Alcohol Poisoning

What is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning or otherwise known as alcohol intoxication is the presence of high levels of ethanol in the body. It results from drinking too much alcohol in a relatively short period of time.

alcohol poisoning Alcohol poisoning is a serious condition that can lead to death because of affectation of the cardiovascular, respiratory and even the gag reflex. The main cause of alcohol poisoning is binge drinking, wherein a person drinks more than 5 drinks of alcohol in a row.

Alcohol poisoning may also be experienced during accidental ingestion of alcohol containing products. Alcohol poisoning is usually a medical emergency because of the possible coma a person may experience. Alcohol poisoning may be known in layman’s term as excessive drunkenness.

Many people don’t take drunkenness as a serious condition and thinks that the alcohol will just be eliminated through the urine. However, severe drunkenness may affect or poison the respiratory center of the brain, which will lead to respiratory arrest.

Symptoms and signs of Alcohol Poisioning

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning vary from mild to severe. The general rule is, the more alcohol the patient has taken in, the more severe the symptoms are.

Mild symptoms

  1. Slurred speech– Patients may sufferer from slurred speech because of intoxication of the speech center in the brain.  
  2. Impaired balance – The cerebellum may also be affected leading to scissoring gait or imbalance. The cerebellum is responsible for establishing balance. 
  3. Euphoria – There will also be feelings of intense euphoria because the alcohol has already masked the sense of reality in the person. There is also a reduction in the thiamine levels leading to poor nerve impulse transmission in the brain. 
  4. Ataxia or loss of coordination – People suffering from intoxication commonly experience loss of coordination because of affectation of the cerebellum.
  5. Vomiting – The vomiting center of the brain, the medulla oblongata, is also intoxicated thereby leading to vomiting. Vomiting may also be a compensatory mechanism of the body to eliminate excess alcohol in the digestive tract. 
  6. Flushing of the face – Alcohol is a potent vasodilator, which increases the permeability and blood flow to a specific area. As a result, dilation of the capillaries in the face leads to flushing. 
  7. Reddened eyes – The capillaries in the eyes also dilate leading to reddening of the sclera.
  8. Erratic behavior and loss of inhibition – Alcohol affects the inhibition of the person in the brain, which causes the person to behave irrationally and erratically. Intoxicated people may also experience dangerous anger, which contributes to the crimes during alcohol drinking. 
  9. Confusion and lethargy – Confusion is also experienced because of significant affectation of the nerve impulses in the brain. The patient also becomes lethargic because of CNS depression.

Severe Symptoms

Presence of severe symptoms should be monitored and the person should be taken immediately to a health care facility when he or she exhibits the following symptoms:

  1. Seizures – Alcohol speeds up the utilization of glucose in the body, and limiting gluconeogenesis thereby leading to hypoglycemia. Severe hypoglycemia does not support oxygenation to the brain leading to life-threatening seizures.
  2. Slow, irregular respirations – The medulla oblongata is also the respiratory center of the brain. Severe depression of the brain leads to problems in respirations that may be as low as eight breaths per minute. 
  3. Hypothermia – A reduction in the body temperature below normal levels indicates affectation of the thalamus, which is the heat regulating center of the brain. 
  4. Cyanosis – Cyanosis is a potential effect of slow respirations that indicate severe hypoxia of the cells. Cyanosis may also result from the obstruction of the airways brought about by aspiration of food and fluids as the patient vomits. 
  5. Cold, clammy skin – Cold, clammy skin results from decreased blood sugar levels and may also signify affectation of the circulatory system. 
  6. Stupor – Stupor is a decreased level of consciousness, wherein the patient is difficult to arouse and can only be stimulated in the presence of deep pain.


Alcohol intoxication is one of the causes of deaths in the whole world comprising of 10% of the mortality rate. Aside from the direct life-threatening effect, the presence of CNS depression (poor coordination, judgments and confusion) is also a cause of most of the alcohol-related injuries and deaths. Deaths from accidents that happen with alcoholism are as high as 32%, while unintentional injuries comprise 14%.

Treatment of Alcohol Poisoning

There are a lot of myths about detoxification from alcohol such as sleeping, drinking coffee and bathing in cold water. However, these are often not effective and people suffering alcohol intoxication should receive immediate medical treatment. Treatments are focused on stabilizing the respiration while the body is detoxified from alcohol. These include:

Administration of 50% Dextrose solution –

Dextrose is administered to relieve hypoglycemia, which is not responsive to glucagon therapy. This treatment immediately reverses hypoglycemia and prevents severe brain injury.

Administration of thiamine

Thiamine, a type of B vitamins, is also administered to prevent the development of Wernicke’s encephalopathy that may potentially lead to seizures and coma. 

Fluid replacement

Fluid replacement with intravenous fluids is essential to treat dehydration and establish the integrity of the cardiovascular system. 

Oxygen therapy

Oxygen therapy is usually employed to relive difficulty of breathing. Patients who are experiencing stupor or coma may require mechanical ventilation to support the respiration.


Hemodialysis is usually employed when the blood contains high levels of ethanol of up to more than 400 mg.

Recovery from Alcohol Poisoning

The recovery from alcohol poisoning depends on the amount of alcohol ingested by the person. The normal liver is able to detoxify the body from alcohol in 24 to 48 hours. However, the level of alcohol is also taken into consideration.

A person with abnormal liver such as in the presence of hepatitis and cirrhosis are more at risk for alcohol poisoning because of prolonged rate of detoxification. People who suffered from prolonged alcohol intake may also experience withdrawal symptoms from alcohol.

Side-effects and Complications of Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning may lead to the following complications:

  • Aspiration
  • Respiratory failure
  • Cardiovascular collapse
  • Hypothermia
  • Dehydration
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Irreversible brain injury and damage
  • Coma
  • Death

Alcohol poisoning is often fatal so caution should be exercised when drinking.

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