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Alcohol Poisoning

What happens to your body after too much alcohol?


Alcohol depresses nerves that control involuntary actions such as breathing and the gag reflex (which prevents choking). A fatal dose of alcohol will eventually stop these functions. It’s common for someone who drank excessive alcohol to vomit since alcohol is an irritant to the stomach. That leads to a danger of choking on vomit, which can cause death by asphyxiation in a person who isn’t conscious because of intoxication.

A person's blood alcohol concentration can continue to rise even while they’re passed out. After a person stops drinking, alcohol in the stomach and intestine continues to enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body. It’s dangerous to assume the person will be fine by sleeping it off.

Critical signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning

  • Mental confusion, stupor, coma, or person can’t be roused
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing (fewer than eight breaths per minute)
  • Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature), bluish skin color, paleness

What should I do if I think someone has alcohol poisoning?

  • Know the danger signs
  • Don’t wait for all symptoms to be present
  • Be aware that a person who has passed out may die
  • If there’s any suspicion of an alcohol overdose, call for help. If you're off campus call 911. If you're on campus call Dalhousie Security at 494-4109. Don't try to guess the level of drunkenness

What can happen to someone with alcohol poisoning that goes untreated?

  • They can choke on their own vomit
  • Breathing slows, becomes irregular, or stops
  • Heart beats irregularly or stops
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature)
  • Hypoglycemia (too little blood sugar) leads to seizures
  • Untreated severe dehydration from vomiting can cause seizures, permanent brain damage, or death

Even if the victim lives, an alcohol overdose can lead to irreversible brain damage. Rapid binge drinking (which often happens on a bet or a dare) is especially dangerous because the victim can ingest a fatal dose before becoming unconscious.

Don't be afraid to seek medical help for a friend who has had too much to drink. Don't worry that your friend may become angry or embarrassed—remember, you cared enough to help. Always be safe, not sorry.

The information on this page was taken directly from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism's campaign on College Drinking Prevention.