How Alcohol Poisoning Occurs
Alcohol poisoning is defined as the state of having a blood alcohol level that is high enough to cause impairments that put the individual at significant risk of death. This is not a precise definition, and the amount of alcohol that must be consumed to reach this point varies from person to person. The only constant is that any time alcohol poisoning is suspected, emergency services should be contacted immediately.
Alcohol is a depressant substance, meaning it slows heartbeat, reduces breathing rate, and lowers body temperature. If any of these symptoms becomes too severe, the victim will be in danger of permanent organ damage or death. At the same time, alcohol is notoriously hard on the liver and stomach. Even if a person survives, alcohol poisoning can result in liver damage. Overdose can also cause vomiting, and if the individual is unconscious and their gag reflex is depressed, this can result in choking or drowning.
Alcohol poisoning symptoms include:
- Low body temperature
- Slow or irregular breathing
- Bluish or pale skin
Bystanders should not hesitate if someone starts exhibiting any of these symptoms. Alcohol poisoning is incredibly dangerous, killing around six people in the US every day.
How Does It Happen?
Unfortunately, alcohol poisoning is not an uncommon occurrence. Alcohol binges have become very common features at parties attended by young people, particularly in high school and college. One of the features of the alcohol high is the lowering of inhibitions, meaning that someone who is already drinking is likely to drink more than they’d originally planned or ever would if their inhibitions hadn’t been impaired.
Young people are especially vulnerable to alcohol poisoning due to the fact that they’re often not as experienced with the substance and therefore don’t know how much they can handle. Each person responds differently to alcohol for a number of reasons.
- Body mass
- Body fat content
- Liver and kidney function
- Current hydration levels
- Tolerance level to alcohol
- How rapidly alcohol is ingested
In general, larger people with less body fat can drink more alcohol without risking severe inebriation. This means that women are often more vulnerable to alcohol poisoning than men as they are typically smaller and have a higher body fat percentage. Alcohol is absorbed into the body’s fat cells when the liver becomes overloaded, meaning it continues to affect the person rather than being flushed out of the system. Food in the system helps to absorb alcohol, so someone with an empty stomach is likely to get drunk much faster with less alcohol than someone who just ate, especially if the meal had a high fat content.
Alcohol poisoning can be a simple mistake, but it can also be an indication that an addiction is developing or already present. Especially if an overdose happens to someone who has been drinking heavily for some time, such a frightening experience is often a good time to look into addiction treatment options. Even if the individual doesn’t believe they have a full-blown addiction, the earlier someone is treated for this chronic disease, the better off that person will be.