What Is Alcohol Overdose?
An alcohol overdose occurs when someone has a blood alcohol content (or BAC) sufficient to cause impairments that can increase the risk of certain harm to them. Overdoses can range in severity, from problems with balance and slurred speech to coma or even death.
How Much Can You Drink Without Overdosing?
First off, there is no set limit as to how much alcohol you can drink before reaching overdose levels. In fact, there are many factors that can lead to an alcohol overdose such as age, weight and height, drinking experience, gender, the amount of food eaten, and even ethnicity. Also, your ability to tolerate certain of levels of alcohol can fluctuate from drinking session to drinking session, That is, the next time you drink, it may take less alcohol to get drunk than the last time you drank.
So, when you begin to feel tipsy, you are actually already experiencing alcohol overdose; just small increases in your BAC can affect coordination, make you sick, and cloud your judgment. These impairments can lead to falls, car crashes, make you vulnerable to sexual assault or other acts of violence, and increase the risk for unprotected sex. When BACs increase even more, amnesia, also called alcohol blackouts, can occur.
Signs of Alcohol Overdose
Continuing to drink despite clear signs of significant impairments can result in a potentially deadly type of overdose called alcohol poisoning. It is important to know that BAC can continue to rise even when you are unconscious. This is because undigested alcohol that is still in your stomach and intestine continues to be absorbed into the bloodstream and circulate throughout your body.
Alcohol overdose and poisoning occurs when there is so much alcohol in the bloodstream that the areas of the brain that control your basic life support functions—like breathing, heart rate, and body temperature —begin to shut down. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include confusion; difficulty remaining conscious; vomiting; seizures; trouble with breathing; slow heart rate; clammy skin; dulled responses, such as no gag reflex (which prevents choking); and extremely low body temperature.
Know the Critical Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Overdose and Poisoning:
- Mental confusion, stupor
- Coma, inability to wake up
- Slow breathing (fewer than 8 breaths per minute)
- Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)
- Hypothermia (low body temperature): bluish skin color, paleness
What To Do/What Not To Do
All too often, we hear of tragic and avoidable deaths due to alcohol overdose and poisoning, especially among youth such as high school and college students. In these cases, others have assumed that the unconscious person just needs to “sleep it off.”
A person who drinks to the point of passing out is in danger of dying by asphyxiation, or suffocation. When someone is drunk enough to pass out, their brain is not functioning properly – automatic responses such as gag reflex are no longer working and this, combined with the tendency of vomiting from alcohol, can lead to the unconscious person literally choking on their own vomit.
Other “remedies” for alcohol overdose do not work either and are just as dangerous if the overdose goes ignored and untreated. Cold showers, hot coffee, or walking will not reverse the effects of an alcohol overdose and could actually make things worse.
If you suspect someone is suffering an alcohol overdose and poisoning, it is imperative to get medical help immediately.
Alcohol overdose is a sign of alcohol abuse and possibly alcohol addiction. If someone you know needs alcohol addiction treatment, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.