Alcohol Intoxication – What is it, and how to deal with it

Last Update on April 1, 2024 : Published on April 1, 2024

When a person drinks excess alcohol in a short span, the condition of alcohol intoxication occurs, causing physical and behavioural symptoms ranging from mild to severe. When these symptoms are witnessed, immediate medical attention must be given because severe alcohol intoxication or alcohol poisoning is dangerous and life-threatening.

What is alcohol intoxication?

When a person consumes alcohol in large quantities in a short period, alcohol intoxication occurs. Usually, the liver removes alcohol from the bloodstream, but it can filter out only a certain amount.

The rate at which the body metabolises alcohol varies from person to person and depends on factors like genetics, body weight, size, health, alcohol tolerance, and gender. If a person drinks more alcohol, the liver is unable to process ethanol, a substance in alcohol, leading to damaging tissue and organs and causing alcohol poisoning.

Related: Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Symptoms of alcohol intoxication

The symptoms of alcohol intoxication range from mild to severe depending on how much alcohol a person consumes and how quickly the body can metabolise it. 

When alcohol intoxication occurs, or a person consumes more alcohol than the lover can process, there is a change in body temperature, breathing, heart rate, and gag reflexes. Sometimes, it even leads to coma or death. Both young and adults can experience alcohol poisoning. In some cases, accidental consumption of household products like mouthwash or Vanilla extract can also cause alcohol intoxication.

The symptoms of it occur in stages.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, certain BAC levels explain the symptoms. 

Intoxication Stage



Mild 0.00% to 0.05%
  • Mild speech and memory impairment
  • Mild impairment issues in balance and coordination
  • Mild impairment in attention and initial sleepiness due to relaxation
Moderate 0.06% to 0.15%
  • Speech and attention impairment increases
  • Balance and coordination and memory impairments increase
  • In some people, the risk of aggression and self-injury increases
  • Significant impairment in the scales for driving is witnessed because alcohol relaxes the nerves.
Severe 0.16% to 0.30%
  • Significant decline in speech and memory
  • Impairment in coordination and balancing
  • Reaction time and judgement are impaired
  • Skills required for driving are dangerously impaired. There is blackout Amnesia and loss of consciousness
Life-threatening 0.31% to 0.45%
  • Loss of consciousness and danger to live due to alcohol overdose 
  • Suppression of vital functions leading to risk of death

Related: 4 Stages of Alcoholism – What are they and How to Overcome?

In addition to this, the common symptoms include: 

  • Slow and confused responses 
  • Face difficulty while walking as there is a lack of coordination 
  • Unable to stay conscious.
  • Vomiting.
  • Late or no gag reflexes lead to choking on vomit.
  • Slow breathing and heart rate.
  • Bladder or bowel control issues and incontinence.
  • Skin color fades, and hands get cold and clammy.
  • Body temperature decreases
  • Seizures.
  • People smell strongly of alcohol.

How is alcohol intoxication caused?

A chemical compound called ethanol is found in alcohol and in various household and commercial products like mouthwash, perfume, and gasoline. When this compound enters the bloodstream and the liver processes it, ethanol travels through the body, affecting various functions and causing intoxication.

In addition to this, when a person drinks alcohol on an empty stomach, the BAC peaks within 30 to 90 minutes. This, too, also causes intoxication.

Once ethanol reaches the bloodstream, it interfaces with the balance of neurotransmitters, increasing the amount of Gamma amino butyric acid, commonly known as GABA, which reduces the activity of the central nervous system. Ethanol also increases the adenosine level, the neurotransmitter that promotes sleep.

Signs of alcohol intoxication

It is easy for a person to tell when they are intoxicated, but telling when the other person is intoxicated may be challenging. However, you can look for the following signs to know another person’s intoxication level. 

  • Loss of coordination 
  • The person stumbles or sways
  • The face loses its colour 
  • Bloodshot eyes 
  • Speech is louder than usual 
  • The person stammers 
  • Skin is damp or clammy 
  • Mood swings such as aggression or depression 
  • Drowsiness 
  • Reflexes are slowed
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness

Related: 8 Best Alcohol Addiction Recovery Apps You Should Consider

Risk factors for alcohol poisoning

Anyone can be affected by alcohol poisoning. However, several factors can increase the risk. This includes:

1. Binge drinking:

The quicker you drink in a limited time, the risk of alcohol poisoning increases. This is true for those who indulge in binge drinking, a drinking pattern that brings BAC to 0.08% or higher. This happens when a female consumes four drinks, and a male consumes five drinks in about two hours.

2. Mixing medication and alcohol:

If you consume alcohol and take sedatives, sleeping pills, and anti-anxiety medication, the risk of overdose increases, and it can be life-threatening. As both alcohol and these medications slow down the central nervous system when taken in combination, it has a more substantial effect.

3. Drinking on an empty stomach:

Before or while drinking alcohol, if you have an empty stomach, the risk of alcohol poisoning increases. Your small intestine absorbs alcohol the quickest, and the longer alcohol stays in your stomach without food, the slower your body absorbs it, causing harm.

4. Your age:

Teenagers and young adults are more prone to alcohol poisoning because they engage in binge drinking.

Complications of alcohol poisoning

  • Unable to breathe as vomit is in the lungs. 
  • Choking on your vomit. 
  • Excessive dehydration.
  • Hypothermia.
  • Brain damage and seizures. 
  • Coma
  • Heath attack 
  • Death. 

Related: High-Functioning Alcoholics: Traits, Warning Signs & How To Help

Treatment for alcohol intoxication

Severe alcohol intoxication or alcohol poisoning cannot be treated at home. If a person shows signs of severe intoxication, health services should be immediately contacted. While you are waiting for them, you can follow these things: 

  • If the person is conscious and can gulp down, give them water and make them lie on their side. If they vomit, this will prevent them from choking.
  • If the person is unconscious, turn them on their side and don’t try to give them anything, as this can choke them.
  • Call 911 or other emergency services for help.
  • Try to keep the person awake.
  • Cover them with a blanket and keep them warm as alcohol poisoning decreases body temperature.
  • Keep talking to them and explain why you are doing things. This will make them manage with you. 
  • Give the clinical or emergency staff as much information as possible. If you know the amount of alcohol consumed, share that. Do not hide any information from them.
  • Don’t leave the person alone, as alcohol poisoning affects the gag reflex. 
  • Do not make the person vomit, as this can cause choking.
  • Help the person who is vomiting. Make them sit up or make them lie down on the side.
  • A sober person should always accompany the intoxicated person. This ensures their safety.

The Recovery Position

  1. Raise the arm closest to you above their head and roll the person towards you.
  2. Gently roll the person towards you, ensuring their head is secure. Rest the head in front of the arm, not on it.
  3. Put the nearest hand under the cheek and tilt the head to raise it to maintain the airway.
  4. Keep checking on them.

How is alcohol poisoning treated?

In a medical setting, IV fluids, oxygen masks, stomach pumping, and blood filtration are done to filter alcohol from the blood.

How to prevent alcohol poisoning?

  • Limit alcohol consumption. 
  • Drink slowly. Do not rush. If your friends are binge drinking, stop them or intervene and try to limit alcohol consumption.
  • Drink only one alcohol-containing beverage an hour.
  • Avoid playing drinking games as it puts pressure on participants and makes them binge drink
  • Keep drinking water after consuming an alcohol-containing beverage.
  • Avoid drinking when on medication. 
  • Do not drink on an empty stomach. 
  • Do not mix energy drinks with alcohol.

Related: Alcohol Use Disorder: Definition, Symptoms, Types and Treatment

A Word from Calm Sage

Alcohol intoxication occurs when a person drinks a large amount of alcohol in a short time. A low level of alcohol intoxication causes mild symptoms, while severe intoxication can cause alcohol poisoning and can be life-threatening. 

In the case of alcohol poisoning, immediate medical attention is required because proper treatment increases the chances of survival. The recovery takes time and can vary from a few weeks to months.

However, in some cases, if alcohol poisoning leads to low oxygen levels, there can be permanent brain damage. Therefore, avoid drinking quickly, on an empty stomach, and do not mix alcohol and medicine. This can have a severe impact. Stay Safe. 

About The Author

Ayush Yadav
Ayush Yadav

Aayush is a writer, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change and make people aware about the history. He holds a bachelor's in law, lives in the princely state Jaipur and is passionate about helping people in anyway possible. In his spare time, he is usually out with friends and enjoys exploring different facets of life.

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