An alcohol overdose can impact anyone drinking heavily at one time, regardless of their history with alcohol. During an alcohol overdose basic bodily functions like breathing and heart rate begin to slow down, putting the drinker at risk for permanent brain damage or death, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
If you consume alcohol or are around others who drink, it’s important to know the key signs of overdose and what to do when an overdose occurs.
Alcohol Overdose Symptoms
Symptoms of alcohol toxicity and overdose include:
- slurred speech
- nausea and vomiting
- irregular breathing
- being unresponsive
Slurred speech and confusion after drinking might seem amusing, however, these can be signs that a person is experiencing alcohol poisoning. If drinking continues, the chances of overdosing could increase.
“In general, early warning signs of alcohol toxicity consist of confusion, slurred speech, poor coordination and pale skin,” Patrick Gallus, D.O., Founder and Chief Medical Officer of Gallus Medical Detox Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, tells WebMD Connect to Care. “This can quickly develop into more concerning signs to include irregular breathing, hypothermia, unresponsiveness and coma.”
Alcohol overdoses are more likely to happen to binge drinkers. Binge drinking is defined as four drinks in two hours for women and five drinks in two hours for men. It's important to note that inexperienced drinkers, like teens and young people, are more likely to binge drink, according to the NIH.
“Most alcohol poisoning takes place during binge drinking episodes by typically inexperienced drinkers,” Dr. Gallus states.
If you notice someone is stumbling or confused while drinking, it’s best to watch over them while keeping them away from alcohol. “The first thing to do is to make sure no further alcohol is consumed. The person should never be left alone,” Dr. Gallus says.
The person should also be kept away from hazards like cars, bicycles, bodies of water and machinery. It’s also important to watch their breathing and to make sure they don’t lie down. “Protect their airway at all costs either by having them sit up, or if unable to do so by laying them on their side to protect them from aspiration,” Dr. Gallus says.
Home remedies like coffee or cold showers do not work when a person is already exhibiting signs of alcohol poisoning, according to University of Virginia Health. It’s also dangerous to assume the person can sleep it off, as blood alcohol levels continue rising during sleep. Also, sleeping increases the chance of choking on vomit.
“Even seasoned emergency medicine physicians can find this clinical situation challenging,” Dr. Gallus says. “Call early before the person becomes unconscious, because it may already be a life-threatening situation at this point.”
It’s best to stay with the person and keep them sitting up until help arrives. By heeding the signs and calling for help as soon as possible, you could be saving a life.