Recognizing the signs of alcohol poisoning

You're at a party and you notice a colleague is intoxicated. He's speaking loudly and has to hold on to furniture in order not to fall over. He's obviously had too much to drink. Other than ensuring he won't get behind the wheel, what can you do to help?

Signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning

A person can easily progress from a state of inebriation to alcohol poisoning, which is a medical emergency where the person's life could be in danger. It's therefore important to be vigilant and watch for the following signs and symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Convulsions
  • Slowed breathing (fewer than 8 breaths per minute)
  • Irregular breathing (a pause of more than 10 seconds between breaths)
  • Pale or blueish skin
  • Difficulty remaining conscious
  • Loss of consciousness

If you think someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning, you must act quickly to obtain emergency services, especially if the person loses consciousness and you aren't able to wake them up. Never leave the person alone.

What can lead someone to alcohol poisoning?

In addition to the person's state of health, weight and individual tolerance to alcohol, many other factors can increase the risk of suffering from alcohol poisoning, such as:

  • Taking part in chugging challenges, because participants consume so much alcohol in such a short span of time that the first signs of intoxication appear too late to let us know they've exceeded our limit.
  • Drinking beverages that mask the taste of alcohol, such as cocktails. It's easier to drink too much when we don't taste the alcohol.
  • Drinking beverages that mask the effects of alcohol, such as mixing alcohol with energy drinks. Stimulants such as caffeine and guarana mask the effects of alcohol for a period of time, which can lead people to drink more than they can tolerate.
  • Drinking and taking drugs at the same time. Some drugs can temporarily mask the signs of inebriation, while others can aggravate them.
  • Using certain types of medication that reduce the liver's ability to metabolise alcohol.

Young people who are just starting to drink alcohol are particularly at risk for alcohol poisoning, because they don't know their limits. Without demonizing alcohol, it's important to have an open discussion on the subject.

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