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Can You Overdose on Alcohol?

You can overdose on alcohol. It’s a condition called alcohol poisoning and it kills about 2200 people every year in the US. Alcohol poisoning results from binge drinking as opposed to steady, prolonged drinking, which has different negative effects. What constitutes binge drinking depends on the person. Generally speaking, the larger the person, the more he or she has to drink in a short period of time to be at risk for alcohol poisoning, but there are many variables including how much the person has eaten and how recently, age, tolerance, and even ethnicity. Asian peoples, for example historically have not drunk much alcohol and therefore often don’t process it efficiently.

Although everyone is different, a rough estimate of binge drinking is about five drinks in two hours for men and four drinks in two hours for women. Drinking at this rate might not cause alcohol poisoning in a couple hours for most people, but it’s not sustainable and certainly not advisable. The longer someone keeps it up, the more likely run into trouble.

The signs of alcohol poisoning include confusion, vomiting, seizures, slow breathing–less than eight breaths per minute, irregular breathing–more than 10 seconds between breaths, pale or bluish skin, low body temperature, or passing out and becoming unresponsive. Anyone with these symptoms needs medical help right away. Untreated alcohol poisoning can lead to choking, seizures, hypothermia, hypoglycemia, dehydration, heart arrhythmia, and death.

Don’t assume someone who passes out will just sleep it off. Blood alcohol content can continue to rise as the alcohol in the stomach continues to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Someone who is passed out may also asphyxiate on his own vomit, as alcohol poisoning also suppresses the gag reflex, which would typically wake him up if his airway were blocked.

Deaths by alcohol poisoning are most publicized when they are high school or college students, especially students in fraternities or sororities. While this does happen, only about five percent of deaths by alcohol poisoning are people of high school or college age. The vast majority of deaths by alcohol poisoning are people between 35 and 64. There may be several reasons for this. It may be that this is the age range when alcoholics’ frequent binges start to catch up with them. Or it may be that people of this age are more likely to already have drinking-related or age-related health problems–especially diseases of the heart and liver–that make them more vulnerable to alcohol poisoning.  

If you are still struggling with addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help. We offer medically assisted detox in a comfortable facility and we can help you decide the best way to move forward with your treatment. Call us today at 844-828-1050 or email us at to learn more.