Alcohol Poisoning

1 What is alcohol poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning is a serious condition caused by an alcohol overdose, resulting in a life-threatening situation.

The levels of alcohol in the blood increase to a toxic amount. It may occur unintentionally, when someone drinks products containing alcohol. Patients may have shallow breathing and be confused or disoriented, sometimes even going into a coma stage.

It is a serious situation that requires immediate medical attention. If a patient is suspected to have alcohol poisoning, they should be taken to the doctor immediately.

Understanding the warning signals is crucial for seeking help at the right time.

2 Symptoms of alcohol poisoning

Signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning are:

  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Irregular breathing
  • Pale-bluish color of the skin
  • Hypothermia
  • Unconsciousness
  • Stupor

One should not wait to see all of these symptoms to seek medical help for a friend who is thought to have alcohol poisoning.

It is possible that a person with alcohol intoxication may choke to death on his or her own vomit, and hence it is important not to leave them alone.

Keeping the person in a sitting position or keeping their head to one side can prevent choking.

In some serious cases, breathing may stop completely. Severe dehydration may result in brain damage.

3 How alcohol poisoning occurs

The body can process one unit of alcohol per hour. When there is a heavy consumption of alcohol during a short duration, the liver, which is involved in filtering out alcohol from blood, cannot process all of it. This leads to the rise of BAC, also known as blood alcohol concentration. If the BAC level is high enough, alcohol poisoning occurs. Household drinks containing alcohol may be a source of alcohol poisoning especially to children.

4 Causes of alcohol poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is caused by consuming too many alcoholic beverages, or products that contain alcohol, within a short period of time.

The amount of alcohol absorbed by the stomach and intestines increases considerably, resulting in a toxic level of alcohol in the blood. The liver tries to break down alcohol as much as possible, and the rest of the alcohol is redirected into other parts of the body. Under normal conditions, the liver can process one ounce of alcohol in an hour. When the amount of alcohol increases, it may affect the functioning of different organs.

Mixed drinks take more time to process and have more levels of alcohol in one serving.

Some of the factors that increase the risk of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Age
  • Body weight
  • Tolerance
  • Certain health conditions
  • Drug abuse
  • Gender

Among different age groups, young adults have an increased chance of getting alcohol poisoning, and men are more likely to have symptoms than women are.

The absorption of alcohol depends on the body size. Symptoms affect people with a smaller body size more easily. A high tolerance increases the risk of poisoning.

Diabetes and drug abuse also increase the risk of an alcohol overdose.

5 What’s the outcome of alcohol consumption?

Around 1-2 units

  • There is an increased heart rate and blood vessels become dilated.
  • Increased body temperature and a tendency to be more social is associated with average drinking.

Between 4-6 units

  • Faulty judgments and poor decision-making often occurs and there is less fear of embarrassment, making one more reckless.
  • A dizzy or faint feeling kicks in as alcohol starts to affect the nerves.
  • There will be inability to control senses and perform physical activities skillfully. Reaction time may be slower.

Around 8-9 units

  • Reaction time may become much slower.
  • Speech will become less articulate.
  • Your eyesight begins to lose focus.
  • The liver does not manage to eliminate all alcohol, and you will wake up with unpleasant after-effects of alcohol consumption (veisalgia).

At this stage it is advisable not to take any more alcohol.

Around 10-12 units

  • There is lack of harmonized physical and mental body function, and this increases the risk of an accident.
  • There is unsteady movement of the body, especially when walking.
  • Lightheadedness is often experienced.
  • Blood alcohol concentration will begin rising to toxic levels.
  • Increased urge to go to the toilet as the body rapidly struggles to eliminate the alcohol from the body in the form of urine.
  • There will be severe loss of water from the body and you may wake up with a painful headache due to dehydration.
  • Upset of the digestive system will lead to gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea or vomiting.

More than 12 units

  • The risk of alcohol poisoning shoots up considerably, especially if you continue to consume large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time.
  • The autonomous nervous system is interfered with, and this may become life-threatening since it can interrupt breathing or the heart rate.
  • You become less and less aware of the events going on around you.

6 Advisable alcohol limits

Men and women who drink almost on a daily basis are counseled to spread their drinking sprees evenly throughout the week to reduce harming their health. They are also advised to not drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week.

7 Alcohol poisoning bac (BAC)

This is the most commonly used metric and representation of alcohol intoxication in the bloodstream for legal reasons. This is used to know if an individual is intoxicated by alcohol, especially when under laws barring such practices. In motorist regulation, BAC is expressed as a percentage of alcohol in the blood per volume. For example, 0.20%. All states have explicit BAC limits, and as stated by these laws, handling a vehicle while your BAC limit is above the stipulated one is illegal.

8 Making a diagnosis

The diagnosis of alcohol poisoning is usually based on symptoms, drinking habits, and family history.

Blood tests and urine tests are also suggested for checking the levels of alcohol in the blood.

Low blood sugar is another indicator of an alcohol overdose.

9 Differentiating a hangover and alcohol poisoning

There is a clear-cut difference between a hangover and alcohol poisoning, and knowing this can come out to be valuable in saving lives.

Hangover

A hangover can be described as an unpleasant reaction of a recent, slight overdose of alcoholic drinks in the body system. Normally it would be easier to recuperate from a hangover, although the seriousness of a hangover is determined by:

  • The sort of alcohol taken
  • If alcohol was taken alongside medication or other drugs
  • The quantity of alcohol consumed

Symptoms of a hangover will vary between individuals depending on their age, their general state of health and their resistance to alcohol. A hangover can last even up to 24 hours. Symptoms of a hangover include:

  • Severe painful headache
  • Heightened response to light
  • Sensitivity to sound of great intensity
  • A strong urge to vomit
  • Extreme exhaustion
  • Drowsiness and feeling unbalanced
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased thirst
  • Immoderate sweating

10 Treatment for alcohol poisoning

Supportive care for the person is very important during the treatment of alcohol poisoning. The patient is constantly monitored during this period.

Special care is taken to prevent choking and breathing problems, and an intravenous drip is given to prevent dehydration and also to regulate the amount of glucose and vitamins in the blood.

In some cases, the stomach is pumped to flush out the toxic materials.

For unintentional consumption of isopropyl alcohol or methanol, kidney dialysis is recommended to remove the toxic materials immediately.

11 Medical treatment of alcohol poisoning

At the hospital, alcohol poisoning victims will be closely watched until the level of alcohol in the blood subsides. If any treatment is required, it may include:

  • Inserting a tube through the mouth and trachea (intubation) to ease respiration and to remove any obstructions to breathing.
  • Increasing water, blood sugar and vitamin levels by an intravenous drip directly through a vein.
  • Draining urine from the bladder into a bag by use of a catheter to avoid wetting themselves.

12 Alcohol poisoning treatment to avoid at home

Giving a stimulant drink such as coffee is never a good solution. In fact, coffee can lead to a worsened state of dehydration. Caffeine and alcohol do not blend well, and it is misleading to reason that you are keeping the person wide awake while drunk.

Another thing to avoid is letting the victim sleep off the alcohol. When the person sleeps there will be no way of surveying internal consistency, and if you leave the person’s side he or she may throw up and choke on it.

Finally, giving more alcohol will not help either, and it is also bad logic since this cannot ease the trembling but might even harm the victim more by increasing BAC levels.

It is important to know that treating alcohol poisoning at home is not a wise decision, and professional medical treatment should be consulted. However, ‘drinking too much’ and ‘alcohol poisoning’ should not be confused, and being aware of the symptoms might actually save a life. If you are sure alcohol has spiked up to poisonous levels do not attempt home treatment but get emergency medical help.

13 Alcohol poisoning prevention

These simple steps help to prevent alcohol intoxication:

  • Avoid drinking on an empty stomach – food helps to slow down the absorption of alcohol.
  • Keep the alcohol levels moderate – drink moderate levels of alcohol and try to pace it.
  • Be aware of the dangers of alcohol intoxication.
  • Keep alcohol products out of reach – keep products with alcohol out of reach of children to avoid unintentional poisoning.
  • Adequate follow-up care – this helps to prevent binge drinking at a later stage in life.

14 Tips on wise alcohol consumption

  1. If you find that you mostly drink alcohol during certain times of the day, come up with other constructive activities like doing exercises at that moment instead. Always strive to reduce your overall consumption. Try to consider ordering natural drinks like water instead of alcohol in social gatherings. Try to avoid drinking alcohol for a specific number of days, and if this becomes strenuous, you may have addiction difficulties which may require professional help. Consult a health practitioner, counselor, doctor or try to look for Alcoholics Anonymous groups in your community. It is always difficult to give up a habit outright. Therefore, add a new healthy activity into your lifestyle like walking or doing yoga. Talk to other people who have recovered from a similar addiction and ask if they picked up an additional activity to help quit.
  2. Try to examine yourself and how alcohol affects your life. In evaluating, look at:  Which emotions make you tend to drink more, when happy or sad? Does drinking help you be clear in expressing yourself? Do you mostly drink when around your peers? Can you address your emotional needs without necessarily depending on drinking? When you feel it is not the right time to drink, do you have the willpower to say no? No matter why you are drinking, alcohol is a dehydrating drink and having a drink or two in social events and balancing this with water to rehydrate is important.
  3. Over the centuries, alcohol has been the main celebratory beverage. Most communities used it in their rituals, ceremonies, and all kinds of celebration. However, nowadays some may find it necessary to drink on a daily basis for no apparent reason other than to escape their current state. If these cravings are not reduced, it may lead to many problems.
  4. Know the negative effects alcohol can have on your health. Drinking may tend to worsen existing medical conditions such as obesity or joint pains. Do hangovers also tend to worsen your work performance or keep you from doing things that you love? Alcohol tends to disrupt the normal life and in addition to that, it also leads to faulty judgment and performance. Alcohol is the major cause of traumatic traffic accidents involving innocent people. It also can be an avenue of ruining the existence of a healthy relationship with friends and family.
  5. There may be something positive about alcohol. It has been linked by doctors to decrease heart related diseases as it assists in raising HDL cholesterol which is good. However it raises general body cholesterol and trained dietitians will recommend against consuming it regularly. Alcohol is extremely addictive and it does require much effort, both emotionally and physically to be completely free and heal from such a habit. It can also cause health complications which are very costly to manage and are painful.

15 Lifestyle and coping

Lifestyle modifications, such as drinking alcohol in moderation, are necessary for controlling alcohol poisoning.

Be aware of the consequences of alcohol intake and alcohol poisoning.

16 Future management of the symptoms of alcohol poisoning

If there is a suspected case of alcohol poisoning, it is of the essence to seek medical help as soon as possible. The remedy will also be influenced by how serious the symptoms have developed in the victim.

Immediate alcohol poisoning treatment is important and can avoid serious complications, but still, alcohol overdose can cause neurologic symptoms such as seizures leading to brain damage if oxygen to the brain diminishes.

Managing to recover without many expected complications means that treatment will be much easier.

17 Alcohol poisoning complications

Alcohol poisoning results in a number of complications like:

  • Choking
  • Breathing difficulties and the stopping of breath
  • Dehydration
  • Brain damage
  • Coma
  • Death

18 Binge drinking

This habit involves consumption of excess alcohol in a span of a short time. For men, it is identified as having more than five drinks in less than a two-hour time limit. For women, it is defined as having four or more drinks within a two-hour period. Normally, after binge drinking, blood alcohol concentration will rise above 0.08% or even higher.

In the United States, binge drinking is a habit for adults above 26 years and it is estimated that they form almost 70% of dangerous binge drinking incidents. Binge drinking may require a less amount of alcohol for people who are undergoing medication before it reaches toxic levels.

Although binge drinking is not equal to alcohol drinking disorder (AUD), it does open the window for more alcohol-related disorders or an alcohol misuse problem. Serious health complications can develop if binge drinking leads to alcoholism.

Motives which lead to binge drinking

Even with plenty of research studies that show the effect of excessive alcohol consumption, the number of people who drink alcohol continues to increase. Although viewed as a fun pastime, it is harmful and can really cause a lot of damage to you and those around you.

The most common reasons why people binge drink include:

  • Stress relief and to forget the problems they face. After the desired effect is achieved, they still take alcohol to maintain the ‘stress free’ feeling.
  • Most social events, mostly parties, contain alcohol and influence some to start drinking. This can lead to a trend of drinking high amounts in a short period and cause alcohol dependency.
  • There are many numerous drinking games, and peers try to out-compete each other and more regularly, they do consume hazardous amounts of alcohol.
  • Some adolescents and young adults take alcohol to show defiance of authority or control and to confirm their independence from family or the community, in attempt to be seen as different and unique people.

19 Connection between the liver and alcohol

Functions of the liver include:

  • Elimination of toxins from blood
  • Assists in the breakdown and digestion of food
  • Controlling blood sugar and cholesterol levels
  • Helps the body fight infections and disease

Each time the liver filters alcohol, some liver cells die. Being able to withstand tough conditions, it will regenerate itself. Prolonged consumption of alcohol in large amounts will reduce the ability of the liver to generate new cells and can damage the liver permanently.

The number of United States citizens diagnosed with ARLD over the previous years has been increasing due to alcohol abuse.

20 Alcohol related liver disease (ARLD)

ARLD refers to damage caused by excessive alcohol intake. There are several stages in the buildup and severity of ARLD symptoms. Although there are no symptoms until the liver is badly damaged, they include:

  • Feeling unwell
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of the desire to eat
  • Jaundice (yellowness of eyes, skin and urine)
  • Swelling of ankles and the belly
  • Disarray and the sensation of being unstable
  • Traces of blood in vomit or in stools

When diagnosing for other conditions, ARLD may also be discovered, or when the liver has been severely damaged. If you frequently consume large amounts of alcohol it is important to regularly check if the liver has been damaged.

Stages of ARLD

There are three main stages which extend into each other:

1. Alcohol fatty liver disease

Continuous drinking of alcohol; even for a short period, can cause fats to accumulate in the liver. Fatty liver disease hardly causes symptoms, but it is an indication that the quantity of alcohol being taken is too much. Fatty liver disease can be reversed by abstaining from alcohol for at least two weeks.

2. Alcoholic hepatitis

Alcoholic hepatitis is not related to infectious hepatitis, however, is a serious condition caused by prolonged abuse of alcohol. It is the first indication that continuous alcohol consumption is damaging the liver. Alcoholic hepatitis can also be caused by binge drinking, although not always.

Mild alcoholic hepatitis can be reversed by bringing an end to taking alcohol indefinitely. Many people have died due to severe alcoholic hepatitis, and when they discover they have it, it usually is too late and irreversible.

3. Cirrhosis

Even at this stage, though the liver has been severely damaged, there may be no symptoms. Generally cirrhosis cannot be undone, but stopping drinking as soon as possible will help to prevent further damage to the liver. A person who drinks and has cirrhosis has a 50% chance of extending their life for more than five years.

Treatment of ARLD

Currently the best remedy is to stop drinking for the remaining part of your life since there is no effective medical treatment yet. This also reduces the risk of damaging the liver and also gives the best odds for recovering.

Stopping to drink alcohol may be difficult but it can be achieved by proper encouragement, advice and medical treatment from alcohol assistance centers available locally.

When you stop drinking and the liver still does not restore its normal functionality, a liver transplant is needed, especially in severe cases. You will only be referred for a liver transplant if you develop more complications of cirrhosis, even after stopping drinking. Before transplant it is vital not to drink, and also after the transplant has been successful you must not drink for the rest of your life.

21 When do you require medical help?

If there is a suspected case of alcohol poisoning, seek emergency medical services immediately. Some measures can be taken to stabilize the situation:

  • Try to maintain the victim’s alertness and keep him or her awake.
  • Keep the victim hydrated by giving fluids, especially water.
  • If unconscious, lay the person down on his or her side and check for vital signs such as proper breathing.
  • Maintain a consistent body temperature.
  • Keep the victim company until help arrives while monitoring the symptoms.

Never let the victim doze off since alcohol levels in blood can rise steadily, long after the last drink, making the alcohol poisoning symptoms more severe in an instant.

Do not attempt to give any stimulant drink or more alcohol, as these do not lessen alcohol intoxication levels and instead can be very perilous. It is better to take the person for a stroll or have him or her take a cold shower.

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