What is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol is the ingredient in beverages that works in the brain to disinhibit a person, often making certain things — like conversation with someone you hardly know — a little bit easier. It's often called a "social lubricant" and that's precisely why cocktail parties evolved! 

Alcoholic beverages in lower doses can impact the cerebellum – the balance center of the brain – which is why intoxicated people often cannot walk in a super straight line. Other short term effects can include slurred speech, mood and behavior changes, and slow reflexes. However, drinking too much alcohol in a short period of time can have even worse consequences. This is called “alcohol poisoning,” and it can lead to permanent brain damage or even death. 

Signs of Alcohol Poisoning

Excessive amounts of alcohol can lead to alcohol poisoning. Here are some signs to be aware of:

  • Confusion or an inability to remember what has occurred 
  • Vomiting 
  • Pale, blue, or clammy skin
  • Cold body temperature 
  • Slow or shallow breathing 
  • Difficulty speaking or unresponsiveness  
  • Difficulty staying awake or unconsciousness 

If these symptoms are present, seek medical attention immediately. Call 911 and try to keep yourself or the person you are with awake and hydrated. Sometimes people will start vomiting. The safest thing to do is to keep that person upright or, if they are lying flat, to help position them on their side to prevent choking.

Two really important points to mention about alcohol. Firstly, there are varying degrees of intoxication, meaning that different people feel the effects of alcohol differently. Smaller bodies require less alcohol to get drunk than larger ones, which typically means that women require less alcohol than men to feel its effects. Second, not all alcoholic beverages have  equal amounts of alcohol in them. Also, different types of alcohol have different concentrations, which is why there are alcohol equivalency charts showing that a standard glass of wine is a different amount than a standard drink of the hard liquor tequila. Check out this guide here or here for more information.

Then there’s binge drinking, which refers to drinking large amounts of alcohol in one sitting. This pattern is more common among males but not exclusive to them. 

Never be afraid to stand up to someone who may peer pressure you into drinking and remember that alcohol poisoning can happen to anyone regardless of their gender, weight, or body size. 

Alcohol and Drink Spiking 

Some individuals use alcohol to spike drinks, either by adding alcohol to a non-alcoholic drink or by adding more alcohol to an already alcohol-containing person’s drink when they’re not looking. The goal is to induce or increase intoxication. Even a person mindful of their limits around alcoholic beverages can be unaware that their drink was spiked. Drinking spiked drinks can lead to alcohol poisoning, but there are steps a person can take to prevent both.

It is illegal to drink in the United States before you are 21. This doesn’t stop everyone, so this advice is intended to help people take safety precautions, not to encourage the choice! No matter your age, follow these recommendations to stay safe:

  • Keep an eye on your drink at all times and stay aware of your surroundings and those near you. 
  • If you notice a taste change in your beverage, stop drinking it and ask for a new one. 
  • It is also a good idea to stay with a group when drinking and sip alcoholic beverages slowly in order to stay mindful about the level of intoxication.
  • And make sure to have enough water and food if consuming alcohol. 
  • Avoid drinking out of a “punch bowl” or leaving a drink unattended on a table, even for a minute or two.

Note: The signs of ingesting a date rape drug and being heavy intoxicated because of alcohol alone  can be similar. However, if a person has an unexplainable change in their state of being or is having an out-of-character reaction to an alcoholic beverage, it is worth considering if drink spiking was involved. 

In the event a person is unsure as to which is occurring, it is always a good idea to seek medical attention right away. Both situations are dangerous to the victim and getting help from healthcare professionals can save someone’s life. Check out a related article on drink spiking here for more information. And never hesitate to call for help if you are concerned about someone!

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