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Everything You Need to Know About Alcohol Poisoning

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When you think of poisoning, several things may come to mind.

Keep bleach out of children’s reach.
Don’t let cats eat household plants.
Store medicine away from kids and pets.

These are all good tips – especially when you consider around 700 children die in the U.S. as a result of poison every year. But guess what? One type of poison kills three times that many adults each and every year.

It’s true – over 2,100 Americans die every year from alcohol poisoning.

And this condition is 100% preventable.

Here’s what you need to know.

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What is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning occurs when you flood your body with more alcohol than it can handle. This happens when you drink more than your body’s systems can process in a short period of time.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work: Your stomach digests and absorbs the alcohol you swallow. The alcohol enters your bloodstream. Your liver then starts to break down the alcohol.

But…if you drink too much alcohol at once, your body can’t keep up. Your liver can’t break down toxins (like alcohol) that fast, so it becomes overwhelmed. The alcohol remains in your bloodstream, pushing your blood alcohol content to dangerous levels. It starts to affect your body’s systems, including heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. As you continue to drink, the situation continues to decline. You’ll get sick. And you could even die.

How Does Someone Get Alcohol Poisoning?

People don’t get alcohol poisoning by having one beer with their pizza or one glass of wine with their pasta. It happens with binge drinking.

It’s considered binge drinking if you have more than four drinks within two hours (for women) or more than five drinks within two hours (for men). And while you may think of college parties and crazy teenage stunts, the startling fact is that alcohol poisoning is most common in adults aged 35 to 64.

What Are the Signs of Alcohol Poisoning?

Since it can be a life-threatening condition, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of alcohol poisoning.

Common signs include:

  • A strong alcohol odor
  • Difficulty remaining conscious
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Irregular breathing
  • Hypothermia (pale and cool to touch)
  • Blackouts
  • Confusion
  • Slow response
  • Lack of coordination
  • Bladder control issues
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Choking

What Should You Do in the Case of Alcohol Poisoning?

If you notice any of these symptoms of alcohol poisoning, act quickly. Without treatment, the poisoning can cause system shutdowns, brain damage, and death. Call 911 or get the person to an emergency room.

If you’re waiting for responders to arrive, try to keep the person conscious. If this isn’t possible, place them on their side to prevent choking if they vomit.

If they remain conscious, give them water to help rehydrate their body. It’s also good to keep them warm to counter the hypothermia, so try to cover them with a blanket if possible.

Once medical professionals are involved, they can treat alcohol poisoning in several ways:

Medical staff can provide IV fluids to balance out blood sugar levels and treat dehydration. If the person is struggling with breathing, oxygen can be provided. Providers may also pump the person’s stomach to remove some of the toxins.

In severe cases, dialysis may be used to help filter alcohol from the person’s body.

What Increases Your Risk?

Anyone is at risk of alcohol poisoning if they binge drink. But, several things can increase your risk, making it more likely that you will experience alcohol poisoning.

  • You’re small in stature
  • Your overall health is poor
  • You haven’t eaten recently
  • You combine alcohol with other drugs
  • You choose drinks that have a high alcohol percentage
  • You have a low tolerance for alcohol

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What Decreases Your Risk?

Moderation: Remember, alcohol poisoning is easy to prevent. Simply drink in moderation, if at all. And what is “moderation?” If you’re a healthy adult, drinking in moderation means no more than one drink per day for women of any age and for men over the age of 65; no more than two drinks per day for men under 65.

Taking it slow: If you do decide to have an alcoholic beverage, drink it slowly. Give your body time to process the alcohol.

Eating something: If you have food in your stomach, it will help slow the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream. That means you should try not to drink on an empty stomach. But also keep in mind that eating while binge drinking will not prevent alcohol poisoning.

Getting treatment: If you or a loved one receive treatment for alcohol poisoning, seek follow-up care. Take steps to avoid future binge drinking and the risks that come along with it.

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