Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is a severe consequence of drinking large quantities of alcohol in a short space of time. A large amount of alcohol in the blood can cause the body to stop functioning properly. This is because your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) has risen.

Image courtesy of Jes via Flickr

Image courtesy of Jes via Flickr

A BAC of 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, is the drink-driving limit. At this point, you may experience a small loss of concentration.

If you had a BAC of 200-400 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, you would likely experience slurred speech and double vision. You may also feel, or be, sick.

A BAC of over 400 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood can be potentially life-threatening. It could result in serious breathing difficulties, coma and death.

The severity of alcohol poisoning depends on a number of factors such as age, weight, gender, the quantity of drink, how much you have eaten and whether other drugs have been taken.

Overall, women are at greater risk of alcohol poisoning than men. This is because women absorb alcohol into the bloodstream faster than men. Moreover, they metabolise a lot slower than their male counterparts.

What are the consequences of alcohol poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning can cause:

  • The slowing down of your brain’s functions. You responses will be slower and you could lose your sense of balance
  • Severe dehydration
  • Lower blood sugar levels. This may then lead to seizure
  • Irritate the stomach. The common consequence is vomiting
  • Stop the functions of your gag reflex. If it stops working properly, you can end up choking on, or inhaling, your own vomit
  • Affect both your breathing and your heartbeat. By affecting the nerves, alcohol poisoning can effectively shut down both
  • Lower body temperature which can lead to hypothermia
  • Potentially result in a coma or even death

Your liver works by filtering out the poisonous alcohol from your blood stream every time you drink. The liver breaks down the ethanol into non-intoxicating by-products. However, the body can only process around one unit of alcohol per hour. This limit is usually surpassed when people binge drink.

It is important to be aware of the signs of alcohol poisoning. Someone suffering from acute alcohol poisoning will be able to do little to help themselves.

Image courtesy of TMAB2003 via Flickr

Image courtesy of TMAB2003 via Flickr

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include:

  • Loss of co-ordination and slow responses
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Pale skin
  • Low body temperature
  • Irregular breathing
  • Unconsciousness

In wanting to help a friend who is showing symptoms of alcohol poisoning, you may end up doing the wrong things. There are a lot of myths surrounding what action to take and there are some things you should never do:

  • Don’t try and get them to walk it off. One of the side effects of excessive alcohol consumption is the slowing down of your brain’s functions. Your sense of direction and balance can be seriously impaired and may result in accidents.
  • Many people think sleeping off the alcohol is the best solution. What people don’t know is that the amount of alcohol in an individual’s blood continues to rise after they have stopped drinking. Alcohol in the digestive system continues to be absorbed into the bloodstream. The increasing levels of alcohol in the blood can cause the body to stop functioning properly.
  • Forcing them to be sick is dangerous because their gag reflex may not be working properly. As a result, they could end up choking on their own vomit.
  • Don’t let them drink more alcohol even if they insist on it. The level of alcohol in the bloodstream could become perilously high.
  • There is a myth that giving them coffee will help to wake them up. This is false. Alcohol already dehydrates the body and providing coffee will only dehydrate them further. Brain damage can be caused by severe dehydration.
  • utting them under a cold shower is dangerous because alcohol lowers body temperature. By putting them under the shower, you could make them colder than they already are. This could lead to hypothermia.
Image courtesy of Sebastian Surendar via Flickr

Image courtesy of Sebastian Surendar via Flickr

A pulse rate lower than 40 is regarded as a medical emergency. A respiration rate lower than 8-10 breaths per minute is also regarded as a medical emergency. It is important to call 911 if you calculate rates lower than these.

People who drink excessively sometimes experience ‘blackouts.’ During this amnesia-like period a person may function properly but will not be able to recall their actions at a later date. Blackouts are dangerous as anything could happen in the time period and the intoxicated individual will have no memory of the occurrences.

What to do if someone is showing signs of alcohol poisoning

  • Try to keep them awake and make sure they are propped up. If they lie down, they may be at greater risk of choking on any vomit if they are sick.
  • Keep them warm by wrapping them up in layers.
  • If they are able to drink it, give them some water in small and frequent quantities.
  • If they have passed out, lie them on their side in the recovery position. Make sure to check that they are breathing properly.
  • Make sure you stay with them and monitor their symptoms.
  • If their symptoms worsen and there are no signs of improvement, dial 911 for an ambulance.

Immediate medical attention must be sought if a person is suffering from alcohol poisoning. They will be carefully monitored until all traces of alcohol has left their system. If you suspect someone is showing signs of alcohol poisoning, it is better to be safe than sorry and you should ring 911 and ask for an ambulance.

Image courtesy of Christian Senger via Flickr

Image courtesy of Christian Senger via Flickr

Acute alcohol poisoning is in fact a medical emergency. This is because there is a risk of death from a number of factors including respiratory failure and the chocking on vomit. This is particularly dangerous if the patient is unresponsive and unconscious.

Emergency medical treatment includes stabilising the patient and making sure their respiration is controlled. In more severe cases, treatment could involve:

  • Putting them on a drip to increase the body’s water, vitamin and blood sugar levels.
  • Pumping the content of their stomach by flushing fluids though a tube. The tube is typically inserted into the mouth or nose.
  • Aiding their breathing by inserting a tube into their windpipe.
  • Fitting a tube called a catheter. Its purpose is to empty the bladder straight into a bag.

Drinking is a part of social life and can be quite enjoyable. There are a couple of ways you can keep your drinking under control on a night out:

  • Sip on soft drinks or water between every alcoholic drink. This will slow down your drinking over the course of the night and overall, you will consume less alcoholic beverages.
  • Make sure you eat properly before you go out. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol on an empty stomach is very dangerous. Try and snack between drinks as this will help slow down the absorption of alcohol.

For more information and further reading, visit the sites below:

http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm

https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/check-the-facts/what-is-alcohol/alcohol-unit-guidelines/

http://bloodalcoholcalculator.org/

http://www.brad21.org/facts.html

http://depts.washington.edu/livewell/alcohol-drug-education/alcohol-poisoning/

For more information on alcohol poisoning and alcohol treatment, please feel free to contact us.

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