Alcohol poisoning is from acute toxic effects of alcohol consumption. Directly impacting the Central Nervous System, it slows breathing, heart rate, gag reflex, cause gastritis and severe gastrointestinal bleeding to respiratory arrest and death. When the gag reflex is slowed, there is danger of asphyxiation. This occurs when the person is unconscious from excessive alcohol intake vomits and then chokes.
A common cause of alcohol poisoning is binge drinking (for women, 4 or more drinks in a short period of time; men, 5 or more drinks in a short period of time.) It can also come from intentionally or accidentally ingesting products that contain alcohol.
Poisoning caused by the ingestion of any of several alcohols, of which ethyl, isopropyl, and methyl are the most common. Ethyl alcohol (ethanol) is found in beverages, hairspray, and mouthwashes; ordinarily, it is lethal only if large quantities are ingested in a brief period. Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol is more toxic. Methyl alcohol (methanol) is extremely poisonous: in addition to nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, it may cause blindness; death may follow the consumption of only 2 oz. Treatment for alcohol poisoning may include gastric lavage and other supportive interventions.
Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:
- Confusion or stupor;
- Cold, clammy, pale or bluish skin;
- Breathing is slow (less than 8 breaths per minute) or irregular, with 10 seconds or more between breaths;
- Vomiting while passed out, not waking up after vomiting, or incoherent while vomiting;
- Weak pulse, very rapid pulse, or very slow pulse;
- Loss of consciousness: Inability to awaken a person with loud shouting, or inability of a person to remain awake for more than 2-3 minutes or to carry on a coherent conversation when awake (semi-conscious).
Treatment for alcohol poisoning
A person who has lost consciousness and cannot be awakened is in danger of dying. Help is needed immediately.
When you are with a group of people drinking, it is important to look out for the signs of alcohol poisoning and know what to do when someone has had too much to drink.
If you believe somebody is suffering from alcohol poisoning you should call for an ambulance, and provide the following assistance until it arrives:
- Don’t give them coffee, it will worsen their dehydration;
- Do not give them any more alcohol to drink;
- Do not lie them on their back;
- Try to keep the individual awake;
- Try to keep them in a sitting position, not lying down;
- If the person is unconscious put them in the recovery position and check they are breathing;
- If they are able to take it, give them water;
- Do not make them walk.
When someone has alcohol poisoning, they need to be taken to hospital. Medical staff at hospital will monitor the person’s state until all the alcohol has left their system. They may also need to:
- Insert a tube into their windpipe to help them breathe;
- Fit an intravenous drip (which goes directly into a vein) to top up their water, blood sugar and vitamin levels;
- Fit a catheter (tube) to their bladder to drain urine straight into a bag so they do not wet themselves;
- Pump their stomach by flushing fluids through a tube inserted into their nose or mouth.
If the patient (adult or child) has unintentionally drunk methanol or isopropyl alcohol and has alcohol poisoning they may need kidney dialysis to speed up the removal of toxins from their system.