Alcohol Overdose

By: NorthPoint Colorado

 

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The Risks of Alcohol Overdose/Alcohol Poisoning

If someone is showing signs of an alcohol overdose, call 911 immediately.

A birthday celebration, a graduation party, Super Bowl weekend, New Year’s Eve—there are many occasions in our life that we celebrate with alcohol. It’s natural to add cocktails to a special event, but it can get dangerous when the drinker consumes too much too quickly.

Alcohol overdoses are a huge issue in this country with an average of six people dying from alcohol poisoning each day. They can be especially dangerous when mixed with over-the-counter medication and other substances.

Binge drinking has serious side effects that can follow a person for a lifetime. It can only take one night of poor choices for something to go terribly wrong. Which is why it’s important to drink responsibly and stay educated on risks associated with alcohol consumption.

An overdose comes from continuous drinking after clear signs of significant impairment. This can have damaging effects on the brain and body for those who survive the overdose.
Unfortunately, not everyone is lucky enough to live to tell the tale.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a study on potential life lost from alcohol poisoning and reported a yearly average of over 95,000 deaths in the United States from excessive drinking — which averages to 261 deaths per day. Furthermore, the CDC concluded that alcohol-related death is the third-leading cause of preventable death in the United States.

Much of our research surrounding alcohol use disorder (the medical term for alcoholism) shows substantial mental, physical, social, and economic consequences of excessive drinking. High levels of alcohol consumption dulls the body’s responses by weakening our gag reflex, lowering body temperature, and affecting basic life-support functions. Severe cases of alcohol intoxication could result in hospitalization and long-term impairment.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reported that “the rate of all alcohol-related ED [emergency department] visits increased 47% between 2006 and 2014, which translates to an average annual increase of 210,000 alcohol-related ED visits.”

The stats also indicated that men accounted for more alcohol-related ED visits than women—however, the recent rise in numbers have shown that the gender gap is narrowing. Women reportedly suffer greater brain and organ damage from alcohol consumption in comparison to men. Yet still, men and women are affected equally when it comes to alcohol influenced biological and neurological factors—especially when those risks affect their future children.

Our history with alcohol addiction can have significant impacts on the generations that follow us. It’s vital that we learn the consequences of overdose and the many impacts it has on aspects of our life.

What Happens to Your Body When You Have Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol has become a key part of our celebrations and leisure activities. The heat of a summer day can be tempered by an ice cold beer. A glass of wine can put a more positive spin on a bad day. Guests at wedding receptions toast the newly married couple with champagne. And we liven the holidays by spicing up traditional eggnog recipes.

Alcohol is so normalized in our society that we sometimes forget the costs of excessive drinking. This can have dire consequences leading to binge drinking, addiction, and alcohol poisoning/overdose.

Binge Drinking, BAC, and Alcohol Poisoning/Overdose

The current literature on alcohol use disorder often interchanges the terms binge drinking, blood alcohol content (BAC), and overdose. As a result, we overlook the differences of these terms and risk misinterpreting their meanings. This can lead to a severe lack of understanding of the words used to discuss excessive alcohol misuse.

Understanding Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is a pattern of excessive alcohol consumption that results in the body’s BAC rising to dangerous levels. The CDC defines binge drinking as “consuming four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men on an occasion.”

Research by the CDC found that more than 38 million adults in the United States report binge drinking an average of four times a month. And “over 90% of U.S. adults who excessively drink, report binge drinking in the past 30 days”— which exposes them to the risk of alcohol poisoning. Prolonged binge drinking is dangerous and carries a high risk of developing into alcohol addiction.

Understanding BAC

Alcohol overdose is a condition where a toxic amount of alcohol has been quickly consumed by someone. This happens when BAC levels grow dangerously high (often one of the consequences of binge drinking). The affected person will find themself confused, disoriented, and no longer responding to their surroundings.

Stanford University defines BAC as the percent of alcohol or ethanol in a person’s bloodstream. A person who’s reached dangerous intoxication levels has a BAC of 0.25 or greater. This is usually the stage where the drinker progresses from mental confusion and loss of motor control to passing out and respiratory failure.

The NIAAA warns that “BAC can continue to rise even when a person is unconscious. Alcohol in the stomach and intestine will continue to enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body.” This is why we must never assume a person who has passed out can fight off the risks of alcohol poisoning with bedrest.

It’s important to look out for any notable symptoms of high BAC. Learning about the signs of danger can keep you and your loved ones safe. Some of the most critical ones include:

  • Severe dehydration
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Inability to wake up
  • Slow breathing (less than 8 breaths per minute)
  • Irregular breathing (10 seconds more between each breath)
  • Lowered heart rate
  • Blackouts
  • Memory lapses
  • Bluish or pale skin
  • Temporary amnesia (loss of memory)

Understanding Alcohol Poisoning/Overdose

Heavy alcohol consumption irritates the stomach lining, triggering the body’s reaction to vomit. However, when BAC levels grow higher, the body’s automatic responses (like our gag reflexes) shut down. This places the drinker at risk of unintentionally drinking past their limit, resulting in:

  • Choking on vomit (which could lead to death by suffocation)
  • Irregular or halted breathing (potentially from inhaling vomit into the lungs)
  • A comatose state — a second side effect of a lack of oxygen throughout the body

Alcohol overdose occurs when the body’s intoxication levels have caused areas of the brain to collapse. An overdose (especially one resulting from a mix of alcohol and medication) can increase the chances of brain damage or death. Anyone at this level of alcohol poisoning requires immediate medical attention.

Alcohol’s Effects on the Central Nervous System

Alcohol can have significant effects on the central nervous system (CNS, the system responsible for navigating our five senses and cognitive/motor function). As a depressant, alcohol slows down various areas of the brain, thereby altering the CNS.

Brain activity decreases as the body’s BAC grows higher. Messages travel slowly throughout the mind, causing slurred speech, visual impairment, and declining motor coordination. These symptoms get worse as the alcohol levels rise within the body.

Even the smallest amount of alcohol consumption can be dangerous for anyone recovering from addiction. It’s very important to be mindful of your personal history, tolerance, and reactions to alcohol in settings where it’s present.

 

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What Can Happen If You Drink Too Much

Immediate Risks

Excessive drinking disables a person’s motor coordination, decision making, impulse control, and other vital functions. This could result in:

  • Lowered self-restraint
  • Constant falling
  • Violent behavior
  • Hangovers

How bad these symptoms will be depends on several factors:

  • The person’s weight, height, and sex
  • The amount of food they consumed prior to drinking
  • How quickly they drank
  • What their tolerance levels are
  • What kind of alcoholic beverages they were drinking

Remember, the short-term effects of alcohol consumption can increase certain health risks. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that “heavy alcohol use is known to increase heart disease, stroke, cancer, gastrointestinal problems, and is the leading cause of liver transplantation.”

Thankfully, there are ways to manage the severity of these symptoms with steady food and fluid intake in between drinks. Water gives the liver time to process alcohol in the body and restore hydration levels. And food slows down alcohol processing by hindering its pace toward the small intestine.

Long-Term Risks

The long-term effects of consistent binge drinking are harder to battle. Alcoholism can put you at high risk for:

  • High blood pressure
  • Mouth, liver, or breast cancer
  • Long-term memory loss — could lead to dementia
  • Nerve damage
  • Organ failure
  • Risk of a sexually transmitted infection
  • Risk of an unintended pregnancy
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome — a brain disorder caused by a thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency

Long-term misuse places you at a greater risk for many kinds of health conditions. It can even have severe social implications — ruining close relationships and feeding into mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Alcohol has also historically been linked to financial trouble, domestic violence, and child abuse.

Risks of Underage Drinking

There’s an alarming amount of evidence suggesting that drinking alters adolescent brain development and causes long-term cognitive (thinking and reasoning) defects. The brain’s vulnerability to substance use makes it defenseless against the effects of overdose.

Alcohol’s influence over teen minds can have drastic social and health impacts. Sometimes, it results in long-term physical, emotional, and psychological consequences. Other times, it can bring their families closer to the loss of a loved one.

Teens often feel compelled to drink from a combination of stress, anxiety, and physical/emotional changes. There are also a large list of outside pressures that act as motivators for excessive alcohol use in adolescents, which is why it’s important to provide students with safe spaces and tools to combat drug use in high school.

Teenage impulse control is underdeveloped, making them vulnerable to drug use. The effects of drinking can lead to impaired driving and fatal car crashes (a leading cause of teen death). The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) discovered in 2011 that the majority of underage alcohol-related deaths were due to other fatal accidents, murders, and suicides.

Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System

The CDC’s data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) measures six different health-related categories covering violence, sexual activity, drug use, dietary practices, and physical activity.

It was discovered in 2019 that adolescent drinking numbers have declined. However, youth substance use is still common among students as teens are now finding new ways to enable their drug use. The data varies from state to state, providing insight into substance misuse behavior in high schools across the United States.

The YRBSS 2019 report shows that one in three students consumes alcohol, one in seven participates in binge drinking, and one in 14 mixes alcohol with opioids. Research also shows that minority teens have a greater chance of excessive alcohol use in their teen years.

Females show higher rates of alcohol and prescription opioid misuse. The results of why were unclear yet suggested that higher risks of suicidal thoughts, depression, physical pain, and cancer were some amongst the many influences for substance use behavior.

While there was no clear pattern established as to why, the study further discovered that race, background, and sexual identity influenced drug use in highschool students. Therefore, it’s vital to include prevention methods tailored to student struggles surrounding societal pressures.

Teen Drinking and Driving

Teen drinking can also lead to reckless driving, putting the drinker at risk of getting into fatal car crashes. The FTC 2011 stats on the dangers of teen drinking state that 43% of underage hospital emergency visits were due to alcohol use.

Alcohol is one of the most widely used drugs in the United States—especially amongst America’s youth. Driving can be liberating as a new sense of responsibility is placed on highschool sophomores, juniors, and seniors. But driving drunk grossly misuses that responsibility and places everyone in the car at risk.

Thankfully, the percentage of teen drunk driving has significantly dropped since the early 2000s. However, the CDC reports teens are still three times more likely than adult drivers to get into accidents.

Drinking and driving accounts for 28% of traffic-related deaths in the U.S. But doing so as an adolescent can substantially increase the risks of injury and fatality. If you know you’re too drunk to drive, it is incredibly important to call a trusted adult to pick you up — and equally just as vital not to rely on a drunk driver as your ride home.

 

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What Do You Do If You Drink Too Much Alcohol?

What to Do

Excessive drinking can be deadly. If anyone around you is showing signs of being extremely drunk , you should:

  • Remain calm and keep them comfortable.
  • Explain to them exactly what you’re going to do before you touch them, and be mindful of any aggressive reactions.
  • Gently turn them to their side if they’re passed out to avoid any choking or vomiting.
  • Check if they can swallow, and encourage them to keep drinking water if possible.

But remember, if you suspect somebody’s BAC is life-threatening, call 911 immediately. Do not wait for them to show all of the signs before deciding to get them help.

What Not to Do

We’ve all heard of “at home” methods to sober up a friend and they may be somewhat effective in easing the effects of alcohol when a person is “buzzed.” However, do not rely on these methods if a friend is showing signs of alcohol poisoning. Avoid:

  • Urging them to drink coffee
  • Allowing them to “sleep it off”
  • Leaving them lying on their back
  • Offering them any food or medication

Serious conditions need to be treated immediately. As stated earlier, do not hesitate to call for help if the drinker is not responding.

Alcohol addiction impacts every part of our lives and requires support and treatment services to combat. We at Northpoint Colorado believe in specialized substance use and behavioral health treatment for anyone grappling with addiction.

Northpoint Colorado is a treatment center that provides a safe, supportive, judgement free environment for anyone looking to kickstart their recovery journey. We believe that everyone’s battle with addiction is different and requires its own individualized treatment plan.

Our outpatient and inpatient programs help people discover a path to long-term recovery. They’re catered to each individual’s experience and target any triggers that lead to relapses. We have a fantastic team dedicated to helping you reach and maintain sobriety.

Visit our website to learn more about the signs, impacts, and recovery options for alcoholism. And If you or anyone you know needs help, feel free to give us a call at (970)410-8228—We’re here to help.

FAQs:

What can happen if you drink too much alcohol?

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to binge drinking, alcohol poisoning, and overdose. Some of the short-term effects of heavy drinking include:

  • Lowered self-restraint
  • Constant falling
  • Violent behavior
  • Hangovers

Some of the long-term effects include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Mouth, liver, or breast cancer
  • Long-term memory loss — could lead to dementia
  • Nerve damage
  • Organ failure
  • Risk of a sexually transmitted infection
  • Risk of an unintended pregnancy
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome — a brain disorder caused by a thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency

What happens to your body when you have alcohol poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning occurs when the body’s intoxication levels have caused areas of the brain to collapse. An overdose (especially one resulting from a mix of alcohol and medication) can increase the chances of brain damage or death. Anyone at this level of alcohol poisoning requires immediate medical attention.

This places the drinker at risk of:

  • Choking on vomit (which could lead to death by suffocation)
  • Irregular or halted breathing (potentially from inhaling vomit into the lungs)
  • A comatose state — a second side effect of a lack of oxygen throughout the body

How much would you have to drink to get alcohol poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning comes from binge drinking, which the CDC defines as “consuming four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men on an occasion.” A person who’s reached dangerous intoxication levels has a BAC of 0.25 or greater. This is usually the stage where the drinker progresses from mental confusion and loss of motor control to passing out and respiratory failure.

What do you do if you drink too much alcohol?

There are ways to manage the side effects of excessive drinking with steady food and fluid intake in between drinks. Water gives the liver time to process alcohol in the body and restore hydration levels. And food slows down alcohol processing by hindering its pace toward the small intestine.

However, severe alcohol consumption can be deadly. If anyone around you is showing signs of being extremely drunk, you should:

  • Remain calm and keep them comfortable.
  • Gently turn them to their side if they’re passed out to avoid any choking or vomiting.
  • Check if they can swallow, and encourage them to keep drinking water if possible.
  • Call for help immediately

By: NorthPoint Colorado | October 06, 2021

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