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Alcohol Overdose/Poisoning Awareness

Excessive alcohol consumption should never be taken lightly. An alcohol overdose can be life-threatening. That is why it is dangerous to assume that a heavily intoxicated person who appears to be “sleeping it off” is not in serious need of immediate medical attention.

An overdose of alcohol occurs when a person reaches a blood alcohol content (“BAC”) level that seriously impairs the body and subjects the person to an increased chance of harm. Consumption of alcohol in high quantities can rapidly increase the BAC and significantly impair brain function. Moreover, if a person who is clearly intoxicated continues drinking alcoholic beverages, then death by ethanol/alcohol poisoning can result.

Although each person can react differently to alcohol, the following guidelines are helpful and informative, prior to getting involved in alcohol service and consumption:

  • For women:
    • Binge drinking is having four (4) or more drinks within two (2) hours;
    • Heavy or at-risk drinking is the consumption of more than three (3) drinks on any day or more than seven (7) drinks per week.
  • For men:
    • Binge drinking is having five (5) or more drinks within two (2) hours;
    • Heavy or at-risk drinking is the consumption of more than four (4) drinks on any day or more than fourteen (14) drinks per week.

An intoxicated person who appears to be sleeping, passed out, or blacked out, might be at the highest risk of death by overdose during that period of time. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism provides that:

  • Alcohol acts as a depressant, which hinders signals in the brain that controls automatic responses, such as the gag reflex.
  • Alcohol’s irritating effects on the stomach can cause vomiting.
  • Without a gag reflex, a person who drinks to the point of passing out is in danger of choking on vomit, which, in turn, could lead to death by asphyxiation.
  • Even if the drinker survives, an alcohol overdose can lead to long-lasting brain damage.

If you suspect someone has alcohol poisoning, don’t hesitate – get medical help immediately.

  • Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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