Over 80,000 people die each year in the United States because of alcohol poisoning, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Alcohol poisoning occurs when an individual consumes large amounts of alcohol in a short time frame. For instance, binge drinking, which is the main reason for alcohol poisoning, is rapidly consuming more than five drinks in a row. The body absorbs the alcohol from the small intestine and stomach where it travels to the bloodstream.
What Is Alcohol Poisoning?
Alcohol is a depressant; thus, it affects the body by slowing functions down. When there is an excessive amount of alcohol in a person’s system, the nerves that control involuntary actions, like gag reflex which prevents choking, and breathing become impeded. Breathing slows to less than eight breaths per minute. In fact, a person can have irregular breathing which is a gap of 10 seconds or more between breaths. That’s why a fatal dose of alcohol can stop these involuntary actions altogether.
A person’s skin turns a bluish color or pale; the body temperature decreases. This is called hypothermia. The individual becomes mentally confused or in a stupor and could pass out, go into a coma, or become in a state where they can’t be roused awake. These are all symptoms of alcohol poisoning.
It’s common for a person with alcohol poisoning to vomit. Alcohol irritates the stomach. However, with a depressed gag reflex there is a possibility of asphyxiation or choking.
Unfortunately, all the symptoms don’t occur. For instance, an individual may have irregular breathing, but no hypothermia, slow breathing, but no mental confusion. That’s why it’s important not to wait until all alcohol poisoning symptoms are present to seek help.
When Alcohol Poisoning Symptoms Go Untreated
When left untreated, alcohol poisoning symptoms have a devastating effect. An individual can choke on their own vomit. Breathing can slow to a halt. The heart starts beating irregularly until it stops. These instances can lead to death.
Even if the person survives, other health problems can occur. For example, hypoglycemia, which is too little blood sugar in the body, can happen. It may cause a person to have seizures. Vomiting can lead to dehydration. When severe dehydration develops, a person can have seizures or permanent brain damage.
How Alcohol Poisoning Happens
A standard alcoholic beverage in the United States contains about 0.6 ounces or 14.0 grams of pure alcohol. This means about one and one half tablespoons of pure alcohol are in a drink. Unlike food that takes hours to digest, alcohol is quickly absorbed through the body. For instance, it takes about an hour for the liver to process one alcoholic beverage such as a 12 ounce-glass of beer. The body takes a longer time to process and get rid of mixed alcoholic drinks. The time frame can vary from person to person depending on factors like weight.
Although alcohol absorbs quickly, the body doesn’t rid itself of the alcohol just as quickly. That’s why a person can overload their system by drinking too much alcohol in a short period of time. The overload of alcohol causes one or more of the alcohol poisoning symptoms to develop.
Risk Factors that Increase the Chances of Alcohol Poisoning
Consuming large amounts of alcohol isn’t the only reason why people suffer symptoms of alcohol poisoning. There are many factors that can increase a person’s chance of alcohol poisoning. These risk factors include, but aren’t limited to:
- Sex- Males are more likely to develop alcohol poisoning, but females aren’t exempt from drinking an excessive amount of alcohol.
- Drug Use- Alcohol in combination with drugs (even prescription medications) greatly increases the risk of developing alcohol poisoning symptoms or fatal alcohol overdose.
- Weight and Size- The thinner and smaller a person is, the quicker the body absorbs alcohol. This makes anyone susceptible to developing alcohol poisoning. A small child could show alcohol poisoning symptoms after drinking mouthwash.
- Tolerance Level- Individuals who regularly drink alcohol develop a higher tolerance to alcohol. However, they are still susceptible to alcohol poisoning symptoms.
- Food Consumption- Drinking on an empty stomach quickens alcohol absorption.
Teen Drug and Alcohol Statistics
Another increased risk factor is age. More than 4,700 teens die each year from illicit drugs and drinking, according to the CDC. Although drinking alcoholic beverages is illegal for anyone under 21 years old, it is a major problem in the United States. According to the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 22 percent of high school students surveyed had participated in binge drinking in the past 30 days.
However, a surprising fact is that binge drinking among college students and teens is a myth. According to the Mayo Clinic, the majority of alcohol poisoning deaths happen to people 35 to 54 years old. As a person ages, his body doesn’t process alcohol as quickly as it once did. Thus, he may believe he can drink a large amount of alcohol as he did in his 20s, but it’s untrue.
Excessive Drinking and Alcohol Poisoning
Excessive alcohol consumption is the third leading cause of lifestyle related deaths in the United States. According to the CDC, in 2006 there were 1.2 million emergency room visits and 2.7 million physician office visits in the United States due to excessive drinking.
Drinking alcohol can be a fun way to pass the time, but can have major health consequences. Many people who develop alcohol poisoning symptoms don’t intend to excessively drink. They could be drinking to cope with personal problems or because of loneliness, and drink too much. Even if they do intend to drink a large amount of alcohol, they aren’t thinking about the dangerous and potentially fatal consequences. For instance, binge drinking among teens is often done on a dare or bet.
Regardless of the reason alcohol poisoning happens, it’s best to seek immediate medical attention. Excessive drinking can be hazardous to anyone’s health and future. Even if death doesn’t occur, there could be irreversible damage to one’s health. If a person is drinking excessively and cannot quit on their own, he or she should seek professional treatment at an alcohol rehab.