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How to Identify Alcohol Poisoning

How to Identify Alcohol Poisoning

Mina Draskovic, B.Psy., reviewed this content for accuracy on 8/31/23

Fun nights out with friends can quickly turn into a dangerous ordeal when alcohol gets out of hand.

Alcohol poisoning is a serious concern that can strike unexpectedly, posing a significant threat to health and well-being.

We unravel the harsh reality of alcohol poisoning, its symptoms and causes, and the vital steps to recognize and respond to this life-threatening condition.

Table of Contents

Are you or a loved one struggling with alcohol abuse? Our alcohol addiction treatment center is here to provide the support and guidance you need on your journey to recovery. You’re not alone, and we’re here to walk with you every step of the way.

What Is Alcohol Poisoning?

Drinking too much alcohol can lead to the dangerous condition known as alcohol poisoning. This happens when there is so much alcohol in the bloodstream that the body has trouble breaking it down.

As alcohol levels build up to toxic levels, normal body functions start to shut down. People suffering from alcohol poisoning may experience disorientation, nausea, and even coma. In severe cases, alcohol poisoning can tragically end lives.

What Are the Risk Factors of Alcohol Poisoning?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are around 2,200 alcohol poisonings each year in the US.

Certain behaviors or conditions can increase your risk of developing life-threatening alcohol poisoning.

Binge drinking, or rapidly consuming multiple alcoholic drinks back-to-back, sharply spikes blood alcohol content to hazardous levels before the body can process alcohol. This is a major risk factor for alcohol poisoning, especially for people who don’t drink often.

Highly-concentrated alcoholic drinks can cause alcohol poisoning much more quickly than, say, beer can. Some alcoholics even resort to drinking isopropyl alcohol, methanol, or ethylene glycol if they don’t have other forms of alcohol available to them, which significantly increases the chance of alcohol poisoning.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism emphasizes that teenagers and new drinkers are at a particularly high risk of alcohol poisoning because drinking such large quantities of alcohol when you’re not used to it can overwhelm the body’s ability to break down and clear alcohol from the bloodstream.

What Are the Causes of Alcohol Poisoning?

Excess alcohol consumption causes alcohol poisoning, especially in people who consume it quickly, aren’t used to that alcohol level, or have an underlying health condition. There are several factors that can interfere with the way your body processes alcohol and lead to toxic levels of alcohol in the body:

Consuming alcohol too quickly

Drinking a large number of drinks back-to-back in a short period of time overwhelms the body’s ability to metabolize the alcohol before dangerous blood alcohol concentration levels build up. This is especially risky with high-proof liquors.

Binge drinking

Men having 5 or more drinks or women having 4 or more drinks within 2 hours substantially increases alcohol poisoning risk by spiking blood alcohol levels faster than the body can handle absorbing alcohol.

Drinking on an empty stomach

Eating before or while drinking slows the rate of absorption into the bloodstream. Drinking on an empty stomach allows the rapid entry of alcohol into the bloodstream.

Using alcohol with other drugs

Many prescription medications, illicit drugs, and even some supplements can interact with alcohol, amplifying each other’s effects and causing enhanced blood alcohol levels.

Rapid consumption of high-alcohol drinks

The faster alcohol is ingested through drinks like shots or chugging beer, the quicker it enters the system and sends blood alcohol concentrations soaring before metabolic clearance can occur.

Health conditions or genetics

Liver disease, diabetes, gut enzyme deficiencies, and other health factors that impair alcohol metabolism allow dangerous alcohol levels to accumulate more readily with a given amount of consumption.

What are the Stages of Alcohol Intoxication?

As a person consumes increasing amounts of alcohol, they progress through stages of intoxication as their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) rises. Each stage is associated with characteristic physiological and psychological effects:

Mild Intoxication (BAC 0.02-0.059%)

  • Relaxation, sociability, talkativeness
  • Slight impairment of reasoning and memory
  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Impaired judgment
  • Reduced coordination

At this stage, intoxication is not yet apparent to most people. However, concentration, reaction time, and the ability to operate vehicles or machinery are already impaired.

Moderate Intoxication (BAC 0.06-0.099%)

  • Significant impairment of motor skills and balance
  • Slurred speech
  • Emotional instability: exaggerated emotions and blunted restraint
  • Impaired perception, reasoning, and memory
  • Loss of good judgment
  • Reduced alertness and coordination

Intoxication becomes apparent at this stage. Motor skills like walking and driving are compromised. Blackouts may occur at the upper end of this range.

Severe Intoxication (BAC 0.10-0.199%)

  • Poor muscle control, staggering gait, slurred speech, loss of balance
  • Markedly impaired memory, cognition, and judgment
  • Delayed reflexes, loss of coordination
  • Nausea, vomiting, and incontinence may occur
  • Blackouts likely

The person has become very drunk. Mental faculties and physical control are substantially impaired. Blackouts and passing out typically occur at this level of intoxication.

Life-Threatening Intoxication (BAC 0.20%+)

  • Mental confusion, disorientation, and stupor
  • Severe motor impairment—inability to stand or walk
  • Vomiting while unconscious can lead to death by asphyxiation
  • Respiratory depression can lead to coma and death
  • Hypothermia
  • Seizures
  • Cardiovascular collapse

Once BAC exceeds 0.20%, the risk of losing consciousness, respiratory arrest, and death rises sharply. Alcohol poisoning is a medical emergency requiring prompt treatment at this stage.

Recognizing the signs of progressive alcohol intoxication can help prevent moving from mild to dangerous levels of inebriation. Moderating consumption and not drinking too quickly can reduce the risks associated with binge drinking and alcohol toxicity.

What Dangers are Associated with Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning can have devastating health consequences, both acute and chronic. According to a recent survey, “on average, six persons, mostly adult men, die from alcohol poisoning each day in the United States.” The dangers of alcohol overdose include:

  • Alcohol affects parts of your brain that control impulses and may cause you to do something you regret while ‘blacked out’.
  • It frequently causes comas and is potentially fatal if emergency treatment is not swiftly administered, often due to respiratory failure or choking on vomit.
  • When alcohol poisoning deprives the brain of oxygen and throws off important chemical balances, it can cause seizures and irregular heartbeats. This lack of oxygen can also permanently destroy brain cells and cause long-term brain damage.
  • When alcohol reaches dangerous levels in the body, it can quickly cause hypothermia, a dangerous drop in blood sugar levels, and chemical imbalances.
  • Alcohol poisoning substantially increases vulnerability, as an unconscious person can’t defend themselves against sexual assault or getting robbed while incapacitated.

If you want to prevent alcohol poisoning but are unable to stop drinking excessively, contact our alcohol detox center. We’re here to help you get out of the grips of alcoholism and embrace sobriety.

How to Prevent Alcohol Poisoning

When it comes to prevention, alcohol poisoning occurrences are easy to keep to a minimum by avoiding binge drinking or avoiding drinking altogether if you can’t control the amount of alcohol you take. Proactive steps you can take to avoid the dangers of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Keep heavy drinking to a minimum; never binge drink or rapidly consume multiple alcoholic beverages within a short window of time, which tends to spike alcohol poisoning to hazardous levels before the body can metabolize the alcohol.
  • Alternate consumption of alcoholic drinks with water or non-alcoholic beverages to slow intake and stay properly hydrated.
  • Understand your personal limits and the risks of alcohol overdose. Stop drinking long before severe intoxication develops.
  • Monitor how much you and your friends are drinking. Look out for warning signs that someone has had too much.
  • Eating food before or while drinking slows the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream.

How Can You Help Someone with Alcohol Poisoning?

Understanding the dangers and signs of alcohol poisoning is important, but knowing how to help a person in this situation until healthcare professionals arrive can be life-saving. 

Seek medical attention by immediately calling the medical emergencies number (911 in the US). Then, proceed with the first aid alcohol poisoning treatment until the health care providers arrive.

First Aid for Alcohol Poisoning

If you suspect someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning, it is vital to provide proper first aid while awaiting emergency medical treatment:

  • Check that their airway is clear and unobstructed. Carefully roll them onto their side into the recovery position to help prevent choking if they vomit.
  • Do NOT try to induce vomiting or have them eat or drink anything, as this raises their risk of choking or aspiration.
  • If they are conscious and able to swallow, provide small sips of water to help rehydrate them. But discontinue if coughing or difficulty swallowing occurs.
  • Closely monitor their breathing. If breathing becomes severely slowed or irregular, be prepared to deliver rescue breaths by tilting the head back, pinching the nose, and giving 1 breath every 5 seconds.
  • If seizures occur, remove any nearby objects and do NOT restrain them or place anything in their mouth. Try to prevent head injuries.
  • Prevent hypothermia by covering them with blankets to maintain body heat.

Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment

Those who survive alcohol poisoning are at high risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. An alcohol rehab program is the best way to prevent future alcohol poisoning.  

If you or a loved one are experiencing frequent alcohol poisoning, you should seek comprehensive alcohol addiction management and treatment to achieve lasting sobriety and prevent future alcohol poisoning incidents.

At Ardu, we have both residential treatment facilities and outpatient programs specialized in treating alcohol addiction. The compassionate team at our alcohol and drug rehab center provides:

Getting proper treatment services can help manage the underlying alcohol addiction and build healthy lifelong habits. Contact our alcohol detox facilities and start your journey towards sobriety today.

Start Your Sobriety Journey with Ardu

Alcohol poisoning is often preventable through moderation and harm reduction. But if you or a loved one are struggling with an alcohol use disorder, we can help you start your recovery from alcohol abuse in a judgment-free environment.

At Ardu, you can start your treatment with medically reviewed detox practices before moving on to group therapy or individual therapy sessions for alcohol addiction treatment. Our experienced team will walk beside you through detox, rehab, and beyond.

Reach out now to discuss your unique needs—help is always available. And if you have any questions, feel free to come over and meet the staff.

In addition to alcohol addiction treatment, our drug and alcohol programs include:


Anyone struggling with alcohol abuse or addiction can enroll in our alcohol addiction treatment program. Our recovery center welcomes people seeking help to overcome their alcohol addiction. Our dedicated team of professionals is here to guide and support you in your addiction treatment process, laying the foundation for long-term sobriety and relapse prevention.

How to Enroll

To enroll in an Ardu alcohol rehab program, contact Ardu Recovery Center online or via phone (801-810-1234). We will work with you to find a recovery path that works for you during the detox process and beyond. Read our admissions process page for additional information.

Does My Insurance Cover Treatment at Ardu?

Ardu addiction treatment services are covered by most insurance providers. If you want to verify your insurance coverage and gather more financial assistance information, visit our insurance verification page.

FAQ on Identifying Alcohol Poisoning

How is alcohol poisoning detected?

Alcohol poisoning is detected through symptoms such as confusion, vomiting, slow or irregular breathing, seizures, and unconsciousness. If someone exhibits these signs after consuming alcohol, seeking immediate medical attention is crucial and, in many cases, life-saving.

What is the best thing to do when you suspect alcohol poisoning?

If you suspect alcohol poisoning in someone, the best thing to do is to call for emergency medical help right away. Don’t hesitate to seek assistance from a medical professional to ensure the person’s safety and receive appropriate care.

How to tell the difference between alcohol poisoning and being drunk?

Distinguishing between alcohol poisoning and drunkenness can be challenging. However, key differences include the severity of symptoms, loss of consciousness, and slowed or irregular breathing, which are more common in alcohol poisoning cases. This is one of the most widely-discussed college student health topics, as college students are particularly susceptible to binge drinking and alcohol poisoning.

How much would you have to drink to get alcohol poisoning?

The amount of alcohol required to cause alcohol poisoning varies depending on factors such as a person’s weight, tolerance, and the type of alcohol consumed. It’s essential to be cautious with alcohol consumption and never engage in binge drinking to prevent the many dangerous side effects that are the result of alcohol poisoning.

Should you let a drunk person sleep?

Letting a drunk person sleep it off is risky. If someone has alcohol poisoning, their condition can worsen while unconscious, leading to serious health complications or death. Seeking immediate medical attention is always the safest course of action.

How long can a hangover last?

The duration of a hangover can vary from person to person, typically lasting for several hours to a day. In some cases, a severe hangover may persist for up to 24 hours or even longer, depending on factors such as alcohol consumption, hydration, and individual differences. Rest, hydration, and time are usually the best remedies for recovering from a hangover.

Can alcohol abuse have an effect on women’s health?

Yes, alcohol abuse can exacerbate symptoms of inflammatory conditions, such as psoriatic arthritis and eczema, as well as increase the chances of breast cancer, liver cancer, and heart health issues. If you are a woman struggling with alcohol abuse, compassionate professionals at our women’s detox and women’s rehab facilities are here to help.


  1. C. (2015, January 6). Alcohol Poisoning Deaths. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/alcohol-poisoning-deaths/index.html
  2. Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Overdose | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). (n.d.). Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Overdose | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-dangers-of-alcohol-overdose
  3. Jung, Y. C., & Namkoong, K. (2014). Alcohol: Intoxication and Poisoning – Diagnosis and Treatment. Handbook of Clinical Neurology, 115–121. https://doi.org/10.1016/b978-0-444-62619-6.00007-0
  4. Kanny, D., Brewer, R. D., Mesnick, J. B., Paulozzi, L. J., Naimi, T. S., & Lu, H. (2015). Vital signs: alcohol poisoning deaths – United States, 2010-2012. MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report, 63(53), 1238–1242. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25577989/

Further Reading

How Long Does it Take to Detox from Alcohol?

Can Alcohol Affect Birth Control?

What Effects Does Alcohol Have on the Kidneys?

What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol Abuse Statistics in the United States

What Are the Signs of Alcoholism?