Alcohol is a drug which impacts the central nervous system. A depressant, alcohol slows down speech, movement and reaction time. Many people drink to experience a relaxing effect. Drinking can be a healthy, social experience. Large amounts consumed on a regular basis can lead to serious issues with a person’s health, social life and work, among others. Learn what the risk factors are of an alcohol overdose and what to do if one is suspected of having occurred.
An alcohol overdose can happen when a person drinks too much at one time which negatively impacts a person’s organs, causing risk factors and potentially death. Some of the causes of an alcohol overdose include:
- When a person drinks more than the body can safely process
- Liver metabolizes alcohol but can only break down so much at once (typically 1 oz. of alcohol per hour)
- Drinking for extended periods of time without a break (bingeing)
The most common risk factors which can raise a person’s chance of having an alcohol overdose include:
- Age: young people are more likely to drink to excess
- Gender: men are more likely than women to drink heavily
- Body size: height and weight determine how fast the body absorbs alcohol. Smaller bodies may experience alcohol effects more quickly
- Tolerance level: high tolerance levels can put a person at increased risk for overdose
- Binge drinking: more than five drinks in an hour is considered a binge and increases risk of overdose
- Drug use: mixing alcohol and drugs can put a person in danger of overdose
- Certain health conditions: other health conditions such as diabetes can increase the risk of overdose
Symptoms of an alcohol overdose can be seen in the following ways:
- Changes in mental state (confusion)
- Pale or blue skin
- Decrease in body temperature
- Passing out (unconsciousness)
Alcohol depresses the nervous system so a person may experience serious complications from drinking at a rate that is faster than the liver can process. This may include slowed or stopped breathing, cardiac arrest following hypothermia or seizures from low blood sugar levels. If a person has depressed breathing below eight breaths per minute or cannot be woken up, call 911 and wait for medical assistance to arrive.
If an overdose is suspected, a doctor will ask about drinking habit and history. Additional tests may be performed such as blood tests for glucose levels and urine tests. Overdose can damage the pancreas which digests food and monitors levels of glucose in the blood. Low blood sugar can be an indicator of alcohol poisoning.
Typically an overdose is treated in the emergency room. A physician will check vitals including heart rate and blood pressure. Long term prognosis following overdose depends on the type of overdose and treatment. Prompt treatment can prevent life-threatening problems. Severe alcohol overdose can cause seizures resulting in brain damage if oxygen is cut off.
Alcoholism is a serious illness which requires supportive services and an individualized treatment approach. Contact the Villa to find out how we can provide resources and tools to help you or your loved one navigate the pathway to recovery and sobriety.