Alcohol poisoning

Alcohol poisoning occurs when a person consumes an excessive amount of alcohol. Alcohol can depress or stop nerve signals that control breathing and the gag reflex that prevents choking; alcohol poisoning is a serious condition that can lead to irreversible brain damage or death if not treated immediately.

Signs of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Vomiting. An unconscious person could choke and suffocate from vomiting.
  • Confusion.
  • Passing out, coma, or inability to awaken the person.
  • Seizures.
  • Slow breathing—fewer than 8 breaths per minute.
  • Irregular breathing—10 seconds or more between breaths.
  • Low body temperature (hypothermia), bluish skin, and paleness.

The level of alcohol in the blood continues to rise even after a person stops drinking. It can take around 30 to 90 minutes for the alcohol to enter the bloodstream, circulate throughout the body, and cause full intoxication. The amount of time depends on how quickly and how much the person drank along with what else is in the stomach.

Drinking coffee, walking or sleeping it off, or taking a cold shower will not help reverse the symptoms of alcohol poisoning. Immediate medical treatment is always needed if you suspect alcohol poisoning.

Last Updated: January 26, 2010

Author: Jeannette Curtis

Medical Review: Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Peter Monti, PhD - Alcohol and Addiction

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