Student Health and Wellness

Wellness Program

Alcohol Poisoning

The misuse and abuse of alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs, and prescription medications affect the health and well-being of millions of Americans. SAMHSA’s 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that approximately 19.3 million people aged 18 or older had a substance use disorder in the past year (

man clinching bottle of alcohol at a bar

  • Excessive alcohol use can increase a person’s risk of stroke, liver cirrhosis, alcoholic hepatitis, cancer, and other serious health conditions
  • Excessive alcohol use can also lead to risk-taking behavior, including driving while impaired. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 29 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver daily
  • Among the 138.5 million people who were current alcohol users, 61.6 million people (or 44.4%) were classified as binge drinkers and 17.7 million people (28.8% of current binge drinkers and 12.8% of current alcohol users) were classified as heavy drinkers (2020 NSDUH)
  • Approximately 14.5 million people age 12 or older had an alcohol use disorder (2019 NSDUH)

What Is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning occurs when you consume too much alcohol quickly. But many people are unaware that alcohol poisoning can produce harmful side effects and can even be deadly.

If you drink a large amount of alcohol in a short period, you may experience different symptoms of alcohol poisoning immediately. Usually, this level of intoxication is accidental; you don’t realize how much alcohol you’ve consumed.

Why Is Alcohol Poisoning So Dangerous?

Alcohol is classified under the drug category as a depressant, and its use causes effects and changes in the body and brain. Alcohol use slows down many of the functions of the body, including blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing. If a person has put a large amount of alcohol in their system, the "slowing down" can lead to "passing out" and unconsciousness. And the vital organs, heart, and lungs, can be slowed down to the point of stopping.

How Much Alcohol Will Cause Poisoning?

Different people experience different effects. Some people who have little tolerance for alcohol or whose body is sensitive to the drug could be seriously at risk after six or seven drinks. Another person may have 10 drinks, be very intoxicated, but not suffer from unconsciousness. It is important to note that the body only oxidizes about one ounce (approximately one drink) an hour. This means if people drink very quickly (shots, drinking games, beer bongs) sometimes they will pass out and we will check on them and think they are okay, but all of the alcohol hasn't reached their brain yet.

What Are The Symptoms Of Alcohol Poisoning?

According to a report published by an affiliate of the CDC, on average, six people (mostly adult males) die of alcohol poisoning each day in the United States. So, if you think “it’s never going to happen to me,” think again and be careful with your sake and those around you.

First, if you feel that you may have alcohol poisoning, then you should seek medical attention right away. It’s better to be safe than suffer long-term consequences such as slipping into a coma.

Some people have obvious symptoms of alcohol poisoning, such as feeling like you can’t breathe, a decrease in body temperature, or an extreme change in heart rate.

On the other hand, not all signs of alcohol poisoning are immediately clear. Someone may not know that they are suffering from alcohol poisoning if they black out. But in general, the most common symptoms of alcohol poisoning to watch out for include:

  • Disorientation or confusion about your surroundings
  • Gastrointestinal issues like vomiting, dry-heaving, or nausea
  • Uncontrollable seizures or convulsions
  • Extremely slow breathing (less than eight breaths per minute)
  • Skin that looks slightly blue, pale, or clammy
  • Chills from having a decreased body temperature

If you notice that someone has passed out and they’re not showing signs of consciousness, you should call medical services immediately. Remember, even a drunk person demonstrates some signs, however minor, of consciousness

What Should You Do If Someone Has Alcohol Poisoning?

If you think that someone around you is showing signs of alcohol poisoning, here are four steps to getting them the help they need.

#1. Call 911: Do not hesitate to call emergency medical services. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, especially when someone’s life may be at stake. The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs states that the number one reason why young people didn’t help a peer with alcohol poisoning was that they didn’t perceive that help was needed. If in doubt, make the call.  

#2. Stay with the Unconscious Person: If you can’t bring the person back to consciousness, the worst thing you can do is to leave them unattended. Stay with and watch the person until medical professionals arrive. If necessary and if you’re able, accompany the person to the hospital or check in the next day to make sure they’re okay. And if this isn’t the first time this happened with this person, consider talking to them about alcoholism recovery options.

#3. Provide Care if the Person is Vomiting: Although nothing is enjoyable about being near someone throwing up, it’s important to keep an eye on someone if they’re severely intoxicated. There’s a high chance they could choke on their vomit if they are left alone. Try to help the person by propping up their head or torso to prevent choking or breathing difficulty.

#4. Recall What Happened Before: Once the medical professional arrives, they’ll want you to recall what happened up until that point. What and how much did the person drink? What were their symptoms? How long has the person been in this state? Do you know if they have any other medical conditions?

Signs of Risky Use:

  • Drinks to relax
  • Lies about drinking
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Drinks alone
  • Hides alcohol
  • Can't limit drinks
  • Trouble in school
  • Troubles in work
  • Drinks at bad times
  • Health problems
  • Blackouts


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