Provide emergency medical services or doctors any information that may help them treat you or the person. This includes the kind of and amount of alcohol consumed, as well as when it was consumed.[12]
    • If you are worried about getting medical help for someone because you are drinking while underage, put those concerns aside and call for help. While you might be afraid of getting in trouble with the police or your parents if you are not old enough to drink, not getting help can have much more serious consequences, including death.[13]
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    Monitor the person until medical personnel arrive. While you’re waiting for emergency personnel or to arrive at a hospital, monitor the person you suspect has alcohol poisoning. Watching symptoms and bodily functions can help you stave off more serious consequences or death as well as allow you to provide information to medical personnel.[14]
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    Remain with an unconscious person. If you are with someone who is unconscious as a result of alcohol, stay with her. This can ensure that she doesn’t vomit and choke or stop breathing.[15]
    • Avoid forcing the person to vomit, which could cause her to choke.[16]
    • Roll the person on her side, into the recovery position, if she’s passed out, which can minimize the risk of choking on vomit.[17]
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    Aid a person who is vomiting. If the person you suspect has alcohol poisoning is vomiting, try and keep him sitting upright. This can minimize the risk for choking or even death.[18]
    • Place the person on his side in the recover position if he needs to lie down so that he doesn't choke.[19]
    • Try and keep him awake to minimize the risk of losing consciousness.[20]
    • Give him water if he can drink it to minimize the risk of dehydration.[21]
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    Keep the person warm. Cover the person with a blanket, coat, or some other item to keep her warm. This will lower her risk of going into shock and make her more comfortable.[22]
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    Avoid certain “help” measures. There are some things that you may think can help a person with alcohol poisoning sober up, but they can actually be quite harmful. The following will not reverse symptoms and may make his situation worse:[23][24]
    • Drinking coffee
    • Cold showers
    • Walking
    • Drinking more alcohol
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    Receive treatment at the hospital. Once the person is admitted into the hospital, she will undergo evaluation and treatment for alcohol poisoning.[25] Doctors will manage any symptoms and continue to monitor the patient.[26] Treatment for alcohol poisoning may include:[27][28][29]
    • Inserting a tube into the mouth and windpipe, which is called intubation, to open the airway, aid breathing, and remove any blockages.
    • Inserting an IV into the vein to regulate hydration, blood sugar, and vitamin levels.
    • Inserting a catheter into the bladder.
    • Pumping the stomach, which consists of inserting a tube into the nose or mouth and flushing fluids into the body.
    • Receiving oxygen therapy.
    • Undergoing hemodialysis, which filters waste and toxins from your body.

Part 3
Drinking Responsibly

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    Learn about alcohol consumption. If you drink alcohol, over time you will become increasingly tolerant to the drug and may even become dependent. However, by being smart about your drinking and doing so in moderation, you can enjoy alcohol without developing a dependence.[30][31]
    • Alcohol tolerance is when your body adapts to drinking a specific amount of alcohol, including one beer or one glass of wine.[32]
    • Dependence is the consistent and compulsive consumption of alcohol and needing to drink to function.[33][34]
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    Estimate how much alcohol you can tolerate. Figure out what your current tolerance level is. This may help you avoid drinking too much and developing alcohol poisoning.
    • Gauge your tolerance based on how much you currently drink. For example, if you don’t drink or only have a couple of drinks a week, your tolerance may be comparatively low. If you drink more, your tolerance may be accordingly higher.
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    Stay within sensible drinking guidelines. Drink alcoholic beverages by following sensible consumption guidelines. This can help you minimize the risk of becoming dependent or getting alcohol poisoning.[35]
    • Women should have no more than 2-3 units of alcohol daily.[36]
    • Men should have no more than 3-4 units of alcohol daily.[37]
    • Alcohol units are based on the percentage alcohol in a beverage and the amount of alcohol consumed.[38] For reference, a bottle of wine has 9-10 units.[39]
    • Go slowly if you’re enjoying an extra drink or two within the guidelines. For example, consume only one additional drink than you normally would. If you never drink, have one, or even a half of, an alcoholic beverage. For one glass of wine or one spirit, have one and a half or two drinks.
    • Drink water while you drink alcohol, as it mitigates the reflexive "drink while others drink" influence and hydrates as you go.
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    Stop drinking early. Be aware of how much alcohol you’ve consumed and stop early if you are unsure of the amount you had. This can help prevent you getting drunk or alcohol poisoning, or possibly worse. You may want to set a time at which you will stop drinking in the evening. For instance, you may decide that you won't drink alcohol past midnight when you go out.
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    Enjoy alcohol-free days. Consider having at least two alcohol-free days every week. This can minimize your risk of becoming dependent and help your body recover from previous drinking.[40]
    • Be aware that not being able to go a day without alcohol is a sign that you are dependent.[41][42] Seek professional help if you find that you need alcohol.
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    Find out the risks and dangers of drinking. Whenever you drink alcohol, you risk of harming your body. The only form of risk-free alcohol consumption is not drinking at all. The more you drink, the greater your risk of potential damage to your body.[43][44]
    • Alcohol tolerance cannot protect you from the dangers of drinking.[45]
    • Alcohol can cause weight gain, depression, skin problems, and memory loss in the short term.[46]
    • In the long term, you can develop high blood pressure, chronic liver disease, and breast cancer from alcohol consumption.[47]


  • When in doubt, call emergency services.


  • Never leave an unconscious person alone to "sleep it off."
  • Avoid binge-drinking, and if you see someone over-doing it, try to stop them before it gets to the alcohol poisoning stage.
  • Do not try to treat alcohol poisoning on your own, the victim requires medical attention.

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Categories: First Aid and Emergencies