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Alcohol Poisoning


Risky Business

Excessive drinking can be hazardous to everyone's health! It can be particularly stressful if you are the sober one taking care of your drunk roommate, who is vomiting while you are trying to study for an exam.

Some people laugh at the behavior of others who are drunk. Some think it's even funnier when they pass out. But there is nothing funny about the aspiration of vomit leading to asphyxiation or the poisoning of the respiratory center in the brain, both of which can result in death.

Do you know about the dangers of alcohol poisoning? When should you seek professional help for a friend? Sadly enough, too many college students say they wish they would have sought medical treatment for a friend. Many end up feeling responsible for alcohol-related tragedies that could have easily been prevented.

Common myths about sobering up include drinking black coffee, taking a cold bath or shower, sleeping it off, or walking it off. But these are just myths, and they don't work. The only thing that reverses the effects of alcohol is time-something you may not have if you are suffering from alcohol poisoning. And many different factors affect the level of intoxication of an individual, so it's difficult to gauge exactly how much is too much. (link to BAC information)

What Happens to Your Body When You Get Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol depresses nerves that control involuntary actions such as breathing and the gag reflex (which prevents choking). A fatal dose of alcohol will eventually stop these functions.

It is common for someone who drank excessive alcohol to vomit since alcohol is an irritant to the stomach. There is then the danger of choking on vomit, which could cause death by asphyxiation in a person who is not conscious because of intoxication.

You should also know that a person's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) can continue to rise even while he or she is passed out. Even after a person stops drinking, alcohol in the stomach and intestine continues to enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body. It is dangerous to assume the person will be fine by sleeping it off.

How To Identify and Care For an Intoxicated Person

Unfortunately, getting drunk is common on the college campus. Because of this you are likely to come into contact with a person who is intoxicated or experiencing an episode of life-threatening, acute alcohol intoxication (alcohol poisoning). How do you care for this person? How do you tell if the person is acutely intoxicated? What should you do? Listed below are some of the signs and symptoms of intoxication, alcohol poisoning, and the appropriate actions to take. This list is not all inclusive.


Alcohol affects each individual differently. The affect of alcohol on a person will vary according to the person’s mood, the time of day, amount of food in the stomach, the mixer used, how fast the person drinks, what and why they are drinking.

Alcohol affects each individual differently. The affect of alcohol on a person will vary according to the person’s mood, the time of day, amount of food in the stomach, the mixer used, how fast the person drinks, what and why they are drinking.

Signs of intoxication:

  • A person who is overly friendly.
  • Someone talking loudly, bragging, or using foul language.
  • You will usually find the person annoying or arguing with others.
  • The inability to light a cigarette, or attempting to light more than one cigarette at a time.
  • Someone with slurred or slowed speech, who tends to lose their train of thought.
  • A person who complains about the service.
  • Spills the drink or misses their mouth.
  • Glassy eyes, dilated pupils, inability to focus, sleepy look, and bobbing head.
  • Sudden or unexplained mood changes.
  • Drinking faster than usual.
  • Staggering, swaying, or the inability to walk.

Critical Signs for Alcohol Poisoning

  • Mental confusion, stupor, coma, or person cannot be roused.
  • Vomiting.
  • Seizures.
  • Slow breathing (fewer than eight breaths per minute).
  • Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths).
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature), bluish skin color, paleness.


  • First and foremost, STAY WITH THE INTOXICATED PERSON .
  • Remain calm so that the intoxicated person will remain calm.
  • Always be prepared for the unexpected and assess the seriousness of the situation.
  • Be aware of the physical dangers and be prepared to get immediate medical help if needed.
  • If you have been drinking, get a sober person to help.

Assessing the Intoxicated Person

  • Count respirations, or how many times the person breaths in one full minute. If the person is breathing less than twelve times per minute or stops breathing for periods of ten seconds or more, CALL 911 .
  • Try to wake the person if they appear to be asleep. If you can not wake the person, CALL 911 .
  • Look at the person’s skin. If it is cold, pale, bluish in color, or sweaty, CALL 911.
  • Stay with the person who is vomiting! Try to keep the person sitting up, if they must lay down, keep them on their side with their head turned to the side. Watch for choking, if the person begins to choke, GET HELP IMMEDIATELY .
  • Do not attempt to give the person food if they can not get it themselves. Giving the semiconscious person food could cause vomiting, choking, or aspiration.
  • If you cannot keep the person awake, position them on their side in a fetal position. Place a pillow in the small of their back to prevent them from rolling out of this position. This is important to help prevent aspiration if the person should vomit. STAY WITH THE PERSON and wake them up frequently. Just because the person is sleeping doesn’t mean that the alcohol cannot get to the brain. Alcohol levels continue to rise, causing the person to become unconscious, rather than asleep. If at any time you can not wake the person up, CALL 911 .

Any person that has altered consciousness, slowed respirations, or cool, pale skin is experiencing acute alcohol intoxication (alcohol poisoning). This is a medical emergency and you MUST get help. 
DO NOT. . . . . . . . . . . . .

  • Laugh, make fun of, or provoke the person
  • Exercise the person
  • Allow the person to drive a car or bicycle
  • Give the person food, liquid, or drugs to sober them up
  • Give the person a cold shower; the shock of the cold could cause unconsciousness


What Can Happen to Someone With Alcohol Poisoning That Goes Untreated?

  • Victim chokes on his or her own vomit.
  • Breathing slows, becomes irregular, or stops.
  • Heart beats irregularly or stops.
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature).
  • Hypoglycemia (too little blood sugar) leads to seizures.
  • Untreated severe dehydration from vomiting can cause seizures, permanent brain damage, or death.

Even if the victim lives, an alcohol overdose can lead to irreversible brain damage. Rapid binge drinking (which often happens on a bet or a dare) is especially dangerous because the victim can ingest a fatal dose before becoming unconscious.

Don't be afraid to seek medical help for a friend who has had too much to drink. Don't worry that your friend may become angry or embarrassed-remember, you cared enough to help. Always be safe, not sorry.