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Alcohol overdose: How much amount of alcohol to OD?


ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Alcohol intoxication is a condition in which a toxic amount of alcohol has been consumed, usually in a short period of time and typically leads to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) that exceeds 0.08 g/dL. More here on overdose amounts and well as the signs and solutions for acute intoxication or alcohol poisoning.


TABLE OF CONTENTS


How Alcohol Works in the Brain

Alcohol is a nervous system depressant and is considered a drug because it has no nutritional value. When drinking moderately, the user feels only the regular effects of drinking. When you drink too much, problems appear. But how does it affect the brain, exactly?

Alcohol is absorbed directly through the walls of the stomach and the small intestine, goes into the bloodstream, and travels throughout the body and to the brain. Alcohol is quickly absorbed and can be measured within 30 to 70 minutes after a person has had a drink.

There, alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, and can affect the way the brain works. These disruptions can change mood and behavior, and make it harder to think clearly and move with coordination.

What is Alcohol Overdose?

The term “overdose” does not quite fit alcohol use. This term is mainly used for other kind of drugs. In medical terms an alcohol overdose is called “intoxication”. The term “poisoning” may be used too.

Therefore, alcohol intoxication is a condition in which a toxic amount of alcohol has been consumed, usually in a short period of time and typically leads to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) that exceeds 0.08 g/dL. Alcohol poisoning occurs when there is so much alcohol in the bloodstream that areas of the brain controlling basic life-support functions such as

  • Breathing.
  • Heart rate.
  • Temperature control.

In cases of alcohol overdose, these functions begin to shut down. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Clammy skin.
  • Confusion.
  • Difficulty remaining conscious.
  • Dulled responses.
  • Extremely low body temperature.
  • Seizures.
  • Slow heart rate.
  • Trouble with breathing.
  • Vomiting.

Problem Drinking

There are three main types of problem drinking:

1. Binge drinking.
2. Chronic drinking.
3. Heavy drinking.

Binge drinking. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) define binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men, in about 2 hours on at least 1 day in the past month.

Chronic drinking. An alcohol use disorder (alcoholism) may be present if you’re drinking more than 7 drinks per week for women or 14 drinks per week for me. Take this self-assessment online from Rethinking Drinking to assess a possible problem.

Heavy drinking. SAMHSA defines heavy alcohol use as binge drinking on 5 or more days in the past month.

What is BAC?

The amount of alcohol in a person’s body is measured by the weight of the alcohol in a certain volume of blood (measured in grams per deciliter). This is called the blood alcohol concentration or “BAC.” The Cleveland Clinic offers a BAC calculator online.

How fast a person’s BAC rises varies based on a number of factors:

1. The number of drinks. The more you drink, the higher your BAC.

2. How fast you drink. When alcohol is consumed quickly, you will reach a higher BAC than when it is consumed over a longer period of time.

3. Your gender. Women generally have less water and more body fat per pound of body weight than men do. Alcohol does not go into fat cells as easily as other cells, so more alcohol remains in the blood of women.

4. Your weight. The more you weigh, the more water is present in your body. This water dilutes the alcohol and lowers the BAC.

5. Food in your stomach. Absorption will be slowed if you have had something to eat.

Typical BAC Intoxication Levels

Impairment depends directly on BAC. Here, we’ll present a sequence of the signs and symptoms due to the increase of BAC:

0.02%: Altered mood, relaxation, slight body warmth, some loss of judgment.
0.05%: Exaggerated behavior, impaired judgment, lowered alertness, may have loss of small-muscle control (e.g., focusing your eyes), release of inhibition, usually good feeling.
0.08%: Harder to detect danger, judgment, self-control, reasoning, and memory are impaired, muscle coordination becomes poor (e.g., balance, speech, vision, reaction time, and hearing).
0.10%: Clear deterioration of reaction time and control, poor coordination, and slowed thinking, slurred speech.
0.15%: Far less muscle control than normal, major loss of balance, vomiting may occur (unless this level is reached slowly or a person has developed a tolerance for alcohol).

How Much Is Too Much

How much alcohol is too much varies by person. The amount of drink in the glass does not determine the actual amount of alcohol consumed. For instance, there is almost no difference in the alcohol level between light beer and a regular one. The level of pure alcohol, ethanol, in a single drink, is what adds up when users are consuming several glasses or even bottles in a row. One mixed drink, such as a cocktail, multiplies the alcohol level within a single drink.

Intoxication or poisoning are related directly to the amount of alcohol that you drink in one setting. This NIAAA illustration shows you one serving size of alcohol.

In the United States, what is considered a standard drink contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol. That evens out to 1 big glass of beer 5% alcohol (12fl), or 1 glass of table wine 12% alcohol (5fl), or 1 shot of tequila 40% alcohol (1.5 fl). No more than two drinks daily and no more than 14 drinks weekly is considered moderate for men. No more than one drink daily and no more than seven drinks weekly is considered moderate for women.

It takes roughly 90 minutes for a healthy liver to metabolize each of these drinks, consumed separately. When consumed faster, or when drinkers drink multiple doses of alcohol with higher ethanol presence at the same time, the blood concentrations are higher and the intoxication affects the user.

Signs and Complications of Alcohol Intoxication

Alcohol intoxication can be dangerous for many reasons, both for the user (acute and chronic) and for surrounding people. Possible signs and complications of alcohol intoxication include:

To you:

  • Bluish skin color.
  • Coma.
  • Dilation of blood vessels (may induce to hypertension or hypotension).
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature).
  • Inability to wake up.
  • Increased risk of certain cancers (chronic).
  • Increased risk of liver cirrhosis (chronic).
  • Increased risk of stroke.
  • Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths).
  • Loss of balance and motor skills.
  • Mental confusion.
  • Paleness.
  • Poor judgment.
  • Reduced reaction time.
  • Seizures.
  • Slow breathing (fewer than 8 breaths per minute).
  • Slurred speech.
  • Stupor.
  • Vomiting.

To others:

  • Damage to a developing fetus.
  • Increased risk of motor-vehicle traffic crashes.
  • Violence (physical and psychological).

It is not necessary to have all the above signs or symptoms before you seek medical help. A person with alcohol intoxication who is unconscious or cannot be awakened is at risk of dying. In fact, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, someone who drinks a fatal dose of alcohol will eventually stop breathing. Even if someone survives an alcohol overdose, he or she can suffer irreversible brain damage.

What You Need to Do?

If you suspect that someone is experiencing extreme alcohol intoxication or alcohol poisoning (even if you don’t see the classic signs and symptoms of an emergency) seek immediate medical care.

Here is what to do:

  1. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Never assume the person will sleep off alcohol intoxication.
  2. Be prepared to provide information. If you know, be sure to tell hospital or emergency personnel the kind and amount of alcohol the person drank, and when.
  3. Do not leave an unconscious person alone. Because alcohol intoxication affects the way the gag reflex works, someone with alcohol intoxication may choke on his or her own vomit and not be able to breathe. While waiting for help, do not try to make the person vomit because he or she could choke.
  4. Help a person who is vomiting. Try to keep him or her sitting up. If the person must lie down, make sure to turn his or her head to the side, this helps prevent choking. Try to keep the person awake to prevent loss of consciousness.

If you plan on drinking, plan not to drive. You should:

  • Always wear your seat belt. It is your best defense against impaired drivers.
  • Designate a sober driver.
  • Plan a safe way home in advance and never drive after drinking.
  • Use a taxi, call a sober friend or family member or use public transportation.

Prognosis

So, what happens after cases of alcohol overdose?

It depends upon treatment. According to College Drinking Prevention.gov, untreated alcohol poisoning can lead to:

  • Breathing slows, becomes irregular, or stops.
  • Choking on his her own vomit.
  • Heart beats irregularly or stops.
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature).
  • Hypoglycemia (too little blood sugar) leads to seizures.
  • Severe dehydration can cause seizures, permanent brain damage, or death.

Even if you’re worried about the consequences… always seek medical help for a friend who has had too much to drink. Care enough to help! Always be safe, not sorry.

Hangovers

The experience of effects following heavy consumption of alcohol is called a “hangover”. Hangovers usually lasts for up to 24 hours and are mostly related to the blood alcohol concentrations. Some hangover symptoms are related to the alcohol intoxication and its withdrawal symptoms. Often, alcoholics experience memory blackouts and/or live with a permanently damaged liver.

The liver’s performance on metabolizing alcohol depends on many factors such as:

  • Age.
  • How much the person usually drinks.
  • Overall health status.
  • The family history when it comes to alcohol abuse.
  • What and how often the person drinks alcohol.

People who have been drinking heavily for several days or weeks may not only experience an extreme hangover – for up to 72 hours – but may have withdrawal symptoms after the period of intoxication. This is definitely a sign that the person needs professional help!

Alcohol Intoxication Death Rate

According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 38 million U.S. adults report binge drinking an average of four times per month and consuming an average of eight drinks per episode. On average, six persons, mostly adult men, die from alcohol poisoning each day in the United States. . The death rate for males was three times the death rate for females.

More than 25,000 people die from alcohol-induced causes in the UNITED STATES per each year. 76% of alcohol intoxication deaths are among adults ages 35 to 64 and about 76% of those who die from alcohol intoxication are men. This includes deaths from dependent and non-dependent use of alcohol, as well as deaths from accidental intoxication by alcohol. More on alcohol-related death data from the NIAAA here.

So…if you’re engaging in repetitive drinking…why not stop?

You risk more than just a hangover.

Do You Have a Drinking Problem?

According to the NIAAA, signs of a drinking problem are fairly clear cut. If you present some of the following… you may have a drinking problem:

  • Decreasing alcohol tolerance.
  • Felling palpitations after drinking.
  • Imperious need of alcohol.
  • Irritability.
  • Nervousness.
  • Tremors.

You know when you start drinking, but you have no idea how everything ended.
You miss your responsibilities.

Take hope!

Drinking problems can be treated.

Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition. As such, it is treated medically. Reach out for help from any other follow medical professionals. You can first get a diagnosis and then enter treatment. Professionals who diagnose drinking problems include:

  • Psychiatrists.
  • Psychologists.
  • Medical doctors.
  • Social workers.

Your Questions

If there is something more you would like to know about alcohol’s effects, alcohol intoxication, or any related issue … please send us your question in the comments section below. We will try to help you ASAP!

We love to hear from our readers. So, send us your questions and we’ll try to get you the most accurate and useful answer possible.

Reference Sources: CDC: Fact Sheets: Alcohol use and your health
CDC: Alcohol poisoning deaths
CDC: During binges, U.S. adults have 17 billion drinks a year
CDC: Fact Sheets: Age 21 Minimum legal drinking age
CDC: Fact Sheets: Underage drinking
MAYO CLINIC: Alcohol poisoning
NIAAA: Alcohol’s damaging effects on the brain
NIAAA: Alcohol’s effects on the body
NIAAA: Alcohol Overdose: The dangers of drinking too much
NIAAA: Drinking Levels Defined

Leave a Reply

7 Responses to “Alcohol overdose: How much amount of alcohol to OD?
Nicky
2:52 am February 25th, 2015

My 15 yr old son has Aspergers, he has started smoking weed due to all his so called mates doing it…tonight a so called friend knocked to tell me his on the pavement sleeping, been sick, can’t get up, apparently he’d been drinking alcohol (I refuse to give him alcohol or money) so must be from these mates…his a mess, I’ve put him to bed, took away pillows as he was burying his face in them, his sleeping, his body ie back is warm, but his hands are like ice. Do you think it’s ok for me to just leave him in his bed till morning as dont want to go hospital and waste their time over his stupidity.

12:39 am March 12th, 2015

Hello Nicky. It would be the responsible thing to do to hake him to the hospital. You say you don’t want to “waste time over his stupidity” and I believe this is not OK. If he’s non-responsive he needs medical care. Later, you can also seek help from a licensed psychologist or a counselor to address his behaviors and work on the problem with abusing substances.

SUSAN
8:30 am February 9th, 2016

WOW MY SON HAS A FORM OF AUTISM.. ALL OF HIS LIFE.. AND HE HAS STARTED DRINKING ALCOHOL. AND IT HAS A VERY VERY STRANGE EFFECT ON HIM. AND I THINK HE WILL DIE. HE JUST WENT TO THE ER TWO TIMES IN ONE DAY… WITH LETHAL DEADLY LEVELS. THE 2ND TIME THAT DAY…. IT WAS A TRIP BY THE POLICE =( BEFORE THEY TOOK HIM TO JAIL. ADULT JAIL. HE IS NOW 20 YRS OLD. I AM SO SCARED FOR HIM.

I DON’T THINK JAIL IS THE RIGHT PLACE. BUT HE HAS ACTUALLY BATTERED ME A FEW TIMES IN THE RECENT MONTHS. AND I THINK HE MAY KILL ME OR KILL HIMSELF. THIS IS THE WORST CATCH 22. SO FEW UNDERSTAND.

PLEASE GET HIM HELP WHILE HE IS STILL A JUVENILE. PLUS THEY STOLE MY SON AND PUT HIM IN GROUP HOMES NICKY. IF YOU ARE READING THIS. I CRIED EVERY DAY FOR 2 FULL YEARS. THAT WAS THE WORST PLACE FOR HIM. THEY BLAMED ME FOR HIS PROBLEMS. HE GOT KICKED OUT OF 9 IN 4 YRS. HE COULD NOT HANDLE BEING CONFINED LIKE THAT. THEY DIDN’T UNDERSTAND HIS CONDITION.

MY SON SAYS HE WILL GET TREATMENT. HE IS ALSO HOMELESS. BUT IF THEY LET HIM OUT OF JAIL.. AND HE IS ON THE STREETS EVEN ONE DAY.. HE WILL GET DRUNK. AND LIKELY COME TO MY HOME AND BE IRRATIONAL. I AM SCARED. FOR HIM AND ME.

THEY NEED TO SEND HIM DIRECTLY SOMEWHERE. JOB CORP OR A ALCOHOL PROGRAM. I DON’T KNOW!

YOU CAN ACTUALLY DIE FROM ALCOHOL. I HAD NO IDEA.

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
4:30 pm February 12th, 2016

Hi, Susan. I’m really sorry that you are experiencing this… I suggest you go to the Civil Rights Enforcement Section, and speak with someone who can help your son. Moreover, you may call the helpline number displayed on our site to get in touch with our trusted treatment providers who can help your son access an adequate treatment program. Good luck!

Cameron
1:42 am March 14th, 2017

I’m 18 years of age and weigh 155 pounds.When I go to house parties I always worry about how much I drink because I am very aware of the risk of alcohol poisoning! How much would it take to give me alcohol poisoning? I just want to know so in the future I am more warey of how much I drink

Smita H
8:40 am January 2nd, 2018

16 year old skinny daughter sauza tequila in her first sitting with us and taken more than overdose at a time. When we realized, we made her through out several times and gave cold shower. though when found she is about to collapse took her to hospital and passes IV saline immediately and gave some medication for nausea and breathing. Her O2 level was dropping and pulse was increasing. But, fortunately nothing bad happened to her. 24 hours over, she seems okay. I am worrying how much damaged her liver is now. Ii’s only one time but was huge for the first time..how possible to have permanent damage in her liver?

10:56 am January 2nd, 2018

Hello Smita. I’m sorry to hear about the case of alcohol poisoning/overdose your daughter has been through. The severity and prognosis of alcohol-induced liver disease depends on the amount, pattern and duration of alcohol consumption, as well as on the presence of liver inflammation, diet, nutritional status and genetic predisposition of an individual. From what I’ve read, liver damage occurs after long-term drinking, rather than one-time acute cases of poisoning. However, binge drinking has been known to enhance the risk of infection and permeability of the GI tract. You can read more here:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3321494/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3372892/

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