We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

What is Alcohol Poisoning?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

Alcohol poisoning occurs when the body has a toxic reaction to too much drinking. Anyone who drinks large quantities of alcohol, or even smaller amounts of alcohol too quickly, is susceptible to this condition. It can cause serious brain damage or eve be fatal.

Getting very drunk to the point of passing out is often seen as being humorous or taken very lightly in some societies. It's a myth that when a drunken person is passed out, he or she is "sleeping it off." The fact is that, even when a person drinks to the point of passing out, his or her blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is still rising. This is because the alcohol is still present in the intestine and stomach and is still going through the bloodstream.

Vomiting is often seen as a harmless result of over-drinking, but in reality, it can be the body's reaction to toxic levels of alcohol. People have different tolerance levels to the drug — and it is important for people to remember that alcohol is a drug. Alcohol depresses the choking reflex and respiratory functioning, and drunken people have died from choking on their own vomit. All the black coffee and cold showers in the world won't work to "sober up" a person experiencing the symptoms of alcohol use.

Vomiting, confusion, slowed or irregular breathing, and seizures are possible symptoms of alcohol poisoning. Hypothermia, or low body temperature, is another symptom, and the skin may have a bluish appearance or look pale. Medical attention must be sought immediately when a person is displaying these symptoms!

When a person showing symptoms of alcohol poisoning in brought to the emergency room, blood is taken to find out how much alcohol is in his or her system. He or she may have to consume a charcoal-based liquid because the charcoal absorbs the alcohol so that some of its effects on the body are hopefully reduced. Since excessive alcohol can seriously dehydrate the body, especially when vomiting occurs, the patient may be given fluids intravenously. In the most severe cases, the stomach is usually pumped and medications may be given. Some patients may need to stay in the hospital for observation.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon321494 — On Feb 22, 2013

Isolated cases of alcohol poisoning almost never cause any long term brain damage if survived and certainly none if survived without hospital treatment. This is due to the fact that alcohol indirectly causes death (slower heart rate, respiratory depression, and possibly dehydration or hypoglycemia). Blood oxygenation levels throughout a case a alcohol poisoning play a critical role in determining whether a particular case will be fatal. It seems, however, that deprivation of oxygen has a "critical point" or very small range where the chance and relative amount of brain damage that might occur increases exponentially.

Consider, for instance, a study done to determine the extent of brain damage at different blood oxygen saturation for different durations. It was found that significant brain damage would not occur for three hours at 35 percent of normal blood oxygen saturation. However, It was found that only 30 minutes at 30 percent blood oxygen saturation would cause lasting damage. Furthermore, damage at eight minutes at 25 percent BOS was observed and cardiac arrest would usually occur at levels lower than 20 percent. Now consider alcohol's effect on the respiratory system also seems to be nonlinear, that is, becoming exponentially pronounced with any increase in blood-alcohol content. A person with alcohol poisoning will usually either: 1) reach a level where the rate of alcohol elimination (and its effect on the respiratory system) far outpaces the time required (so to speak) for brain damage to occur at any particular BAC level (also realize that at high BAC levels, elimination is non-linear due to the action of enzymes not usually involved in the process with elimination rates around -.04/hour) or 2) reach a BAC level which depresses the respiratory system to a level where damage (and low oxygen hampers its ability to pump efficiently) to the cardiac muscle occurs, slowing blood flow which, in turn, further lowers blood oxygen levels until the heart stops. Now, of course, dehydration and hypoglycemia may come into play here, but I won't get into the specifics.

Overall, dehydration would only concern me as a possible cause of brain damage if alcohol were used to excess (non stop) for many days by an experienced drinker. Hypoglycemia-induced brain damage would only concern me in cases of alcohol poisoning where the person has not eaten anything for a day or longer, when dealing with someone under the age of 5 years, or when dealing with an alcoholic (or anyone who I might suspect to have a poor diet). The effects of dehydration and hypoglycemia otherwise would not warrant consideration because their contribution to neuronal death in the brain would only be significant at BAC levels much higher than those that would cause death from respiratory arrest. People who survive alcohol poisoning with brain damage are always the ones who only survive due to intensive medical care, and these patients usually remain in coma for a day or more.

Those who are anxious about a case of suspected alcohol poisoning where the victim was not taken to the hospital but survived, should rest assured that these victims never have any neurological impairment (because brain damage only starts to occur when the individual has surpassed a "critical point" where death is always the outcome in victims who do not get urgent medical care) In layman's terms: If you suspect you had alcohol poisoning and you did not go to the hospital, then you have no significant long term damage. So don't worry! If you went to the hospital, speak to your doctor (but damage is unlikely).

I wrote this because I was extremely anxious about a case of alcohol poisoning where I was the victim. This anxiety led me to imagine symptoms that would affect my studies. This continued until I did extensive research as part of an undergrad thesis.

If you suspect alcohol poisoning in a friend, call 911! Those who receive treatment are more likely to survive (usually unharmed if they do).

If the hard logic doesn't convince you, when is the last case that you have heard about (or researched) where a person was released from a hospital with an outcome other than: 1) treated and released the next day, 2) Dead on arrival, or 3) Dead after a week in a coma (or something to that effect). Any other outcome is quite rare.

Chronic alcoholism is another matter! But I will not get into that.

By lionfish28 — On Aug 16, 2011

I had alcohol poisoning a year ago and was brought to an alcohol treatment facility because of it.

I was able to recover but I don't want drink any amount of alcohol anymore. I learned my lesson the hard way.

By anon206343 — On Aug 16, 2011

Alcohol poisoning does damage the brain, specifically your brain cells. So it's very important to have someone confined in an alcohol treatment facility for treatment.

By submariner — On Feb 15, 2011

@ parmnparsley- The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), and the National Institute of Health (NIH) have published a web page with alcohol poisoning facts that is available to the public. If you search for 'college drinking prevention’, you will find a government website that will answer all questions from symptoms to lasting effects.

By aplenty — On Feb 13, 2011

@ Parmnparsley- Binge drinking and alcohol poisoning can certainly lead to permanent brain damage. It can also have other lasting side effects. I had a friend who was binge drinking and he passed out and had a seizure. Somehow, the way that he passed out had caused him to pinch a nerve in his hip. He almost died from his drinking, and by the time he recovered, he was left with a permanent limp (I think it will be permanent, but he has had it for at least two years since the incident). He was lucky, but I have read stories of people who were not so lucky.

Alcohol can be just as dangerous as, if not more so than, other illicit drugs. Alcohol is so dangerous that it is one of only two classes of drugs that can kill you during the withdrawal stage. Luckily, my friend was able to get to the hospital for alcohol poisoning treatment, but if no one had found him he would have certainly been much worse.

By parmnparsley — On Feb 13, 2011

Does alcohol poisoning have lasting effects on the brain or any other part of the body? Someone told me that alcohol poisoning can cause things like brain damage or other life altering effects.

The Health Board, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

The Health Board, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.