Alcohol Poisoning

Winter has arrived. Football playoffs are about to start. Holiday parties are in full swing. What a treat to come in from the cold to relax in front of a cozy fire. For some of us these scenes may be completed with the addition of an alcoholic beverage such as beer, hot cider, rum punch, eggnog and champagne for New Year’s Eve. While adults drinking in moderation is ok, alcohol added to social situations can also open the doors to many dangers.

Alcohol poisoning is a very dangerous situation resulting in a high level of alcohol in the bloodstream caused by excessive alcohol consumption. In extreme cases, alcohol poisoning can lead to death. We may not realize it but alcohol can be a hidden danger in many homes. Alcohol is not only found in beverages, alcohol is also found in perfume, mouthwash, hand sanitizers, hairsprays and some cough or cold medications. Alcoholic beverages have varying alcohol concentrations such as beer being 4-6%, wine 10-20% and bourbon 40-50%. Flavor extracts for cooking contain high percentages of alcohol as follows.....vanilla extract 35%, lemon and peppermint extract 85%.

The Indiana Poison Center receives many calls on alcohol exposures and takes intoxication very seriously. Please call the Indiana Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 if you are suspecting alcohol poisoning. Symptoms may include: changes in mental status, confusion, vomiting, seizures, slow or irregular breathing, pale or blue skin and a decrease in your body temperature. An intoxicated individual may experience vomiting, which causes increased risk of aspiration into the lungs. Persistent vomiting can cause a change in the body’s fluids and electrolytes resulting in a life threatening low blood sugar.

Alcohol also causes central nervous system depression which can be fatal. A person may have decreased respirations or may even stop breathing all together. There is always the risk of falling when an intoxicated person is unsteady on their feet and this can result in a traumatic head injury or broken bones. Alcohol intoxication can also affect the heart rate, causing dangerous heart rhythms.

There is nothing that can be done to get alcohol cleared out of the body. Alcohol clearance depends on the individual’s body weight, general health and the amount of alcohol consumed. The intoxicated person should be observed in the hospital setting so that their vital signs and blood tests can be monitored. Never leave an intoxicated person by themselves. It is never recommended to place the person in cold water since this will drop the normal body temperature. Drinking coffee will not help either. Call 911 if you suspect alcohol poisoning in an intoxicated person call medical professionals so they can handle the situation safely.

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