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Alcohol Overdose and Its Ill-Effects

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A person consuming too much alcohol in a short period or at once can cause alcohol overdose and lead to serious health complications.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Published At August 30, 2022
Reviewed AtOctober 31, 2023

Introduction:

Alcohol overdose is a serious health issue. Many people enjoy and think it is relaxing to drink alcohol but consuming too much alcohol can harm their health and lead to severe issues. This can be a life-threatening condition that should not be neglected.

What Causes Alcohol Overdose?

Alcohol affects all the organs of the body. It is considered to be a depressant as it slows down movements, speech, and the way people react. Alcohol is a drug that directly affects the central nervous system. If a person drinks an excessive amount of alcohol than the body can process, it leads to alcohol overdose. The body can safely process around one unit of alcohol per hour. When there is an intake of a large amount of alcohol, it becomes difficult for the body to metabolize, as everyone metabolizes alcohol at different rates. Drinking more than normal makes it very difficult for the body to break down fast, so the alcohol accumulates in the body. Excessive drinking includes heavy drinking, binge drinking, or drinking by someone less than 21 years of age.

What Are the Risk Factors for an Alcohol Overdose?

The risk factors for an alcohol overdose are:

  • Age - On average young adults are more prone to alcohol overdose.

  • Gender - Excessive drinking is observed more in men than women.

  • Body Weight and Height - Body weight and height can play an important role in determining how quickly the body absorbs alcohol.

  • Binge Drinking - Binge drinking is also a risk factor, and people who are into binge drinking are at higher risk for alcohol overdose. Binge drinking is defined as consuming more than five drinks on a single occasion for men and four or more drinks for women. It is important to note that the effects of binge drinking can be observed more rapidly in smaller bodies compared to larger bodies.

  • The Tolerance Level of the Body - Everybody has different tolerance levels, so having a high tolerance level can be a risk factor for alcohol overdose.

  • Ongoing Stress - People prone to stress tend to consume more alcohol.

  • Family Members Who Drink a Lot of Alcohol - Drinking alcohol is common in those people who have a family history of alcoholism.

  • Heavy Drinking - Heavy drinking for men is 15 or more drinks per week, and for women, eight or more drinks per week.

  • Other Drug Use - When a person combines alcohol with other drugs, the effects of alcohol are suppressed, which might cause them to drink more alcohol which will result in alcohol overdose.

  • Other Health Conditions - The person is at greater risk for an alcohol overdose when they are diabetic or have any other medical condition.

What Are the Symptoms of an Alcohol Overdose?

The symptoms of an alcohol overdose are:

  • Changes in the body temperature.

  • Changes in the mental state of the person.

  • Decrease in body temperature.

  • Mental confusion.

  • Vomiting.

  • Unconsciousness.

  • Nausea.

Other serious complications are:

  • Cardiac arrest can be observed because of low body temperature.

  • Slowing down or stopping one's breathing.

  • Decrease in the heart rate.

  • Seizures because of low sugar levels.

  • Gag reflex.

  • Brain damage.

Do not leave the person alone if suspecting a case of alcohol overdose, especially when the person is unconscious. Call for help and local emergency services immediately.

How is an Alcohol Overdose Diagnosed?

As alcohol overdose is a serious condition, it is treated in the emergency room. The physician will monitor the vital signs such as heart rate, breathing, temperature, and blood pressure.

If the person has more serious symptoms like cardiac arrest or seizures, the physician will carry out additional treatments like:

  • Intravenous fluids or intravenous medications.

  • Oxygen supply.

  • Nutrients like glucose or thiamine.

  • If seizures are observed, then medication to stop seizures is given.

Who Should Avoid Drinking Alcohol?

  • Pregnant women.

  • Anyone below 21 years old.

  • While driving or planning to drive.

  • If one is on any medications that interact with alcohol consumption.

  • While recovering from alcoholism.

  • If one is suffering from any medical conditions that may worsen.

What Are the Effects of Alcohol on Men and Women?

Alcohol affects men and women differently. Men are more likely to overuse alcohol.

In men, it may affect sexual and reproductive health:

  • Excessive alcohol can interfere with male hormone production and testicular functioning, which can lead to erectile dysfunction and infertility.

  • Alcohol use can also risk chances of men engaging in sexual activity, like having unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners, and there can be a risk of transfer of sexually transmitted diseases.

In women and girls, it affects:

  • Women need longer to metabolize alcohol than men because of the biological differences in the body.

  • The immediate and longer effects of alcohol are seen more in women than in men.

  • It affects women's sexual and reproductive health.

  • Intake of alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk of having a baby with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

  • Overuse of alcohol can increase the risk of miscarriages, premature delivery, and sudden infant death syndrome. So it is not safe to consume alcohol anytime during pregnancy.

How to Manage Alcohol Overdose?

Managing alcohol overdose or alcohol poisoning is a critical situation that requires immediate medical attention. Here's an improved guide on how to manage it:

  • Recognize the Signs: It is essential to recognize the signs of alcohol intoxication and alcohol poisoning. Look for symptoms such as confusion, vomiting, slow or irregular breathing, seizures, and unconsciousness.

  • Call for Help: If one suspects someone has alcohol poisoning, call the local emergency number immediately as the person needs professional medical care.

While waiting for medical professionals to arrive, take the following precautions if the person is unconscious:

  • Gently turn the person onto their side to prevent choking on vomit.

  • Keep the individual in a safe and stable position.

  • If the person is conscious, encourage them to drink water to help dilute the alcohol in their system. Do not force them to drink if they are not willing.

  • Stay with the individual and monitor their condition closely until medical help arrives. Be prepared to provide any necessary information to the medical team.

Medical treatment at the hospital includes the following medical interventions:

  • Vital Signs Monitoring: Continuous monitoring of vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen levels.

  • Respiratory Support: If breathing is impaired, they may provide oxygen therapy to ensure proper oxygen intake.

  • Intravenous Fluids: To prevent dehydration, intravenous fluids are administered.

  • Nutritional Support: Vitamins and glucose may be given to address any nutritional deficiencies and stabilize blood sugar levels.

  • Urinary Catheter: In some cases, a urinary catheter may be used to monitor urine output.

  • Gastric Lavage: In severe cases, doctors may perform gastric lavage (pumping the stomach) to remove alcohol and minimize absorption.

  • Activated Charcoal: Activated charcoal may also be administered to help absorb any remaining alcohol in the stomach.

What Are the Effects of Alcohol on the Body?

As alcohol is associated with other diseases, harms, and injuries, it has various effects on the body:

  • Impact of alcohol on the brain.

  • Liver disease.

  • Impact on the heart.

  • Impact on the breast.

  • Cancers.

  • Sexual violence.

How to Prevent Alcohol Overdose?

  • Try counseling or communication.

  • Limiting alcohol intake to prevent alcohol overdose.

  • Try sticking to one drink and slowly try to reduce the number of drinks altogether.

  • Avoid drinking alcohol on an empty stomach.

  • Stay hydrated.

  • Help loved ones from alcohol overdose.

  • Seek help if facing a drinking problem.

  • Talk to friends and family about the risks and dangers of alcohol and overdose.

Conclusion:

Drinking alcohol is found to be a social experience. Alcohol overdose can be harmful and life-threatening, leading to serious health conditions and it is crucial to seek immediate medical assistance. Do not hesitate to call for help, as early intervention can make a significant difference in the person's outcome.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

How Many Drinks Count as an Overdose of Alcohol?

Alcohol overdose is when a person consumes more alcohol than their body can process. There is no set number of drinks that will result in alcohol poisoning; instead, each person's tolerance for alcohol will vary. Our bodies can process approximately a unit of alcohol (one ounce or one standard drink) per hour safely. However, when a large amount of alcohol is consumed, the body finds it difficult to metabolize. Therefore, the Chief Medical Officers of the United Kingdom (UK) recommends that men limit their alcohol consumption to three to four units per day and two to three units per day for women. Also, no more than 21 units per week for men and 14 units per week for women are recommended.

2.

What Are the Seven Stages of Alcohol Poisoning?

The following are the seven stages of alcohol poisoning: 
Sobriety or Low-Level Intoxication: One or fewer drinks per hour.
Euphoria: Two to three drinks (in men) or one to two drinks (in women) in an hour.
Excitement: In men, three to five drinks in an hour; in women, two to four drinks. 
Confusion: More than five drinks in an hour, or a woman consumes more than four drinks in an hour.
Stupor: At this stage, the person no longer responds to what is happening around them. 
Coma: This is the most dangerous stage. Patients can undergo a condition of prolonged unconsciousness or comatose. 
Death: A person is likely to die from alcohol poisoning if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.45 % or higher.

3.

What Should You Do if You Have Drank Too Much?

Consuming bland foods high in complex carbohydrates will increase low blood sugar levels and alleviate nausea.
Drink a lot of fluids to reduce dehydration
Get enough sleep
Take antacids to help your stomach settle.
Aspirin and other NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as Ibuprofen or Naproxen, may treat headaches or muscle aches. 
Be patient. Hangover symptoms usually subside after 8 hours to 24 hours. After that, your body must detoxify the toxic byproducts of alcohol, rehydrate, and repair tissue.

4.

What Happens When You Black Out?

When one has a blackout, one temporarily loses consciousness. Before that, they may experience dizziness, blurred vision, or confusion. Alcohol-related blackouts are lapses in memory for events that happened while the person was intoxicated. These gaps occur when a person consumes enough alcohol to temporarily obstruct the transmission of memories from short-term to long-term storage (known as memory consolidation) in the hippocampus, a brain area.

5.

What Is the Distinction Between Alcohol Overdose and Being Drunk?

When there is far too much alcohol in the bloodstream, the brain has difficulty controlling basic life functions like breathing, temperature control, and heart rate. Some symptoms, such as vomiting or confusion, are common in drunk people. There is no real distinction between being drunk and suffering from an alcohol overdose; the mechanisms underlying both are the same - alcohol dulls systems within the mind and body. The only difference is that a person suffering from alcohol overdose has consumed far too much alcohol, and alcohol's dangerous effects on the mind and body are amplified to a lethal level.

6.

What Causes Vomiting After Alcohol?

Alcohol can cause stomach lining inflammation (gastritis), which can cause nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain. It also stimulates the production of excess acid in the stomach and delays the passage of gastric contents into the small bowel, which contributes to nausea and vomiting. Vomiting is your body's reaction to excess toxins from alcohol.

7.

How Long Does It Take for the Alcohol to Be Flushed Out of the Body?

Alcohol has a half-life of 4 hours to 5 hours. A half-life is a time the body takes to eliminate half of something. However, it takes about five half-lives to eliminate alcohol completely. As a result, it may take around 25 hours for the body to clear all of the alcohol.

8.

Which Alcohol Causes the Least and the Most Hangover?

Dark liquors are more likely to cause worse hangovers than clear liquor. This is because congeners, the byproducts of alcohol production found primarily in red wine, brandy, and tequila, are found in dark liquors. Congeners make hangovers worse and last longer. Clear liquors have fewer congeners, such as vodka, silver rum, and gin. Alcohol and its congeners cause inflammation, contributing to malaise and hangovers.

9.

Which Parts of the Brain Are Affected by Alcohol?

Alcohol affects the following brain structures:
The frontal lobes - this part of the brain control cognition, memory, thought, and judgment. Alcohol impairs nearly all of these functions by inhibiting their effects.
The hippocampus is responsible for memory formation and storage. Therefore, memory loss is caused by alcohol's effect on the hippocampus.
The cerebellum is the brain's center of movement and balance—this is the reason why people lose their balance and move uncoordinatedly.
The hypothalamus and pituitary gland - these parts coordinate hormone release and automatic brain functions.
The medulla oblongata functions as your body's power panel. This small section of your brainstem regulates basic vital life functions like body temperature, breathing, consciousness, and heart rate. The depressant effects of alcohol on the medulla are frequently responsible for the life-threatening signs of overdose: immensely slowed breathing (also known as respiratory depression by medical professionals) and a slowed heartbeat.

10.

Can Alcohol Cause Dehydration?

Yes, alcohol can cause dehydration. Alcohol acts as a diuretic. It causes the removal of fluids from the blood much faster than other liquids through the renal system, that is, the kidneys, ureters, and bladder. Therefore, you can quickly become dehydrated if you do not drink enough water while drinking alcohol.
Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar
Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Pulmonology (Asthma Doctors)

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