Understanding Alcohol Overdose Symptoms

Alcohol overdose is a serious and potentially life-threatening medical emergency. It occurs when a person consumes a dangerous amount of alcohol in a short period of time.

Symptoms of alcohol overdose can range from mild to severe and can include confusion, vomiting, slow breathing, low body temperature, and loss of consciousness. If someone is displaying these symptoms, it is important to seek medical help as soon as possible.

It is important to remember that alcohol overdose is preventable. Drinking in moderation and being aware of the effects of alcohol can help to reduce the risk of alcohol overdose.

Definition of Alcohol Overdose / Alcohol Poisoning

Because alcohol has a calming impact and can be a positive social experience, many individuals drink. However, consuming a lot of alcohol can have detrimental effects on your health.

Alcohol overdose, also known as alcohol poisoning, is the potentially deadly result of consuming too much alcohol in a short period of time resulting in their body no longer being able to process it and toxic effects take over.

Symptoms can range from mild to severe and include confusion, vomiting, seizures, slow or irregular breathing, low body temperature and decreased consciousness or coma. If not treated, alcohol overdose can lead to death. 

Effects of Alcohol Overdose – Signs and Symptoms

These are the effects of alcohol overdose:

  • Loss of coordination and difficulty walking
  • Slurred speech
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Slow reaction time
  • Shallow breathing
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Uncontrollable body movements
  • Blurred vision
  • Lowered body temperature
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Liver damage
  • Brain damage
  • Death

Symptoms and Causes of Alcohol Overdose 

Binge drinking 

  • The most prevalent and expensive form of excessive alcohol consumption in the US is binge drinking.
  • One in 6 adults in the US report binge drinking with a quarter doing so on a weekly basis.
  • Binge drinking is most common among adults aged 18–34.
  • For men, binge drinking is defined as having more than 5 drinks in one sitting. For women, it is 4 or more. Binge drinking is more common for men. 
  • Binge drinking has been found to be most prevalent for non-Hispanic Whites living in the Midwest with household incomes over $75,000.
  • The majority of people who binge drink are not alcohol dependent.
  • Excessive drinking leads to an increased risk of alcohol use disorder and it is linked to many preventable illnesses and injuries.
  • Binge drinking can lead to physical injury, impaired judgment and even mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, risky behaviors such as drinking and driving and unprotected sex. 

Mixing alcohol with other drugs or medications

This warning has undoubtedly appeared on medications you have used and the threat is real. When certain drugs are taken with alcohol:

  1. headaches, dizziness, fainting and loss of coordination can result
  2. it can also increase your risk of internal bleeding, cardiac issues and breathing difficulties
  3. it can also alter the effects of a prescription, making it ineffective or even hazardous to your body

Alcohol and many medications should never be mixed. While taking medications, drinking alcohol can amplify effects such as drowsiness and loss of coordination making it dangerous to drive and leading to injuries like falling, especially a concern for elderly adults. 

Drinking on an empty stomach

Your stomach will absorb alcohol much quicker if you drink on an empty stomach compared to a full one. 

There are a number of possible dangers when drinking on an empty stomach, including:

  • higher blood alcohol level
  • increased risk of alcohol poisoning
  • rapid intoxication
  • gastritis and other stomach issues
  • more intense hangovers
  • worse headaches
  • esophageal cancer (over time)


Having a high tolerance or drinking quickly through things like drinking games, can increase the risk of alcohol overdose. The rates of alcohol poisoning among college age adults are the highest.

Body size

Ones height and weight will be an important factor in determining how quickly the body absorbs alcohol. People with a smaller body size are likely to feel the effects of alcohol more quickly than a larger person.

The smaller person may end up with alcohol poisoning by drinking the same amount that a larger-bodied person can consume safely.

Knowing your limits 

The problem with drinking in moderation is that your body craves more alcohol the more you consume. To help you not exceed your limits, decide what that limit is before the evening starts.

On a particular occasion, having three drinks is probably not an issue but other times it may not be a good idea.

To avoid overindulging when you consume alcohol, try to drink slowly.

The best course of action to take if you believe you are consuming too much alcohol is to take a break and if you are struggling with this, seek help from professionals. 

What Causes Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol affects the central nervous system. It is classed as a depressant substance because it slows down movement, speech, and things like reaction time.

It also affects the body and organs. Alcohol poisoning happens when you drink more than the body can process:

  • The stomach and small intestine absorb the alcohol and it enters the bloodstream quite quickly. The more alcohol that is consumed and the faster it is consumed, the more that goes into the bloodstream.
  • The liver is responsible for metabolizing alcohol, but when too much is consumed, it cannot keep up. What the liver cannot break down gets redirected to the rest of the body leading to organ damage.

Alcohol is metabolized at different rates for different people. The average body can process about one unit of pure alcohol per hour (equivalent to one shot, half a beer or glass of wine). If you drink more than this the body isn’t able to break it down fast enough, leaving it to accumulate in your body.

Blood Alcohol Content / BAC

Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) is the amount of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream, measured as a percentage by weight. It is the most common measure of alcohol intoxication and is used by law enforcement and medical personnel to determine a person’s level of intoxication.

A person’s BAC is affected by the amount of alcohol they have consumed, their body weight and gender, as well as the amount of time that has passed since they consumed the alcohol.

A person is considered legally intoxicated when their BAC reaches 0.08%.

Drinking in Moderation

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 says that drinking less is better for overall health and that adults should limit their alcohol intake to two or less drinks a day for men and not more than one for women. 

It’s hard to know how much alcohol will kill you and this is likely not something you think about when out for a night of drinks with friends but it’s worth knowing what your body’s limits are and be careful to pay attention to the warning signs.

However, there’s no straight answer to the question of how much alcohol can kill you. Everything from your age to what you ate earlier in the day can have an impact.

Seek Help for Alcohol Overdose

If you suspect someone has alcohol poisoning:

1. Call 911 immediately if you suspect someone has overdosed on alcohol 

2. Provide supportive care until help arrives, including: 

  • Keeping the person awake and alert 
  • Monitoring their breathing rate 
  • Keeping them warm by covering them with a blanket 
  • Placing them in the recovery position if they become unconscious 

3. Seek medical attention even after symptoms have subsided to ensure there are no long-term effects from the overdose 

4. Consider seeking professional help for alcohol abuse (detox, inpatient treatment, groups like AA)

How is Alcohol Poisoning Treated

Alcohol overdose is usually treated in the hospital at emergency room by a doctor who will monitor vital signs, heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature.

If more serious symptoms are present the following may have to happen:

  • iv fluids or medications administered
  • oxygen through a mask or tube through the nose
  • nutrients like thiamin or glucose given to prevent brain damage 
  • medications to stop seizures or risk of seizure

We are here to help

If you or someone you care about are drinking too much, we encourage you to get in touch with the helpful and knowledgeable staff at Luxe Recovery. We are here to listen and help find the best solution. Our world class treatment

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