In this article
Alcohol intoxication describes the physical and mental effects of drinking too much alcohol. These include:
The level of intoxication depends on how much alcohol has been consumed.
Also known as drunkenness, alcohol intoxication is the negative behavior and physical effects caused by drinking alcohol.
These effects typically start to occur when alcohol reaches a certain percentage of a person's bloodstream, known as their blood alcohol content (BAC).
Most states legally define alcohol intoxication as having a BAC of 0.08% or above.8
Over 3 million people use BetterHelp. Their services are:
Answer a few questions to get started
Acute alcohol intoxication is also known as alcohol poisoning. This is a more severe form of intoxication.
Effects can include:
Acute intoxication is life-threatening.
In extreme cases, serious breathing issues can occur.8 Other dangers include a higher risk for injury from fights or accidents.
A major cause of acute alcohol intoxication is binge drinking. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 25.8% of Americans have engaged in binge drinking in the past.2
Binge drinking is five or more standard drinks in two hours for men. For women, it's four or more. An example of a standard drink is 12 fluid ounces of regular beer or 8-9 fluid ounces of malt liquor.
When people drink alcohol, it passes through the stomach and into the small intestine. From there, it passes into the bloodstream. This raises their blood alcohol content.
Blood alcohol content is the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream. In every U.S. state (besides Utah— which is .05%), the legal definition of alcohol intoxication is a BAC of 0.08% or above.8
The amount of alcohol consumed is not the only factor in determining BAC.
Other factors include:
Signs of alcohol intoxication include:
If you are concerned about someone with these symptoms, you should seek immediate medical attention.
A person may or may not appear intoxicated at this stage.
The person is more confident, friendly, impulsive, and has a shorter attention span. This person may or may not be legally intoxicated at this point.
An intoxicated person at this stage may show slowed reaction times, reduced memory, blurred vision, and a lack of coordination. They will almost certainly appear intoxicated.
A person here is highly intoxicated.
Significant impairments to balance and reflexes may also occur.
A person at this stage can barely move or stand, is prone to vomiting, and may slip in and out of consciousness. The chance of an alcohol overdose is very high here, and medical help should be sought immediately.
Death can occur over a BAC of .40%.
This is close to a fatal dose. The intoxicated person has lost consciousness and is struggling to breathe properly. Their heart rate has likely slowed as well, and their body temperature is dropping dangerously low.
This is a medical emergency.
When a person drinks this much, the body’s autonomic nervous system (ANS) shuts down. The ANS is responsible for breathing, heartbeat, circulation, digestion, and other vital functions.
If you believe someone is significantly intoxicated, the first thing to do is to remove any additional alcohol from their immediate surroundings so they can't continue to drink.
If you believe someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning, seek immediate medical attention.
While you wait, make sure the intoxicated person remains upright and awake. They should also be given water if possible and kept warm.
A doctor can diagnose intoxication by checking the patient’s blood alcohol content levels. Low blood sugar is another sign of possible alcohol poisoning.
BAC and blood sugar levels can both be checked with a simple blood or urine test.
Emergency medical attention for alcohol poisoning may involve the following:
Alcohol poisoning can lead to a variety of serious complications, including:
Patients should be carefully monitored after being treated and stabilized as their vital functions return to normal. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are possible.
Some signs to watch for include decreased mood and appetite, memory problems, headache, and fatigue. Usually, full recovery takes a couple of days.
Medical care professionals treating patients for alcohol poisoning should check for possible Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).
People at risk of AUD:
Diagnosis is based on interviews and questionnaires, not on lab tests. If this occurs, addiction treatment is required.
Alcohol addiction can have deadly consequences, including:
Peer-reviewed studies correlate drinking alcohol early in life to substance abuse involving other drugs, including marijuana and cocaine.11
Over 95,000 Americans die each year from excessive alcohol consumption.9
Heavy alcohol use is a leading cause of death across all ages, accounting for 3.8% of all deaths worldwide.5
There are many treatment options available for alcohol use disorder (AUD) and addiction, including:
Inpatient treatment takes place at a licensed residential treatment center.
These programs provide 24/7 comprehensive, structured care. You'll live in safe, substance-free housing and have access to professional medical monitoring.
The first step of an inpatient program is detoxification. Then behavioral therapy and other services are introduced. These programs typically last 30, 60, or 90 days, sometimes longer. After this, if the person still needs care, they will require a different type of program such as a longer term residential program.
Most programs help set up your aftercare once you complete the inpatient portion of your treatment.
Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) provide similar services to inpatient programs. Services include medical care, behavioral therapy, and support groups, along with other customized therapies.
However, in a PHP program, you return home to sleep. Some services provide food and transportation, but services vary by program.
PHPs accept new patients as well as people who have completed an inpatient program of 1 to 2 weeks but still need focused recovery care.
Outpatient treatment is less intensive than inpatient or partial hospitalization programs.
These programs organize your treatment session based on your schedule. The goal of outpatient treatment is to provide therapy, education, and support in a flexible environment.
They are best for people who have a high motivation to recover and cannot leave their responsibilities at home, work, or school. Outpatient programs are often part of aftercare programs once you complete an inpatient or PHP program. For outpatient treatment to be effective, the person needs to have a stable home situation that is supportive of recovery.
Sometimes medications may be used in alcohol addiction treatment.
Some medicines can help manage withdrawal symptoms.
FDA-approved medications for MAT alcohol abuse include:
When combined with other evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), MAT can help prevent relapse and increase your chance of recovery.
Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Self-Management And Recovery Training (SMART) are open to anyone with a substance use disorder.
They are peer-led organizations dedicated to helping each other remain sober. Support groups can be the first step towards recovery or part of a long-term aftercare plan.
In this article