Alcohol Overdose Symptoms, Prevention & Treatment Guide

While many people may not realize this, it is possible to overdose on alcohol. Commonly referred to as alcohol poisoning, an alcohol overdose can lead to very hazardous situations, and sometimes even death. To clarify, it is possible to get “alcohol poisoning” from non-potable alcohols such as isopropyl alcohol and methanol, but this article is focused solely on ethanol, the kind of alcohol found in beer, wine, and liquor.

Signs & Symptoms Of An Alcohol Overdose

Some of the most common signs of an alcohol overdose include:

  • Altered Mental States
  • Unconsciousness (with an inability to wake up)
  • Slow, Shallow, or Irregular Breathing
  • Low Body Temperature
  • Slow Heart Rate
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion and Disorientation
  • Very Slurred Speech and Uncoordinated Movements

Some of the more dangerous symptoms of an alcohol overdose include:

  • Coma
  • Seizures
  • Blindness (usually temporary)
  • Hypothermia
  • Dulled Responses (such as gag reflex)

The specific symptoms of an alcohol overdose can range from mild to severe and depend greatly upon individual differences in alcohol tolerance, age, metabolism, and several other factors. In extreme cases, medical help is required if someone hopes to avoid brain damage or death.

What To Do If Someone Overdoses On Alcohol

While there is no “antidote” to an alcohol overdose, medical help can certainly improve someone’s chances of recovery. That being said, there are a few things someone can do to help an overdose victim until medical help arrives. These may include:

  1. Call Emergency Medical Services: Supportive medical care is needed to reduce the risks associated with an alcohol overdose. Call for medical help immediately.
  2. Place Someone In The Recovery Position: Vomiting is very common during alcohol overdoses, so place someone in the recovery position to reduce the risk of asphyxiation.
  3. Stay With Them Until Help Arrives: Stay by the person and if they continue to vomit, clear it away from their mouth and airway. Be prepared to speak with medical professionals and give them as much information as possible.

Medical treatment of an alcohol overdose is mainly focused on supportive care, but making sure someone is safe until medical help arrives will greatly increase their chances of a successful recovery.

Dangers

Alcohol overdoses can cause kidney and liver damage as well as brain damage or even death. While alcohol may seem safe since it is socially acceptable, drinking too much too quickly can cause some serious and life-changing problems. This is not even taking into account the fact of someone’s behavior during an alcohol overdose. If they are not incapacitated, their higher reasoning will be severely impaired and this can lead to things like drunk driving and potentially fatal car accidents.

Prevention

The only way to prevent an alcohol overdose for sure is to not drink. If, however, someone is going to drink, there are some things they can do to reduce the risk of an overdose. Some of these harm-reduction measures may include:

  • Do Not Mix Alcohol and Other Drugs: Certain drugs such as benzodiazepines and opioids can greatly increase the chances of an alcohol overdose. Take a look at our article “Top 5 Dangers of Alcohol Abuse” for more information.
  • Do Not Drink On An Empty Stomach: This will only slightly reduce the risk, but drinking on an empty stomach increases the rate at which alcohol is metabolized, leading to more rapid and intense intoxication.
  • Set A Safe Limit, And Stick To It: Before you even have 1 drink, pick a limit that is safe for you and let the people around you know how many drinks you are prepared to have.

Treatment

If someone has suffered an alcohol overdose and survived unharmed, it may only be a matter of time before this occurs again unless they get help. Experiencing one alcohol overdose may be a sign that someone has a problem controlling the amount they drink. It is highly recommended to seek help before dangerous or even deadly complications arise. The most effective way to address this potential problem is to enter an alcohol rehab program.

Resources

Here are some additional resources to help promote awareness for alcohol overdoses. The more information someone has, the better prepared they will be to help someone if and when they encounter an alcohol overdose.

NYC Health: Alcohol Overdose Prevention

National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors: National Prevention Resources

Ohio State University: Alcohol Poisoning and Drug Overdosing

Eastern Washington University: Alcohol Poisoning Prevention

National Institute on Drug Abuse: “What is alcohol overdose, and how can I help someone who may be suffering from it?”

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