Can a Person Overdose on Alcohol?

In today’s society, drinking alcohol is a cultural norm. Alcohol is everywhere we look—at events, parties, in magazines, and on TV screens.

However, it’s important to remember that alcohol is indeed a drug. In fact, alcohol is one of the most widely consumed addictive substances.

Alcohol is largely normalized in pop culture, and the media often glamorizes overconsumption. Drinking is 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 negate the harmful effects of alcohol.

Given that alcohol is commonplace in our society, it’s important for people to recognize when their alcohol use has become a problem. Oftentimes, people who abuse alcohol don’t realize it’s an issue until it starts to affect important aspects of their life.

Alcohol Abuse in the United States

Alcohol abuse is very common among all age groups.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), about 14.4 million adults age 18 and older have an alcohol use disorder (AUD). It’s estimated that 401,000 adolescents between the ages of 12-17 struggle with an AUD.

Binge drinking and heavy alcohol consumption can lead to a number of short- and long-term health issues. But many people don’t know that alcohol is the third-leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Over 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes every year.

Research has shown that gender also plays a role in alcoholism. Men are significantly more likely to abuse alcohol, but women experience more severe side effects. Roughly the same number of men and women with an AUD seek professional treatment, but the number is extremely low. Only about 8% of adults ever get treatment for an AUD.

Can You Overdose on Alcohol?

Many people think that alcohol and drugs are in separate categories. In reality, alcohol is just another type of addictive drug, like cocaine or heroin. It’s entirely possible to overdose on alcohol, although it’s usually referred to as alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol poisoning is very serious, and it usually happens when someone’s blood alcohol content (BAC) reaches .25% or higher. On average, six people die of alcohol poisoning every day in the United States. Roughly 3 in 4 people who die of alcohol poisoning are adults between the ages of 35-64.

Alcohol poisoning occurs when someone consumes too much alcohol and it overloads their system. When a person drinks alcohol, it affects their central nervous system and causes everything to slow down, including their organs. Eventually, the liver stops being able to metabolize all the alcohol in the stomach, and it accumulates in other parts of the body.

Alcohol metabolizes in everyone’s body differently, making the amount of alcohol needed to overdose different from person to person. Factors like age, weight, tolerance, pre-existing health conditions, and recent food intake can contribute to a person’s alcohol overdose risk.

Alcohol poisoning can sometimes look like symptoms of being drunk, but it can have life-threatening consequences. The common signs of alcohol overdose include:

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

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

Treating an Alcohol Overdose

Alcohol poisoning can be treated, but in some cases, it 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.

Unlike having too many drinks, a true alcohol overdose needs to be treated at a hospital by a doctor. Medical professionals will monitor the person until their BAC levels drop and administer IV fluids for hydration. In serious cases, a person may need to have their stomach pumped through a tube that runs down their nose or throat.

Some people who overdose on alcohol are left with long-term consequences, including brain and liver damage. Excessive drinking, even when it doesn’t lead to an overdose, has been shown to increase a person’s risk of developing chronic conditions like cancer, dementia, and heart disease.

Overcoming Alcohol Addiction

It’s possible to overdose on alcohol without being an alcoholic. However, if your drinking habits have become life-threatening, it’s a good idea to get professional treatment. People who do struggle from a serious AUD usually benefit from starting their treatment in a medical detox setting.

Alcohol withdrawal is more challenging for some people than others. Depending on the severity of a person’s addiction, the detox process can take a few days to several weeks. The side effects of alcohol withdrawal can range from minor to severe based on how long the addiction has lasted, how frequent consumption is, and other individual factors.

After medical detox, the person can move into their next phase of treatment, which is typically a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP). At this point, the person will receive treatment at a facility most days of the week. PHP programming focuses heavily on individual and group therapy, but may also include holistic therapies and case management.

The next phase of treatment for alcohol abuse is an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). At Nexus Recovery, our IOP is designed to help clients build a solid foundation for themselves and learn how to deal with everyday stressors without alcohol.

Eventually, clients moves into our less intensive Outpatient Program, which meets just several days per week, and allows the client to transition fully back into their school, home, or work life. Clients continue to meet with a therapist and psychiatrist during outpatient treatment, but the main focus is accountability and peer support.

Alcoholism is a serious disorder that can be life-threatening. If you or someone you love is struggling with alcoholism, contact our team today. We offer a free and confidential consultation to help you learn more about the services we offer, so you can decide if Nexus is the place for you.

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