Alcohol poisoning is a serious, sometimes fatal result of drinking too much alcohol in a short period of time. Alcohol poisoning is caused by a specific form of alcohol, called ethyl alcohol, which is found in alcoholic beverages, mouthwash, cooking extracts as well as some medications and household products. Alcohol poisoning can slow down important body functions, such as heart rate and breathing. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include vomiting, confusion, slow or irregular breathing (less than eight breaths per minute or more than 10 seconds between breaths), pale skin, low temperature (hypothermia), and loss of consciousness.
The most common cause of alcohol poisoning is binge drinking, which is consuming four to five alcoholic drinks quickly within the course of two hours. The body absorbs alcohol quickly and processes (metabolizes) it in the liver. It takes about one hour for your body to process one standard drink. If a person binge drinks, they consume more alcohol in a short amount of time than their body can safely process. If a person stops drinking after a binge, or even passes out, alcohol can continue to be released into the blood, raising it to a dangerous level. Factors that can increase the risk of alcohol poisoning include body size, overall health, combining alcohol with drugs, length of time since last meal, and alcohol tolerance level. A doctor may suspect alcohol poisoning based on a recent history of drinking alcohol combined with symptoms of alcohol poisoning. Blood and urine tests may be used to confirm this diagnosis. The goal of treatment for alcohol poisoning is to help the person recover and usually includes close monitoring, giving oxygen and providing sugar, vitamins, and fluids through the vein (IV). If alcohol poisoning is suspected, especially if a person is unconscious or not responding, immediate medical treatment should be provided.