FCH – Ask an Expert

  • Fri Feb 21st, 2020 2:12pm
  • Life

What is an alcohol overdose?

Drinking in large amounts can cause significant impairment in motor control, impulse control, decision-making, and other functions. This increases a person’s risk of harm. Drinking, despite these major signs your body is sending you telling you to stop, can lead to an alcohol overdose. When there is enough alcohol in the bloodstream, parts of the brain that control basic life support functions, breathing, heart rate, and temperature control, begin to shut down. Symptoms of alcohol overdose include mental confusion, difficulty remaining conscious, vomiting, seizures, trouble breathing, fast heart rate, clammy skin, dulled responses such as no gag reflex (which prevents choking), low blood pressure, and changes in chemical balances in the blood. Alcohol overdose can lead to permanent brain damage or death.

As a person’s blood alcohol concentration increases so do the effects and risk of harm. Small amounts of alcohol lower motor coordination and cloud judgment. A person’s blood alcohol concentration can change the chemical balance in the blood causing a cascade of worsening symptoms making it extraordinarily dangerous to assume it is safe for a person to “sleep it off.” Alcohol in high levels can hinder the brain’s automatic responses allowing the passed out person to choke and die. When a person lives through an alcohol overdose, it can still lead to long-lasting brain damage.

Binge drinking – consuming more than 4 drinks in 2 hours, or 5 or more drinks on a single occasion, increases the risk of alcohol overdose. Mixing alcohol and other drugs, prescription, over the counter, or illegal can add to the suppression of areas of the brain increasing risk of death even with lowered amounts of alcohol.

Look for Critical Signs and Symptoms of an Overdose of Alcohol

• Mental confusion

• Inability to wake up or remain conscious

• Seizures

• Less than 8 breaths per minute

• 10 seconds or more between breaths

• Clammy skin

• Slowed or fast heart rate

• Vomiting

If you believe someone has an alcohol overdose, call 9-1-1 immediately. Do not use common home remedies such as cold showers, hot coffee, eating bread, and walking. These things do not reverse the effects of an alcohol overdose and can make the situation worse. Do not wait for a person to exhibit all of the critical symptoms and be aware that a person who has passed out can die. While waiting for Emergency Medical Services do not leave the person alone; turn them on their side so they do not choke on their own spittle or vomit, and be prepared to let the first responders know what was drank and in what amounts. Other medical information such as medications, allergies, and medical diagnosis are also important and play a large role in the severity of the overdose.

You can avoid the risk of alcohol overdose by drinking responsibly or choosing to remain sober.

Forks Community Hospital Nursing

Disclaimer: This column is not intended as a diagnosis or recommended treatment of a specific condition. Answers are not a replacement for an individual medical evaluation. Individual health concerns should be evaluated by a licensed clinician.