Alcohol Poisoning

A teen in a tuxedo at a formal occasion is slumped over a table, his eyes closed, and his hand holding a glass half full of beverage.


Alcohol poisoning is very serious
and can be fatal. Know the signs
and what to do if someone could be
in danger from drinking an excessive
amount of alcohol.



What Happens to Your Body When You Have Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol depresses nerves that control involuntary actions such as breathing and the gag reflex (which prevents choking). A fatal dose of alcohol will eventually stop these functions.

It is common for someone who drinks an excessive amount of alcohol to vomit because alcohol irritates the stomach. A person who is unconscious because of intoxication could die from choking on vomit.

Even after a person stops drinking and passes out, alcohol in the stomach and intestine continues to enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body. It is dangerous to assume the person will be fine by “sleeping it off”.


Signs for Alcohol Poisoning

  • Mental confusion, stupor, coma, or the person cannot be roused
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing (fewer than eight breaths per minute)
  • Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature), bluish skin color, paleness


What Should I Do If I Suspect Someone Has Alcohol Poisoning?

  • Know the danger signs.
  • Do not wait for all symptoms to be present.
  • Be aware that a person who has passed out may die.
  • If there is any suspicion of an alcohol overdose, call 911 for help. Don't try to guess the level of drunkenness.


What Can Happen to Someone with Untreated Alcohol Poisoning?

  • Victim chokes on his or her own vomit
  • Breathing slows, becomes irregular, or stops
  • Heart beats irregularly or stops
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature)
  • Hypoglycemia (too little blood sugar) leads to seizures
  • Untreated severe dehydration from vomiting can cause seizures, permanent brain damage, or death

Boy pours hard liquor from bottle into drinking glass.



Rapid binge drinking (a minimum of four drinks for a female or five for a male within a few hours) is especially dangerous because the victim can ingest a fatal dose before becoming unconscious.

Even if the victim lives, an alcohol overdose can lead to irreversible brain damage. Therefore, don't be afraid to seek medical help for someone who has had too much to drink. Don't worry that your friend may become angry or embarrassed.

In California, criminal charges may be filed relating to underage purchasing, possession, or consumption of alcohol. Limited immunity from prosecution may apply for people under 21 who seek medical help for their peers or themselves because of alcohol consumption.

Always be safe, not sorry.



National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism at

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