Recognizing and Responding to Alcohol Poisoning

Hundreds of people die each year from acute alcohol intoxication, more commonly known as alcohol poisoning or alcohol overdose. Alcohol poisoning happens when someone is drinking too much too quickly within a limited amount of time. It often occurs wherever heavy drinking takes place. Knowing the signs and symptoms of acute alcohol intoxication and the proper action to take can help you avoid a tragedy.

Alcohol (a depressant drug), once ingested, works to slow down some of the body’s functions including heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. When the vital centers have been depressed enough by alcohol, unconsciousness occurs. The amount of alcohol that it takes to produce unconsciousness is dangerously close to a fatal dose. People who survive alcohol poisoning sometimes suffer irreversible brain damage.

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning

  • Unconsciousness or semi-consciousness
  • Slow respirations (breaths) of eight or less per minute, or lapses between respirations of more than eight seconds.
  • Cold, clammy, pale, or bluish skin.

In the event of alcohol poisoning, these signs and symptoms will most likely be accompanied by a strong odor of alcohol. While these are obvious signs of alcohol poisoning, the list is certainly not all inclusive.

Appropriate Action
in an Emergency

If you encounter a person who exhibits one or more of the signs and symptoms, do what you would do in any medical emergency: Call 911 immediately. While waiting for 911 emergency transport, gently turn the intoxicated person on his/her side and maintain that position by placing a pillow in the small of the person’s back. This is important to prevent aspiration (choking) should the person vomit. Stay with the person until medical help arrives.