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Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol depresses nerves that control involuntary actions, such as breathing and the gag reflex, which prevents choking. Excessive use of alcohol over a short period of time can stop these functions.

A person's blood alcohol concentration can continue to rise while he or she is passed out. Even after a person stops drinking, alcohol in the stomach and intestines continues to enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body. It is dangerous to assume a person will be fine after “sleeping it off.”

24-hour Poison Control Center hotline: 1-800-222-1222

Signs of alcohol poisoning

The most common signs of alcohol poisoning are:

  • Coma or not being able to wake up
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature), bluish skin color and paleness
  • Mental confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow or irregular breathing

Risks of alcohol poisoning

The risks of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Breathing that slows, becomes irregular or stops
  • Choking on vomit
  • Heartbeat becomes irregular or stops
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature)
  • Hypoglycemia (too little blood sugar), which can lead to seizures
  • Severe dehydration from vomiting, which can cause seizures, permanent brain damage or death
  • Irreversible brain damage
  • Death

Sobering myths about alcohol

Many people try to sober up from alcohol by:

  • Drinking black coffee
  • Sleeping it off
  • Taking a cold bath or shower
  • Walking it off

These do not work and may prevent you from seeking help when you need it the most. Know the danger signals of alcohol poisoning, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Take action if you suspect alcohol poisoning

If you suspect someone has alcohol poisoning, call The University of Kansas Hospital Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

Source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

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