What Are the Symptoms of Acute Alcohol Poisoning?

'Passing Out' Could Indicate Danger

Man Passed Out
Drinking Can Become a Serious Problem. Getty Images

Too much alcohol in your bloodstream causes the areas of your brain that support breathing, your heart rate, and other basic life-supporting functions to start to shut down.

In other words, your friend who drank way too much, may not just be sleeping it off. If he is experiencing an episode of acute alcohol poisoning, drinking too much too quickly, his condition could lead to coma and even death if you do not intervene.

Children or adults can get alcohol poisoning. When it comes to kids, and maybe adults too, your thoughts might immediately jump to the liquor cabinet, but remember that another household product that contains alcohol, such as a cooking extract, or medicinal tincture, could be the culprit.

The Symptoms of Acute Alcohol Poisoning

Learn the symptoms of acute alcohol poisoning to tell the difference between a friend who is drunk and passed out, and a person who is unconscious due to acute alcohol poisoning. Of course confusion and vomiting are the common signs, but other symptoms include:

  • keeps passing out
  •  seizures
  •  slow heart rate
  • no gag reflex, which prevents choking when vomiting
  • clammy or blue-tinged skin and extremely low body temperature
  • breathing slowly or irregularly -- less than eight times a minute -- or ten seconds or more between any two breaths, they are in trouble
  • vomiting while passed out and doesn't wake up during or after vomiting

    Remember, your friend does not have to have all the symptoms to be at risk. The Mayo Clinic warns that anyone who cannot be awakened or is unconscious is at risk of dying.

    What Should I Do if I Think He Has Alcohol Poisoning?

    Here are the steps to take if you think someone has alcohol poisoning:

    1. First, call 9-1-1 immediately even if you don't see the classic signs or symptoms. Do not hesitate, don't think about any legal ramifications, your friend's life could depend on your quick response.
    1. Prepare yourself to provide information to the emergency personnel or the hospital, including the amount of alcohol, when your friend drank it and what kind it was.
    2. Do not leave your friend alone and continue to try to revive them. Turn him on his side, so that if he does vomit he will be less likely to choke on it. Yeah, it's gross, but many deaths result from drunks choking on their own vomit.
    3. If your friend is vomiting, keep him sitting up and awake. As mentioned above, turn him on his side to prevent choking.
    4. Watch his breathing closely. If he stops breathing be prepared to perform CPR. If you don't know how to perform CPR, try to find someone who does. See How To Perform Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR).

    How Many People Die from Acute Alcohol Poisoning?

    More than 2,200 people die from alcohol poisoning each year, which is an average of 6 per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most fatalities are men and three in four people are between the ages of 35 and 65.

    The number of deaths varies widely from state to state. For example, there are 5.3 deaths per million residents in Alabama, but 46.5 deaths per million in Alaska.


    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Alcohol Poisoning Deaths (2015)

    Mayo Clinic: Alcohol Poisoning (2014)

    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Alcohol Overdose - The Dangers of Drinking Too Much (2015)

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