Do I have Alcohol Poisoning? Or am I just hungover?
What is Alcohol Poisoning?
Doctors state alcohol consumption as not having any benefits to human health. The only exception is red wine, as most doctors would agree one glass of red wine a day is good for your cardiovascular system and heart. A person is considered to have alcohol poisoning when their blood alcohol level becomes high enough, usually occurring over a short time, that it poisons the body. In other words, alcohol becomes toxic to the human body. It is a medical condition that occurs when there is enough alcohol in the bloodstream that it starts to affect the normal function of the brain of an otherwise healthy individual.
Binge drinking is the leading cause of alcohol poisoning, otherwise referred to as alcohol overdose in this article. Although less common, it can also occur if someone deliberately or accidentally consumes household cleaning products containing alcohol.
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Who is most at risk?
Alcohol overdose can affect anyone, regardless of gender, age, or weight. All that has to happen is enough alcohol is consumed that it has reached a toxic level within an individual’s body in a short period. However, certain groups of individuals are more susceptible to dangerous drinking behaviors that may lead to alcohol overdose, including college students and middle-aged adults.
College students are more susceptible due to the freedom and independence of being off and away at college. Social gatherings and sports events that occur on college campuses tend to influence binge drinking behaviors and peer pressures to consume excessive amounts of alcohol in short periods.
Alcoholics and binge drinkers are most likely to suffer from an alcohol overdose. However, most affected by alcohol overdose resulting in death in the United States are middle-aged men. Individuals who have alcoholism running in their families or are diagnosed with major depressive disorder can also be more likely to suffer from an alcohol overdose resulting in death.
The purer the alcohol content consumed, the higher risk of developing toxic levels in the body. Alcohol is absorbed much quicker than food in the body. Someone can experience noticeable effects of alcohol after consuming only 1 to 2 units. With hard liquor, this can happen much quicker than with wine or beer. For example, there is one unit of alcohol in a half-pint of lower strength beer, wine spritzer, or cider. There is also one unit of alcohol in a single shot of hard liquor. Anyone who has consumed 10 to 12 units of alcohol in one sitting is at a high risk of developing alcohol toxicity levels in the body. On average, it takes the liver about 90 minutes to metabolize one unit of alcohol.
Does an alcohol overdose have dangerous consequences?
Yes. As a matter of fact, an alcohol overdose can have deadly consequences if someone who is suffering does not receive urgent medical care. If levels of alcohol become too high in the body; as a result, critical areas of the brain that control breathing, body temperature, and heart rate can shut down. If someone who is experiencing alcohol overdose is left medically unattended for too long, they can die. The Center for Disease Controls’ most recent statistic reports that from 2010-2012 an average of six people dies of alcohol poisoning die each day. Statistically speaking, that number is quite alarming.
What are the signs and symptoms?
An alcohol overdose is a severe medical condition, and in severe cases, life-threatening. Signs and symptoms of alcohol toxicity can include:
- extreme confusion
- abnormal or shallow breathing
In severe cases, breathing can completely stop where someone can even pass out and go into a coma. Severe cases can also include a heart attack, and if someone is vomiting, there is the risk of choking, and if inhaled by the lungs, then lead to acute infection. It is important to remember that even after someone stops drinking, there is still a posed risk of alcohol toxicity to occur in the body for some time afterward. Blood alcohol consumption (BAC) can continue to rise for 30-40 minutes after someone stops drinking, resulting in worsening symptoms than previously observed.
What should you do if you suspect someone is experiencing an alcohol overdose?
If suspected, an alcohol overdose is a severe medical condition that requires immediate medical treatment. Do not hesitate and call medical intervention right away. You can help the individual until medical assistance arrives by doing the following:
- Try to keep the individual awake and in a sitting position. If they must lie down, turn their head to the side. Do not lie them on their back.
- Do not give them any more alcohol or allow them to drink any more alcohol themselves. If able to drink safely, provide the individual water to drink.
- If you suspect the individual to be unconscious, have the individual sit up in a recovered position and check that they are still breathing.
- Be sure not to give them anything but water. Some people think coffee or caffeinated beverages will help someone who has been consuming alcohol. The reality is caffeinated drinks are dangerous if someone is experiencing an alcohol overdose, as they can lead to further dehydration.
- Let the individual sit or lie still; do not try to make them stand or walk around.
- Try to remain calm as you wait for medical attention to arrive. You very well may have just helped save someone’s life.
Asking for help isn’t always easy; is it worth the time to even try?
Absolutely! Engaging in dangerous drinking behaviors is life-threatening. If you or someone you love is an alcoholic, binge drinker, or participating in risky drinking behaviors that could lead to an alcohol overdose, you need to seek help. Asking for help isn’t always easy, but there is a road to recovery, and it may very well save you or your loved one’s life. For those who do not seek help, even minutes late can put them into the alarming statistic of the over 2000 Americans who die every year from alcohol toxicity to the body and brain. Call to speak with a treatment specialist today to ask any questions you have and discuss the best route of recovery for you or your loved one.