Alcohol Poisoning: Signs, Symptoms, & Treatment

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Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to a state where the amount of alcohol in the system surpasses the body’s ability to metabolize it effectively. This overwhelming influx of alcohol means that the body must exert extra effort to eliminate the alcohol.

During the metabolic process, alcohol is converted into acetaldehyde, a substance that is even more harmful than alcohol itself. This can pose significant health risks, as your body struggles to process and clear these toxic substances. Read on to learn more about how to avoid alcohol poisoning and how to engage with effective treatment if your blood alcohol concentration becomes dangerously high.

What Is Alcohol Poisoning?

Consuming excessive alcohol can overwhelm the bloodstream and impair critical brain functions that regulate vital systems like respiration, heart rate, and body temperature. An overdose of alcohol may lead to life-threatening symptoms, including:

  • Severe confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Slow heart rate
  • Cold, damp skin 
  • Suppressed gag reflex
  • Significant drop in body temperature. 
  • Respiratory difficulties
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures

Alcohol poisoning can cause irreversible harm to the brain. In some cases, overdosing on alcohol can be fatal. The threshold at which alcohol consumption becomes dangerous varies from person to person and is influenced by factors such as age, tolerance to alcohol, gender, the rate of consumption, concurrent use of medications, and the amount of food in the stomach.

Combining alcohol with opioids or sedatives – prescription sleep aids like zolpidem and eszopiclone, or benzodiazepines like diazepam and alprazolam – increases the risk of alcohol poisoning. This risk is also present with over-the-counter antihistamines or prescription medications like promethazine. 

Mixing alcohol with opioid painkillers like oxycodone and morphine, or with illicit opioids like heroin and fentanyl, is especially dangerous. Alcohol and opioids both depress the CNS (central nervous system) and the brain’s ability to manage essential life functions. Combining alcohol and opioids amplifies their effects, increasing the risk of alcohol poisoning even with moderate intake.

A man stares out a window as he considers alcohol poisoning symptoms

Signs of Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol overdose is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when someone consumes a dangerous amount of alcohol in a short period. Recognizing the signs of alcohol poisoning enables you to take immediate action to help the affected person. Here are the main indicators of alcohol poisoning:

  • Confusion and mental impairment: Inability to stay awake or respond to questions. Severe disorientation, confusion, or stupor.
  • Vomiting: Frequent and uncontrollable vomiting, which may be forceful. Vomit may contain blood or be a different color.
  • Hypothermia: Cold, clammy, or bluish skin, especially around the fingers and toes. A drop in body temperature due to alcohol’s depressive effects on the CNS.
  • Slow or irregular breathing: Breathing may become slow, irregular, or even stop temporarily. Shallow or erratic breathing patterns.
  • Seizures: Seizures or convulsions can occur as a result of alcohol poisoning. The person may lose consciousness during a seizure.

Alcohol Poisoning Symptoms

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include a range of physical and physiological reactions to excessive alcohol consumption. While some symptoms overlap with the signs outlined above, other symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar): Paleness or bluish skin due to poor circulation. Sweating profusely and feeling cold to the touch.
  • Irregular heartbeat: Rapid, irregular, or slowed heart rate. Hypotension (low blood pressure) may also occur.
  • Unconsciousness: The person may become unresponsive or lose consciousness. Inability to wake the person up, even with vigorous shaking.
  • Hyperventilation: Rapid and deep breathing that can lead to respiratory alkalosis (an imbalance in blood pH). This may be accompanied by confusion and agitation.
  • Odor of alcohol: An overpowering smell of alcohol on the person’s breath. Alcohol-scented vomit or regurgitation.

Alcohol poisoning can be fatal if left untreated. If you suspect that someone is experiencing alcohol poisoning, call for emergency medical assistance immediately. While waiting for help, try to keep the person awake and sitting up if possible, and do not leave them alone. Don’t attempt to sober the person up with cold showers or coffee, as these methods are ineffective and can be harmful. Alcohol poisoning requires prompt medical attention to prevent severe complications or death.

Alcohol Poisoning Treatment

When signs of alcohol poisoning appear, call emergency services immediately. While awaiting emergency personnel, take these steps:

  • Remain calm and vigilant.
  • Keep the person seated and upright.
  • Make sure that they stay conscious.
  • Stay with the person, keeping them company.
  • Be prepared to relay information to the emergency responders about the person overdosing on alcohol and the circumstances.
  • Upon arrival at the hospital, healthcare providers have various treatments for alcohol poisoning based on their BAC (blood alcohol content) and symptom severity. If breathing difficulties arise, a tube may be inserted into the windpipe to facilitate normal breathing. To counteract dehydration and low blood sugar that often accompany heavy drinking, an IV drip may be administered, providing fluids and nutrients.

In particularly severe cases of alcohol poisoning, gastric lavage might be performed to quickly clear toxins from the stomach, accelerating the alcohol’s removal from the bloodstream and lessening the risk of fatal outcomes.


How long does alcohol poisoning last?

The duration of alcohol poisoning can vary greatly depending on factors like body weight, tolerance, and the amount of alcohol consumed. Symptoms can last for several hours, and it may take a day or more for the body to fully process the alcohol in severe cases, especially without medical intervention.

How do you get alcohol poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning occurs when someone consumes a toxic amount of alcohol, usually over a short period of time, leading to a blood alcohol concentration that is high enough to be poisonous to the body. This typically happens when drinking large amounts of alcohol quickly, which overwhelms the liver’s ability to metabolize it.

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Get Treatment for Alcohol Addiction at Ohio Recovery

At Ohio Recovery Centers, we specialize in the outpatient treatment of alcohol addiction. This enables you to engage with evidence-based care without neglecting your everyday commitments. We also offer more intensive outpatient treatment for those who required a more structured pathway to lasting sobriety.

All treatment programs at our Cincinnati rehab account for the unique nature of each alcohol addiction by delivering tailored and evidence-based treatment. Alcohol use disorder responds positively to a blend of MAT (medication-assisted treatment), psychotherapies, and counseling. Additionally, you can access a variety of holistic therapies at Ohio Recovery Centers. When you are ready to address alcohol addiction head-on, call 877-679-2132 right away.

Table of Contents

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Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
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Christopher Glover CDCA

My name is Christopher Glover, and I am from Cincinnati, Ohio. I am currently in school and working to grow in competence to better support our community. As a recovering individual I know the struggles that you or a loved one can go through and that there is help for anything you may be struggling with.

The hardest part is asking for help and we are here as a team to best support you and your decision to start your journey towards a better future. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn

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Amanda Kuchenberg PRS CDCA

I recently joined Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers as a Clinical Case Manager. I am originally from Wisconsin but settled in the Cincinnati area in my early 20s.  My career started in the fashion industry but quickly changed as I searched to find my drive and passion through helping others who struggle with addiction. 

As someone who is also in recovery, I wanted to provide hope, share lived experience, and support others on their journey.  I currently have my Peer Recovery Support Supervision Certification along with my CDCA and plan to continue my education with University of Cincinnati so I can continue to aid in the battle against substance addiction. Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn.

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Patrick McCamley LCDC III

 Patrick McCamley (Clinical Therapist) is a Cincinnati native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2019. Patrick received his bachelors degree in psychology from University of Cincinnati in 2021 and received his LCDC III (Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2022. Patrick has worked in Clinical Operations, Clinical Case Management, and Clinical Therapy throughout his career.

Patrick has tremendous empathy and compassion for the recovery community, being in recovery himself since 2018. Patrick is uniquely qualified to be helpful because of the specific combination of his academic background and his own experience in recovery.

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Bill Zimmerman CDCA

Bill Zimmerman is a Greater Cincinnati Area native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2018. Bill received his (Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2020.

Bill has worked in Clinical Operations in both support and supervision, and Program facilitating and 12 step recovery support during his career. Bill has a passion for the recovery community, having been in recovery himself since 1982. Connect with Bill on LinkedIn

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Taylor Lilley CDCA, PRS

Growing up in Louisiana with addiction running rampant on both sides of my family. A life away from drugs and alcohol seemed impossible for someone like me. I remember what it was like sitting across from someone thinking there is no way they could ever understand what I was going through.

Sharing my experience offers a credibility and a certain type of trust with clients that only someone who has walked down this road can illustrate. To immerse myself further into the field of addiction, I am currently studying at Cincinnati State for Human and Social Services.  I hope I never forget where I came from, if I can do it, so can you!

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Thomas Hunter LSW

Hello my name is Thomas Hunter. I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. I am a licensed social worker.In my scope of practice I have worked in the areas of mental health and recovery for thirty years. The clients I have worked with in my career have ranged in age from seven to seventy.

I strive each day to serve my purpose of helping those in need and I believe I do so by utilizing all of my experiences to accomplish my goal of supporting those who desire to establish their sobriety and maintain it in their recovery. Connect with Thomas on LinkedIn.

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Mary D.Porter,LICDC

 My name is Mary D. Porter. I received my Masters of Social Work in 2008 from The University of Cincinnati. I received My Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor Licensure in 2001. I retired from The Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center on April 14, 2014. Currently, I am the Associate Clinical Director for The Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers in Cincinnati.. Due to the fourth wave of the Opioid Epidemic in 2019,  I decided to enter back into the workforce to assist the addicted population.

The overdoses were astounding and I wanted to help.  I consider myself  to be an advocate for the addicted population. My compassion, resilience, empathy, wisdom, knowledge, experience and  love I have for this forgotten population goes beyond words. I consider what I do for the addicted population as a calling versus a “career,” because I too was once an “addict and alcoholic.” Today I am 45.5 years alcohol and substance free.

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Ben Lemmon LCDC III

Hello, my name is Ben Lemmon, and I’m the Vice President and Clinical Director at Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers. I’ve been working in the addiction and mental health field since 2013 and decided to enter the field after overcoming my own challenges with addiction.

When I first meet a client, I always explain to them that the reason we are meeting is because they are not capable of obtaining or maintaining sobriety, and my goal is to create a person that can maintain sobriety. I believe a person’s personality is made up of their thoughts, feelings and actions and my job is to help clients identify the thoughts, feelings and actions that have them disconnected from recovery and provide them with the tools to live a healthy and happy life. Connect with Ben on LinkedIn