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According to health authorities, a rising number of people are experiencing alcohol-induced complications, including poisoning and death. Some statistics even suggest that up to six people die due to overconsumption of alcohol every day, alarming experts to take action to contain the situation. These negative consequences may make a person wonder how to differentiate simple drunkenness from the full-blown symptoms of alcohol poisoning. While both conditions are quite similar with matching symptoms, alcohol poisoning represents a set of highly exaggerated symptoms that may sometimes become severe enough to take a life.
If you or someone you know regularly engages in alcohol use, learning to differentiate alcohol poisoning symptoms vs drunk symptoms is essential.
What Are Alcohol Poisoning Symptoms vs Being Drunk?
People who have been heavily intoxicated may not be a good judge of how poorly they are doing. If they believe that they need help, others must take them seriously. However, if they insist that they are doing fine while exhibiting the symptoms of alcohol poisoning, it is advised to overrule their symptoms if necessary. Someone who appears to be drunk may need to be under constant observation to ensure that they do not consume any more alcohol.
Wondering how to tell if someone is drunk? Following are the physical signs of being drunk a person may exhibit after drinking too much alcohol:
- Loss of balance
- Talking loudly
- Slurred speech
- Bloodshot eyes
- Difficulty walking
- Trouble focusing on a conversation or activity
- Slow reaction time
- Inability to tell that they have reached a serious point of inebriation
On the other hand, someone who has reached the point of alcohol poisoning may exhibit the following symptoms in addition to the ones mentioned above:
- Repeatedly vomiting
- Losing consciousness
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Skin becomes bluish, particularly their lips or fingernails
- Change in heart rate
- Low body temperate
- Shallow breathing
- Extremely confused
In general, the symptoms of alcohol poisoning directly correspond to the amount of alcohol a person has in their blood, also known as blood alcohol concentration (BAC). According to BAC, the following levels of alcohol side effects have been identified:
Mild impairment (0.0 – 0.05% BAC)
At this level, most individuals experience mild impairments in balance, attention, memory, and speech. Some may even feel sleepy or relaxed.
Increased impairment (0.06 – 0.15%)
At this level, a person may become increasingly intoxicated, exhibiting problems with balance, coordination, and speech. Their driving skills may also take a hit.
Severe impairment (0.16 – 0.30%)
Driving can become extremely dangerous at this point as people start experiencing more severe symptoms, including vomiting, blackouts, and loss of consciousness.
Life-threatening (0.31 – 0.45%)
At this level, life-threatening symptoms of alcohol poisoning may begin to appear, such as suppression of vital functions, loss of consciousness, and a high risk of mortality.
When any of these symptoms begin to appear, it is advised to seek immediate medical help to avoid permanent damage and potential complications.
Who is at Risk of Developing Alcohol Poisoning Symptoms?
It is common for anyone to feel intoxicated or get drunk after consuming a few drinks. However, some individuals are more likely to progress and experience alcohol poisoning. The following are the factors that may determine this risk:
Body Type and Weight
People with higher BMIs and greater body weights absorb alcohol more slowly than leaner ones. Hence, the latter seems to be at a heightened risk of experiencing alcohol poisoning.
Current Health Status
Having pre-existing medical issues can also put a person at an increased risk of experiencing alcohol poisoning.
Mixing alcohol with other substances with similar effects on the central nervous system can exacerbate the overall effects, making poisoning a possible outcome.
Alcohol Tolerance Level
People who have been drinking for a long time can tolerate higher levels of alcohol without feeling drunk. Such people are at a comparatively lesser risk of experiencing alcohol poisoning than periodic drinkers with lesser tolerance levels.
Drinking on an Empty Stomach
People who drink on an empty stomach are more likely to absorb alcohol at a faster rate, increasing the chances of intoxication and poisoning.
Consuming High Alcohol Proof Rate Liquors
These beverages have higher alcohol content which can raise the blood alcohol concentration more quickly than a drink with a lower alcoholic percentage.
Rate and Amount of Alcohol Consumption
Drinking a higher number of drinks more quickly can put down a person at a higher risk of alcohol poisoning
Getting Treatment for Alcohol Poisoning
A very delicate line exists between alcohol poisoning symptoms vs. drunk; once you cross this line, seeking medical help to save a life becomes crucial. Alcohol poisoning is extremely dangerous, and there is no way to reverse it. Calling emergency medical services and keeping the victim safe until help arrives is the first and the most critical step in managing alcohol poisoning. Once emergency help arrives, experts may take over and use the following treatments:
Once a patient reaches the hospital, a medical professional may administer intravenous fluids to manage the symptoms of dehydration caused by excessive alcohol consumption and the vomiting it has induced.
In some cases, a medical professional may administer oxygen through a mask to provide respiratory support, especially in people experiencing slowed or irregular breathing.
Hemodialysis is a process that uses an artificial machine to filter blood and remove extra alcohol along with its metabolites more quickly than the body naturally can.
Blood Pressure Medication
These medications can regulate blood pressure while regulating any dips.
Experts may insert a tube into the stomach to remove any alcohol that remains inside and prevent it from getting absorbed into the bloodstream.
People experiencing alcoholic seizures may also benefit from a short-term anticonvulsant medication to manage it. Alcohol poisoning requires some time to recover from. After receiving medical treatment, a person may experience continued hangover symptoms until they become more stable.
A healthcare expert may also suggest seeking treatment for underlying alcohol use disorder or talking to a mental health professional about it. These treatment programs can help them safely withdraw from alcohol while treating other co-existing conditions, such as depression or anxiety.
Preventing Alcohol Poisoning: Tips to Follow
Getting drunk too quickly increases a person’s risk of experiencing alcohol poisoning symptoms. These symptoms can quickly prove fatal; hence, controlling the situation is imperative. For this purpose, keep the following tips in mind:
Drink alcohol in moderation
If you are planning a night out with family or attending a social event that involves alcohol use, plan ahead on how to keep your consumption moderate to low. For women, this means having one drink per day, whereas, for men, it means two drinks per day.
Slow down the drinking session
Drinking too much alcohol too quickly can rapidly make a person drunk while increasing their chances of experiencing alcohol poisoning. Hence, try to slow down the session and space out your drinks by having a glass of water or a non-alcohol beverage after each drink.
Do not drink on an empty stomach
Having a light meal before you go out to a club is essential to prevent getting drunk or experiencing alcohol poisoning. Food contents in the stomach prevent alcohol from getting absorbed too quickly.
Communicate your concerns
If you have concerns about a loved one drinking too much or getting drunk too often, sit down with them and have a chat regarding the possible risks of alcohol use, binge drinking, and alcohol overdose and poisoning
Do not use alcohol with other medications
If you are using any other medications, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs, avoid using alcohol. Such combinations can prove highly risky and trigger dangerous drug interactions, making a person intoxicated and at risk of alcohol poisoning.
Only consume a drink when you know what exactly it includes. Do not leave the drink unattended ever.
Unfortunately, there is no sure-shot way of minimizing the risk of alcohol poisoning other than complete abstinence. Those who cannot completely eliminate alcohol from their daily life can try to minimize their alcohol consumption or consider drinking non-alcoholic beverages as an alternative.
What is the difference between drunk and alcohol poisoning?
Both conditions share many characteristics and symptoms, such as confusion and vomiting. There is no real difference between the two since both conditions develop following the same mechanism, i.e., alcohol dulling the system within the body and mind. The only difference is that when an individual experiences an overdose, they have a very high dose of alcohol in their blood which magnifies the usual side effects to a deadly level.
What should I do if I do not understand if someone is experiencing alcohol poisoning vs drunk?
If you suspect that someone has consumed very high levels of alcohol but are unsure that the signs they are exhibiting are of an overdose or simply a state of drunkenness, it is crucial to call medical help immediately. In many cases, the symptoms which may eventually make someone feel drunk with no apparent threat may worsen and quickly become deadly.
In such circumstances, having medical help can potentially save a life. Once the emergency help is on the way, stay with the affected person and lay them over to one side to ensure that they do not choke on their vomit. Once the experts have administered emergency treatment to deal with the immediate threat, the victim may need ongoing treatment to address their underlying alcohol use disorder.
What factors can determine the symptoms of being drug vs. alcohol poisoning?
There are no exact factors or a formula that you can use to predict when a person will become drunk or suffer from an alcohol overdose. However, you may consider taking into account the following factors that influence a person’s level of intoxication and determine how likely it is to happen:
- Body weight and size
- Stomach contents
- Overall health status
- Co-existing health disorders
- Any administration of other medications simultaneously
- Rate of alcohol consumption
How long will the symptoms of alcohol poisoning last?
The duration of alcohol poisoning symptoms may remain for varying lengths of time, depending on factors like how much alcohol a person consumes, how quickly they consume it, and how fast their body can metabolize it. Some factors that influence the metabolic speed in a person include sex, age, weight, tolerance, and the use of other medications. Whether a person consumes alcohol on an empty stomach or after having a meal also determines how fast they break it down.
What can I eat after experiencing alcohol poisoning?
A person who is recovering from a recent episode of alcohol poisoning and is still experiencing a hangover may be experiencing dehydration. Hence, drinking fluids is the primary piece of advice they may need to follow. Moreover, eating whole grains, yogurt, bananas, and sweet potatoes can also be beneficial.
Can alcohol poisoning kill you?
Alcohol poisoning is a serious condition that can quickly prove fatal. Too much alcohol too quickly can negatively affect various body processes, such as respiration, heart rate, gag reflex, and body temperature. Moreover, alcohol poisoning can also make a person lose consciousness, suffer brain damage, slip into a coma, or even die.
Can alcohol poisoning cause permanent damage to the body?
In addition to putting a person at risk of danger, alcohol poisoning can also irreversibly damage the brain. Some other complications it may lead to include liver disease, cirrhosis, cancer, addiction, mental health problems, and vitamin deficiencies. Moreover, it can also increase the risk of acquiring unintentional injuries due to falls, assault, drowning, and automobile accidents.