Alcohol Poisoning

December 29, 2022

Alcohol poisoning is a medical emergency that requires professional intervention in order to recover safely. Left untreated, alcohol poisoning can be lethal. 2,200 people die from alcohol poisoning each year in the United States alone. Recognizing alcohol poisoning symptoms is a crucial step in preventing these deaths and giving people struggling with alcohol dependence an opportunity to begin the journey to sobriety.

Alcohol Poisoning Overview

Alcohol poisoning, also known as ethanol toxicity, is the result of drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short period. At high doses, alcohol can impair critical areas of the brain responsible for life-preserving functions. People can stop breathing, their hearts can stop pumping, and their body temperature can drop dangerously low.


Signs of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Slowed breathing, (less than eight breaths per minute)
  • Irregular breathing, (more than a ten-second gap between breaths)
  • Blue lips or pale skin
  • Unconsciousness 
  • Cold, clammy skin

If you recognize these symptoms and suspect alcohol poisoning – call 911 immediately. Alcohol poisoning is a life-threatening emergency. Never assume a person will sleep off alcohol poisoning or suddenly feel better. Most importantly, never leave a person alone if you suspect he or she is experiencing alcohol poisoning.

Blood Alcohol Concentration

As a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) rises, so do the harmful effects of alcohol. A BAC of 0.30% may induce alcohol poisoning. A BAC over 0.40%, in contrast, may result in a coma or respiratory arrest or death. 

The Dangers of Alcohol Poisoning

While thousands of people die from alcohol poisoning each year, many more will experience permanent brain damage as a result of ethanol toxicity. Vomiting is another cause for concern: high levels of alcohol can suppress the gag reflex, and vomit may block the airway, leading to death by choking.

Put simply, a person experiencing alcohol poisoning is in life-threatening danger. They cannot care for themselves and need the help of trained medical professionals. 

What Causes Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning typically happens after binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as any pattern of drinking that brings your blood alcohol concentration above 0.08, which equates to about 4 drinks in 2 hours for women, or 5 drinks in 2 hours for men. The more binge drinking surpasses this framework, the more the drinker risks alcohol poisoning.

Binge drinking is exceptionally common despite the harmful effects it can bring. The 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that:

  • 21.5% of adults engaged in binge drinking in the past month
  • 29.2% of adults between the ages of 18-25 engaged in binge drinking in the past month
  • 3.8% of children between the ages of 12-17 engaged in binge drinking in the past month

Binge drinking does more than increase the risk of alcohol poisoning. It increases the probability of developing an alcohol dependency as well as experiencing an injury sustained while intoxicated. 

The Dangers of Mixing Alcohol with Other Drugs

Mixing alcohol with other drugs increases the likelihood of an accidental overdose. Combining alcohol with other depressants – such as benzodiazepines, opioids, or sleeping pills – can magnify ethanol toxicity. People who mix these drugs can quickly lose consciousness and stop breathing even if they’ve only had a few drinks.

Combining alcohol with stimulants is also dangerous, as the nervous system is pulled in two directions. Drugs like amphetamines or methamphetamine can lead to people drinking more than they would otherwise, as the stimulating effects can lead people to feel less intoxicated even when they have exceptionally high blood alcohol content. Cocaine is also of particular concern, as cocaine and alcohol combine within the body to produce a different, more powerful drug known as cocaethylene. Compared to cocaine alone, cocaethylene is 18-25 times more likely to cause immediate death.

Preventing Alcohol Poisoning

The only way to prevent alcohol poisoning is to abstain from binge drinking – or quit alcohol altogether. Yet many people struggle to control their alcohol use, even if they are in danger of severe consequences. Alcohol use disorders can be incredibly difficult to break free from – but there are resources that can help you achieve recovery.

Start Treatment at TN Detox

TN Detox offers premier medical detoxification services for people struggling with an alcohol use disorder. Our alcohol detox facility in Nashville, Tennessee, provides evidence-based treatments that reduce the discomforts of alcohol withdrawal, prevent dangerous withdrawal symptoms, and start you on the path to recovery to last a lifetime.

Our program is located in the heart of Nashville and offers a luxurious and restorative space for recovery. With science-based treatments, compassionate staff, and a cutting-edge facility, you can recover from an alcohol use disorder. Call TN Detox at [Direct] to get started with a medical detox program today.


Start your road to recovery today.

Take the first step on the road to recovery and contact us to get the help you need.

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