Alcohol poisoning, also known as alcohol overdose, occurs from excessive drinking within a short time. In an article on alcohol abuse, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism explained, “Alcohol poisoning occurs when there is so much alcohol in the bloodstream that areas of the brain controlling basic life-support functions—such as breathing, heart rate, and temperature control—begin to shut down.”

A person who drinks too much and passes out increases his or her risk of asphyxiation from vomiting. Alcohol affects the nerves that control breathing and the gag reflex and excessive alcohol stops these functions. When a person stops drinking or is passed out, the alcohol that was consumed continues to circulate in the bloodstream.

Some signs of alcohol poisoning are slowed breathing, seizures, confusion, vomiting, and low body temperature. An alcohol overdose can lead to permanent brain damage. Binge drinking, which is popular among college students, can be fatal, even without the person losing consciousness. Those at risk of alcohol poisoning are people who struggle with alcoholism, college students, and those who take medication.

If you suspect that someone has alcohol poisoning, seek immediate medical care:

  • Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Never assume the person will sleep off alcohol poisoning.
  • Provide information. If you know, tell hospital or emergency personnel the kind and amount of alcohol the person drank, and when.
  • Stay with an unconscious person. Alcohol poisoning affects the gag reflex, so someone with alcohol poisoning may choke on his or her own vomit and not be able to breathe.
  • Help a person who is vomiting. Try to keep him or her sitting up. If the person must lie down, make sure to turn his or her head to the side to prevent choking.

Alcohol poisoning is life threatening and requires urgent medical treatment. If your friend or loved one is drinking too much or exhibiting the signs of alcohol overdose, do not be afraid to seek help. He or she might be angry with you, but ultimately you can save his or her life.

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