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Alcohol poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is more than just being drunk. It is a medical emergency that can be life-threatening.

Binge drinking, or drinking a dangerous amount of alcohol in a relatively short period of time, can affect the brain and nervous system.

The extreme rise in blood alcohol concentration (BAC) can affect a person's thinking as well as causing physical problems, that include breathing problems, vision and speech changes, lack of limb coordination, and memory and heart problems. Alcohol poisoning can also stop a person's gag reflex, the reflex that prevents them from choking.

A person with alcohol poisoning can also become unconscious.

Alcohol poisoning symptoms

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning can include:

  • Confusion
  • Slurring words
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Breathing very slowly
  • Weak pulse or very strong pulse
  • Pupils in the eyes are wide and don't react to light
  • Skin colour changes, with a blue tint and feeling cold or clammy
  • Red, moist face

Alcohol poisoning treatment

In the event of alcohol poisoning, if you have concerns, or if the person is unconscious, call an ambulance by dialling 999.

St John Ambulance advises putting the person in the recovery position until help arrives. It cautions against trying to make the person sick to get rid of undigested alcohol, as this could block their airways. Do not let the person 'sleep it off'. Keep them awake and warm, and monitor them.

In hospital, medical teams may need to:

  • Help the person's breathing by inserting a special tube in their throat
  • Pump out their stomach
  • Insert a catheter to stop them wetting the bed
  • Top up fluids through an IV drip.

WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on September 20, 2017

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