Alcohol poisoning

Someone with alcohol poisoning needs urgent medical attention

Alcohol poisoning is the result of drinking dangerous amounts of alcohol. It can be deadly; those who survive can be left with irreversible brain damage.

When someone consumes excessive amounts of alcohol, their breathing slows and the brain is deprived of oxygen. The struggle to deal with an overdose of alcohol and lack of oxygen will eventually cause the brain to shut down the body functions that regulate breathing and heart rate. When that happens, the drinker can die.

Rapid, excessive drinking is especially dangerous because people can consume a fatal amount of alcohol before they lose consciousness. It's best to always drink in moderation and to avoid taking part in drinking games that involve drinking excessive amounts or drinking rapidly.

Underage and inexperienced drinkers are particularly vulnerable to alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol poisoning is most commonly associated with drinking excessive amounts of alcohol in a short period of time.

Warning signs

Signs that someone might have alcohol poisoning include:

  • Mental confusion
  • Difficult to awaken
  • Stupor, unconsciousness, coma
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow or irregular breathing (with gaps between breaths of more than eight seconds)
  • Blue-tinged skin, pale skin and/or cold clammy skin
  • Low body temperature
  • A strong smell of alcohol

People can be suffering from alcohol poisoning without having all these signs and symptoms. If you suspect that someone has alcohol poisoning, get emergency medical help immediately.

What can happen?

People should never be left to 'sleep it off' – this could be a fatal mistake. A person's Blood Alcohol Concentration – the concentration of alcohol in the blood – may continue to rise even after they have passed out. If alcohol poisoning goes untreated, the following can happen:

  • The victim can choke on his or her own vomit
  • Breathing slows, becomes irregular and can stop
  • The heart beats irregularly and can stop
  • Body temperature decreases (i.e. hypothermia)
  • Blood sugar can decrease (i.e. hypoglycaemia) which can cause seizures
  • Permanent brain damage
  • Death

People should never be left to 'sleep it off' – this could be a fatal mistake. A person’s Blood Alcohol Concentration may continue to rise even after they have passed out.