Most of the weekends are for celebrations. It can either be a toast at a wedding or a birthday party. However drinking alcohol is a part of many celebrations. When used responsibly, alcoholic beverages can be safely consumed. Too much drinking, whether chronic use or binging, can cause serious health problems. One of the most threatening of these is alcohol poisoning, a potentially fatal condition.
It’s true that binge drinking is often the cause of alcohol poisoning. But not always. It depends on other factors such as your age, sex, size, weight, how fast you’ve been drinking, how much you’ve eaten, your general health and other drugs you might have taken.
How Alcohol Poisoning Occurs In The Body
When you drink an alcoholic beverage, alcohol is absorbed through the stomach and enters the blood stream. The liver is responsible for breaking it down, so it can exit the body. But the liver can only break down a certain amount at a time.
If a person drinks excessively, it overwhelms the liver’s ability to break down the alcohol, and the blood alcohol level rises, causing more severe symptoms of alcohol intoxication.
However, if drinking continues, the levels become toxic to the body. In severe circumstances, it can cause loss of consciousness and sometimes even death. It may not seem like it but alcohol is a poison and can sometimes have lethal consequences.
What Happens To The Body During Alcohol Poisoning?
Your body can only process one unit of alcohol an hour. Drinking a lot in a short space of time and the amount of alcohol in the blood can stop the body from working properly. It can:
- slow down your brain functions so you lose your sense of balance.
- irritate the stomach which causes vomiting and it stops your gag reflex from working properly – you can choke on, or inhale, your own vomit into your lungs.
- affect the nerves that control your breathing and heartbeat, stopping both.
- dehydrate you, which can cause permanent brain damage.
- lower the body’s temperature, which can lead to hypothermia.
- lower your blood sugar levels, so you could have seizures.
Symptoms Of Alcohol Poisoning
It can be a very fine line. One minute your house guest is stupidly drunk, the next they’ve become dangerously intoxicated. Being aware of alcohol poisoning symptoms is crucial. This is because if a person you care about is suffering from acute alcohol poisoning, they will be in no state to help themselves.
You should observe for symptoms such as:
- Loss of coordination
- Irregular or slow breathing (less than eight breaths a minute)
- Blue-tinged or pale skin
- Low body temperature (hypothermia)
- Stupor – when someone’s conscious but unresponsive
- Unconsciousness – passing out
Things To Do If Someone Is Showing Signs Of Alcohol Poisoning
- Better safe than sorry is the rule for alcohol poisoning. If you think someone might be experiencing it, even if you have doubts, call for an ambulance.
- Never let them drink any more alcohol.
- Try to keep them awake and sitting up.
- Give them some water, if they can drink it.
- Lie them on their side thus recovery position if they’ve passed out and check if they’re breathing properly.
- Keep them warm.
- Stay with them and monitor their symptoms.
Know What Not To Do
Alcohol poisoning can be extremely dangerous. Your best intentions could make it worse. There are so many myths around about how to deal with people who’ve drunk to excess, so it’s a good idea to make sure you’re aware of what NOT to do:
- Never leave someone to sleep it off. The amount of alcohol in someone’s blood continues to rise even when they’re not drinking. That’s because alcohol in the digestive system carries on being absorbed into the bloodstream. Too much alcohol in the blood stops the body working properly.
- Never give them a coffee. Alcohol dehydrates the body. Coffee will make someone who is already dehydrated even more so. Severe dehydration can cause permanent brain damage.
- Do not make them sit. Their gag reflex won’t be working properly which means they could choke on their vomit.
- Don’t walk them around. Alcohol is a depressant which slows down your brain’s functions and affects your sense of balance. Walking them around might cause accidents.
- Never put them under a cold shower. Alcohol lowers your body temperature, which could lead to hypothermia. A cold shower could make them colder than they already are.
Emergency Hospital Care
Every weekend, hundreds of people are taken into hospital with acute alcohol poisoning. Medical staff will monitor people who have less severe alcohol poisoning closely, until it’s safe for them to go home. If it’s more serious, they could:
- insert a tube into their windpipe to help them breathe.
- put them on a drip to top up their body’s water, blood sugar and vitamin levels.
- fit a catheter – a tube that allows them to empty their bladder straight into a bag.
- pump the stomach by flushing fluids through a tube inserted into the nose or mouth.
Preventing Alcohol Poisoning
The most important thing that you can do to prevent alcohol poisoning is to limit the number of alcoholic beverages that you drink at one time. You can try consuming non-alcoholic beverages in between alcoholic ones. Don’t drink on an empty stomach, and drink with trusted, responsible people who can help limit your intake.