Information on Alcohol Overdose
What is alcohol overdose?
Alcohol overdose (often times referred to as alcohol poisoning) can happen to anyone who drinks too much alcohol too fast. Alcohol overdose can be fatal because the central nervous system becomes depressed, potentially causing the heart and lungs to slow down to the point of stopping. Alcohol overdose requires immediate attention by a medical professional.
How much is too much?
The body can process about one standard drink per hour. A standard drink is 12 ounces of regular beer, 4-5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof hard liquor in a mixed drink or a shot. (Each of these contains about .6 ounces of pure alcohol.) Ice beer, malt liquor, and fortified wines have more than the standard amount of pure alcohol per volume.
While there are individual differences in how alcohol affects people, in general, drinking more than one drink per hour will result in physical, psychological, and emotional impairment. The extent of the impairment depends on the rate of alcohol consumption and the person (things like weight, sex, tolerance, food in the stomach, and mood).
Anytime a person has had a lot to drink or shows signs of significant alcohol impairment, s/he needs to be watched very carefully for danger signs that s/he could be at risk for alcohol overdose or other medical emergencies. A person may be at risk if s/he shows signs of:
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty walking or standing up
- Erratic behavior
- Inability to make eye contact or sustain a conversation
- Feeling very ill, including prolonged vomiting
What are signs of alcohol overdose?
- Person is unresponsive and cannot be awakened.
- Person has cold, clammy, pale or bluish skin.
- Person is breathing irregularly (less than 8 breaths per minute).
What should I do if I suspect someone may have alcohol overdose?
- Call 44911 (on campus) or 911 (off campus) if you discover even just one of the signs of alcohol poisoning (unresponsiveness; cold, clammy, pale or bluish skin; or irregular breathing).
- Turn and keep the person on his/her side so that if vomiting occurs, s/he will not choke on the vomit.
- Stay with the person while waiting for help.
When in doubt, call 44911 (or 911). People who have overdosed on alcohol are unable to help themselves, so it's up to you to get help. A friend's life may depend on it.
Sources: Columbia University's "Go Ask Alice" accessed on 6-27-03 at http://www.goaskalice.columbia.edu/2066.html
Matthews J. Beer, booze, and books: a sober look at higher education, 2nd edition. Viaticum Press: Peterborough, New Hampshire. 2001.