About one-third of individuals with alcohol intoxication never seek treatment, even though the condition can be debilitating and potentially fatal. In fact, the CDC estimates that approximately 80,000 people die each year due to alcohol poisoning (which is technically referred to as acute alcohol intoxication). If you suspect that you or someone else has alcohol intoxication and requires emergency care, call 911 immediately. While there’s no cure for acute alcohol intoxication, you can take certain steps to help prevent further complications or even death while waiting for medical assistance to arrive at your location.
Whether you’re an alcoholic or not, alcohol intoxication can be dangerous. This condition can cause serious health problems and even death if the person affected does not seek treatment as soon as possible. In this post, we will explore alcohol intoxication as well as treatment options if a loved one is suffering from alcohol intoxication.
What is Alcohol Intoxication?
Alcohol intoxication, sometimes referred to as alcohol poisoning, is brought on by harmful levels of alcohol consumption. Unlike a hangover, which can be self-treated with painkillers, anti-nauseants and sleep, alcohol intoxication requires immediate medical attention. The more severe cases require rapid intervention to prevent death or long-term damage to vital organs. Alcohol intoxication generally occurs after heavy drinking over several hours.
What is Acute Alcohol Intoxication?
Acute alcohol intoxication (AAI), is a dangerous medical condition caused by drinking too much alcohol over a short period of time. AAI can cause serious illness or death and should be treated as a medical emergency. Drinking alcoholic beverages frequently and in large amounts greatly increases your risk of developing alcoholim, cirrhosis of the liver, an alcohol-related brain disorder (ARBD), and other serious health problems that can result in hospitalization or death. While there are many symptoms of acute alcohol intoxication, such as slurred speech, poor balance and coordination, mood changes, nausea and vomiting that generally accompany excessive drinking, these don’t always occur when someone has been drinking at an excessive level for a long period of time.
Alcohol Intoxication Causes
The main cause of acute alcohol intoxication is large amounts of alcohol consumed over a short period of time. The amount that constitutes a large amount varies greatly, but in general, when you consume more than five drinks per hour, you are at risk for acute alcohol intoxication. When acute alcohol intoxication occurs, it is characterized by physical symptoms and behavioral changes.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. It affects how brain cells, or neurons, send messages to each other and to different parts of your body. Alcohol affects two important neurotransmitters in particular—GABA and glutamate. GABA works by slowing down brain activity, which can make you feel sleepy or relaxed. However, too much alcohol can lead to a severe overproduction of GABA, which slows down your brain activity so much that it begins to shut down certain areas of your brain; creating that sense of confusion that sometimes follows drinking too much alcohol.
If you drink enough alcohol, it’s possible to stop breathing altogether and slip into a coma. Alcohol can also impair judgment, which could lead to risky behavior, like driving after consuming alcohol. Drinking alcohol heavily on a regular basis can damage your liver, brain, pancreas and other organs in your body. Heavy drinking over time also puts you at risk for cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus and stomach as well as memory loss and dementia.
Signs of Alcohol Intoxication
Signs of Alcohol Intoxication Include:
- Strange or aggressive behavior, mood, or decision-making
- Impaired coordination / clumsy
- Unsteady gait
- Nystagmus, or unintended eye movement
- Poor memory
- Lack of concentration
- Unresponsive to events around them
- Loss of consciousness
Alcohol intoxication can be life-threatening. If an intoxicated person loses consciousness, call 9-11.
Medical Conditions Attributed to Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol can cause or exacerbate numerous medical conditions. According to a report published by Mayo Clinic, alcohol consumption is associated with liver disease, heart problems and psychiatric issues including anxiety and depression. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence says that for each standard drink (1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor, 5 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer), your risk of developing health problems increases significantly. Alcohol consumption has also been linked to a number of cancers including cancer of the throat, mouth, esophagus and colon as well as other digestive disorders such as pancreatitis. Heavy drinking can damage nearly every organ in your body; however these organs are particularly vulnerable to alcohol-related problems: kidneys, liver and brain.
A Look at Seven Stages of Alcohol Intoxication
When a person drinks alcohol, they may begin to experience certain symptoms. They often refer to these effects as stages of intoxication. The seven stages are as follows:
- Seizures and Coma
Within each stage there are varying degrees of intoxication ranging from mild to severe. Some people may not exhibit some of these symptoms while others will have a combination of them.
Effects on Your Body from Excessive Alcohol Consumption
Although alcohol can initially be a pleasant and relaxing substance, it is also extremely toxic to your body. The positive effects are short-lived and fleeting. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that has several effects on your body after ingestion (including alcohol intoxication). The drug inhibits normal communication between nerve cells in your brain. Within just minutes of taking even one drink, your body will start to experience lightheadedness, slurred speech, and an impaired sense of balance and coordination. In some cases, even a small amount of alcohol can cause nausea or vomiting in response to these initial effects from alcohol intoxication. Some people may experience blurry vision or headaches as well as an increased heart rate or rapid breathing after consuming alcohol.
Excessive alcohol consumption can have many effects on your body, including damage to brain cells, heart and liver. Alcohol intoxication can also lead to malnutrition, even when you consume adequate calories. Long-term alcohol use has been associated with increased risk of cancer of the mouth, throat and esophagus, and alcoholic cardiomyopathy (damage to heart muscle) has also been linked to long-term alcohol abuse. High amounts of alcohol consumption are also related to an increased risk for HIV transmission and other sexually transmitted diseases because people may engage in risky sexual behaviors while under the influence.
DSM-5 Criteria for Alcohol Intoxication
Alcohol intoxication, like psychosis, is an altered state of mind that can be predicted, diagnosed, and treated. For this reason. Alcohol intoxication is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth Edition.
According to DSM-5 criteria, if an individual has consumed enough alcohol for their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to exceed 0.08 percent, they will be in a state of intoxication or alcohol poisoning. But what are some DSM-5 criteria for alcohol intoxication? A person may be classed as having alcohol intoxication if they meet this criteria:
A. Recent ingestion of alcohol.
B. Clinically significant maladaptive behavioral or psychological changes (e.g., inappropriate sexual or aggressive behavior, mood lability, impaired judgment, impaired social or occupational functioning) that developed during, or shortly after, alcohol ingestion.
C. One (or more) of the following signs, developing during, or shortly after, alcohol use:
- slurred speech
- unsteady gait
- impairment in attention or memory
- stupor or coma
D. The symptoms are not due to a general medical condition and are not better accounted for by another mental disorder.
Treatment of Alcohol Intoxication
Alcohol intoxication (also called alcohol poisoning) is treated with a supportive approach. The best treatment depends on factors such as age, overall health, and what caused alcohol intoxication. Treatments will focus on keeping you or your loved one safe and getting rid of any serious symptoms. In some cases, special drugs can be given to help prevent seizures or low blood sugar.
People who are very intoxicated may need to stay in a hospital for further treatment and observation. Hospitalization may also be needed for alcohol intoxication treatment when there are other health problems that can be aggravated by drinking. Treatment involves supportive care while a sufferer’s body tries to process the alcohol consumed. You should seek immediate medical treatment if a person is showing signs of alcohol poisoning.
While waiting for professional care, you should:
- Turn the person on their side
- Drink water
- Stay with the person until medical help arrives
Once a medical professional arrives, they will:
- Monitor a person’s vitals
- Give oxygen therapy
- Prevent choking with a breathing tube
- Give IV fluids to prevent dehydration
- Provide vitamins and glucose to prevent complications
- Give a person a catheter
- Provide activated charcoal to minimize the body’s alcohol absorption
- Pump their stomach to lessen alcohol absorption
Getting Help with Alcohol Intoxication
Alcohol intoxication is a dangerous condition that can lead to health complications, organ damage, and even death. If you or someone you know experiences alcohol poisoning, it’s important to get help as soon as possible. If a person has ingested toxic levels of alcohol but they aren’t in immediate danger, they should be told to seek help if they begin experiencing any symptoms of alcohol intoxication.
If you or a loved one are experiencing any of the warning signs described in this post, call 9-11 immediately.