Alcohol poisoning - from drunkenness to death

Alcohol poisoningWhen a lot of alcohol has been drunk in a short time, blood levels of alcohol are high and symptoms of extreme drunkenness are present, such that breathing has slowed, the individual is only partially conscious or is unconscious, or some other complication is present that presents a serious danger to health. Also known as ‘Acute intoxication’., known  in emergency departments as acute intoxication, is when a large amount of alcohol is drunk, followed shortly afterwards by changes in mood or behaviour, impaired judgment or social functioning and one or more physical signs of drunkenness, such as slurred speech, unsteadiness, lack of co-ordination, impaired attention or loss of consciousness.[5]

The physical effects of alcohol poisoning are many, from nausea, vomiting and dehydration, which are familiar symptoms to those who may have drunk too much on occasion, to the worst complication - death.

The term ‘alcohol poisoning’ is sometimes used to describe the most serious and life-threatening complications of alcohol overdose, such as slowed breathing and loss of consciousness.

The lethal dose of alcohol is 5 to 8g/kg (3g/kg for children)[6] – that is, for a 60kg person, 300g of alcohol can kill, which is equal to 30 standard drinks (about 1 litre of spirits or four bottles of wine).

The table below summarises, by body part affected, the various symptoms and complications that can occur from drinking too much alcohol on a single occasion. This includes symptoms caused directly by the excess alcohol, such as nausea, slurred speech and mood changes, but also health problems caused indirectly by alcohol, such as injuries and unsafe sex .

Potential symptoms and complications of acute intoxication or alcohol poisoning by body part affected

Body part affected

Complication/symptom

Mouth

Slurred/confused speech

Stomach and food pipe

Nausea, vomiting

Heartburn

Gastritis

Intestines

Diarrhoea

Pancreas and sugar digestion

Pancreatitis

Hypoglycemia

Kidneys and fluid balance

Dehydration

Depleted salts and minerals

Heart and blood pressure

Increased heart rate

Irregular heart rate

Lungs

Slowed rate and depth of breathing (respiratory depression)

Pneumonia/bronchitis

Brain and nervous system

Impaired concentration/attention

Blackouts/memory loss

Impaired consciousness/coma

Mental health

Mood and personality changes

Aggression/antisocial behaviour

Suicide and self-harm

Sexual health

Unsafe sex/STI/sexual assault

Unplanned pregnancy (females)

Bones and muscles

Injuries

Eyes

Blurred/double vision

Whole body

Injuries

Death

 

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