Can a Person Overdose on Alcohol?

In today’s society, drinking alcohol is a cultural norm. We see it everywhere – at events, parties, in magazines, and on television screens.

However, despite its pervasiveness, it is important to remember that alcohol is indeed a drug, and is in fact the most widely used addictive substance in America. The death rate associated with alcohol use actually exceeds that of the current opiate crisis. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, an estimated 17.6 million people currently meet the criteria for alcohol abuse or addiction. Unfortunately, less than 10 percent of these individuals will ever receive or seek treatment.

Given that alcohol is commonplace in our society, how do you know when alcohol has become a problem?

Alcohol metabolizes in everyone differently, making the amount of alcohol needed to overdose different from person to person. Those struggling with the disease of addiction may see as though they can drink more due to developing a tolerance but the impact on the body is the same. Alcohol is a depressant, and as a person consumes it, they may notice that their movement, reaction time, and speech slow down. Aspects of a person’s physical, mental, and emotional functioning change. As a person drinks, their body works to metabolize it, but if too much is consumed too quickly, the body cannot keep up.

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Overdose

Alcohol poisoning can sometimes look like symptoms of being drunk, but it can have life-threatening consequences.

What to Look for if You Suspect an Alcohol Overdose

Signs and symptoms of an overdose include:

  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Abnormal breathing
  • Pale skin, sometimes with a blue tinge
  • Unconsciousness
  • Severe dehydration
  • Passing out
  • Hypothermia
  • Breathing stops
  • Heart attack
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Depending on the severity of a person’s addiction, detox can take a few days to several weeks to complete. Once this is complete, a person can then move into the next phase of treatment.

Alcohol withdrawal can be more challenging for some than others. Depending on how long the addiction has lasted, how frequent consumption is, and other individual factors, withdrawal can be a series of minor discomforts or a dangerous process.

can a person overdose on alcohol

If You Suspect Alcohol Poisoning

Depending on the severity of a person’s addiction, there are different treatment options to consider.

What to Do While You Wait for an Ambulance

  • Keep the person awake
  • Do not leave them alone
  • Keep them sitting up, not lying down, if possible
    • If a person must lie down, lay them on their side to prevent choking
  • Give them water if they are able to take it
  • Do not make them walk
  • Do not give them caffeine or more alcohol
  • If they are vomiting, help them
    • The gag reflex is impaired by alcohol poisoning, meaning a person can choke on their own vomit and may not be able to breathe
If you suspect an alcohol overdose, it is best to err on the side of caution. Even if you fear repercussions because the person is underage, the consequences of an overdose are far more severe.

An alcohol overdose should be treated in a medical environment. At a hospital, a person’s vitals can be monitored to ensure no further complications arise. Depending on the severity of the situation a person may need:

Fluids or medications provided intravenously (through a vein)
Oxygen provided through a mask or tube
Nutrients to prevent further damage from occurring

Preventing an Alcohol Overdose

It’s important to recognize that alcohol addiction is in fact a chronic brain disease and is best treated under the supervision of medical and mental health professionals.

Alcohol consumption is largely normalized in pop culture and the media sometimes glamorizes overconsumption. It is often depicted as a normal social behavior with fun outcomes, but is rarely shown to produce dangerous outcomes. For young adults and adolescents especially, this misrepresentation can put a person in a life-threatening situation.

Education about the risks of alcohol consumption is vital in preventing alcohol poisoning. Understanding the risks associated with overconsumption can help reduce instances of overdose and help prepare others to intervene should a life-threatening situation occur. Alcohol poisoning can be treated, but in some cases, may leave a person with permanent damage. A person’s outlook greatly depends on identifying the signs of an overdose quickly and seeking treatment immediately.\

For those struggling with alcoholism or alcohol abuse, alcohol treatment is the best option for them. After a medical detox in most instances, long-term treatment can be incredibly effective.

If you are considering treatment for yourself or a loved one, call us today.

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