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Updated on September 19, 2023
7 min read

Understanding Alcohol Poisoning: Symptoms and Dangers

What Is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning occurs when there’s too much alcohol in your blood. It often happens when you drink alcohol faster than your body can process. 

When excessively consumed, isopropyl (rubbing alcohol), methanol, and ethylene glycol can cause life-threatening consequences. Because alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, experiencing alcohol poisoning can affect the brain and nervous system.


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What BAC Level Is Considered Alcohol Poisoning?

A blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.250% to 0.399% is considered alcohol poisoning. BAC measures the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream and describes the effects of different BAC levels. 

A person’s BAC level is affected by:

  • Amount of alcoholic beverages consumed
  • Weight
  • Gender
  • Drinking patterns
  • Genetics

BAC levels can continue to spike even when a person stops drinking or is unconscious. Alcohol in the stomach and intestine can continue to enter the bloodstream, circulating throughout the body.

Severe Effects of High BAC Levels (Alcohol Poisoning)

When BAC reaches high levels, the following can occur:

  • Blackouts
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Alcohol poisoning deaths

Heavy alcohol use can affect brain signals that control automatic responses, including the gag reflex. Someone experiencing an alcohol overdose or is passed out may choke on their own vomit.

They may also die from asphyxiation (lack of oxygen). Even if someone survives asphyxiation, they may suffer from permanent brain damage.

Testing for Alcohol Poisoning

Medical professionals assess physical symptoms, check vital signs, and review medical history to test for alcohol poisoning.

Other standard methods of assessment include:

  • Blood tests
  • Breathalyzer tests
  • Urine tests
  • Assessment of symptoms
  • Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS)

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Who Is at Risk of Alcohol Poisoning?

Anyone who drinks too much alcohol is at risk of alcohol poisoning. However, you are more likely to experience alcohol poisoning under the following circumstances:

  • Indulging in heavy drinking
  • Developed an alcohol tolerance and need higher amounts of alcohol to get drunk
  • Have preexisting health conditions
  • Have received previous addiction treatment and have relapsed or are experiencing withdrawal symptoms 
  • Taking other drugs
  • Have not eaten
  • Are a highly impressionable teenager or young adult

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What Happens to Your Body When You Have Alcohol Poisoning?

When you have alcohol poisoning, the bloodstream becomes so saturated that the body’s vital functions shut down. If you drink alcohol while taking prescription medications and illicit drugs, it can increase the risk of alcohol poisoning or overdose.

Alcohol poisoning affects the body by:

  • Slowing brain functions
  • Irritating the stomach and causing vomiting 
  • Preventing the gag reflex as muscles lose sensitivity and coordination
  • Affecting the nerves that control the heartbeat and breathing
  • Lowering blood sugar, leading to seizures 
  • Lowering body temperature, which can cause hypothermia 
  • Dehydrating the body, which can result in brain damage 
  • Causing an electrolyte imbalance, contributing to weakness and confusion
  • Suppressing the central nervous system, potentially leading to a coma

What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning?

The effects and symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Slowed reflexes and reaction time
  • Slurred speech
  • Memory troubles and blackouts
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of physical coordination
  • Passing out
  • Heart rate changes
  • Blood pressure changes
  • Irregular breathing
  • Mental confusion
  • Blue-tinged or pale skin
  • Clammy skin
  • Low body temperature or hypothermia
  • Stupor

Binge Drinking & Alcohol Poisoning 

Binge drinking often results in alcohol poisoning. Binge drinking occurs when someone consumes too many alcoholic beverages too quickly. 

Binge drinking is a drinking pattern that raises BAC to .08% or higher. It’s defined as:

  • A woman consuming at least 4 drinks in 2 hours
  • A man consuming 5 or more drinks in 2 hours

Drinking such significant alcohol quantities can inhibit the body’s ability to break down and clear alcohol from the bloodstream, significantly affecting the brain and other bodily functions.

Teenagers and young adults are particularly at risk for binge drinking and alcohol abuse. College students often engage in binge drinking and high-intensity drinking.

Treatment for Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is a medical emergency, and you should call 911 immediately. If someone has alcohol poisoning, don’t leave them alone.

Take precautionary measures to keep them from sustaining injuries or choking on their vomit before 911 arrives:

  • Keep them sitting upright on the ground
  • Help them lean forward and avoid choking if they are vomiting
  • Keep them awake as much as possible
  • Roll them to their left side with their ear on the ground to prevent choking while unconscious or lying down

Once at the hospital, you can expect:

  • Stomach pumping to prevent more alcohol from saturating the bloodstream
  • Intubation to open the airway and remove any blockages causing shallow or slow breathing
  • Intravenous fluids to top up water, blood sugar, and vitamin levels
  • Insertion of a catheter to drain urine directly into a bag

In most cases, people treated for alcohol poisoning have no long-term symptoms 1 year after the incident. However, if they experienced asphyxiation, they may have:

  • Permanent brain damage
  • Memory problems
  • Organ damage (liver, kidney, etc.)

Some may require addiction treatment following alcohol poisoning if they suffer from alcohol addiction.

What Is the Best Way To Get Rid of Alcohol Poisoning?

Always seek treatment as soon as possible. While the best alcohol poisoning treatment is immediate medical attention, you can prevent symptoms from worsening by:

  • Keeping warm, as alcohol can lower body temperature and potentially cause hypothermia
  • Staying hydrated with water unless you are dipping in and out of consciousness
  • Avoiding home remedies so as not to worsen symptoms or cause interactions

What Should You Avoid When Treating Alcohol Poisoning?

Knowing what not to do is as critical as knowing what to do to treat alcohol poisoning. Here is a list of things to avoid when someone drinks too much alcohol:

  • Drink more alcohol to “offset” the intoxication
  • Consume drinks with caffeine or sugar
  • Attempt to induce vomiting in case of choking

When Should You Go to the Hospital for Alcohol Poisoning?

You should go to the hospital for alcohol poisoning if you notice symptoms of alcohol overdose.

Alcohol overdose symptoms include:

  • Mental confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow heart rate
  • Clammy skin
  • Slow or irregular breathing (fewer than eight breaths per minute or 10 seconds or more between breaths)
  • Extremely low body temperature and blue skin

If you suspect someone is suffering from an alcohol overdose, do not try to ‘wake them up’ with a cold shower, coffee, or walking around.

When waiting for emergency help to arrive, prepare any known information for the responders, such as:

  • How much alcohol they drank
  • Other drugs in their system
  • Existing health issues
  • Allergies to medicine

Alcohol Poisoning Prevention

You can prevent alcohol poisoning with the following practices:

1. Drink Alcohol in Moderation

Men are advised not to have more than two drinks per day. Women should have only one drink, as their bodies metabolize alcohol differently.

2. Alternate with a Non-Alcoholic Drink

A glass of water or any other non-alcoholic and caffeine-free beverage can significantly slow down alcohol buildup in the body. Avoid coffee or other beverages with caffeine, as it can lead to further dehydration.

3. Never Drink on an Empty Stomach

Drinking on an empty stomach intensifies the side effects associated with alcohol. Alcohol consumption without eating anything beforehand quickly saturates the bloodstream. Thus, people who drink on an empty stomach get drunk fast.

4. Avoid Mixing Prescription Medications or Drugs 

Mixing prescription medication with alcohol can cause interactions. These can cause adverse effects.

The following medications are known to interact with alcohol:

  • Sedatives
  • Narcotics
  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotics
  • Pain medications
  • Hypertension medications
  • Diabetes medications
  • Cholesterol medications

5. Do Not Play Drinking Games with Beer Bongs and Funnels

Drinking games with beer bongs and funnels encourage participants to binge drink. Binge drinking leads to faster intoxication, and may even cause choking.

6. Know Each Drink’s Alcohol Content and Your Tolerance Levels

Generally, the standard alcohol content for each alcoholic beverage is as follows:

  • Beer: 12 oz has 5% alcohol
  • Malt liquor: 8 to 10 oz has 7% alcohol
  • Wine: 5 oz has 12% alcohol
  • Fortified wine: 3 to 4 oz has 17% alcohol
  • Cordial/liqueur/aperitif: 2 to 3 oz has 24% alcohol
  • Brandy or cognac: 1.5 oz has 40% alcohol
  • Distilled spirits: 1.5 oz has 40% alcohol


People with alcohol use disorder (AUD) are more at risk for alcohol poisoning. They tend to become less aware of how much alcohol they have ingested.

Even though their alcohol tolerance level is high, their blood alcohol levels may be dangerously high. If you start noticing alcohol poisoning signs in someone, seek medical help immediately. 

A person with signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning will require immediate medical care. Fortunately, alcohol use disorder is highly treatable. If you have high-risk factors, the best way to avoid alcohol poisoning is to get help and remain sober.

Updated on September 19, 2023
7 sources cited
Updated on September 19, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Overdose.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH), 2020.
  2. Blood alcohol level.” MedlinePlus, July 2020.
  3. Alcohol Use and Your Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  4. Blood alcohol concentration.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),
  5. “Drinking levels defined.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH).
  6. Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH), 2014.
  7. Alcohol poisoning.” National Health Service (NHS), 2019.
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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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