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Alcohol poisoning is a very serious condition that can be fatal if not urgently medically treated. With the UK’s binge drinking trend, spotting the signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning could just save another person’s life.

Alcohol poisoning is the leading cause of poisoning in England, especially in the younger generation (1). Teenagers and children often do not know what constitutes a lethal dose of alcohol. It is vital that if you do have children that they are fully educated around the dangers of binge drinking and the possible consequences.

alcoholic on the ground with a bottle of vodka

Most of us have either witnessed, or experienced ourselves, the effects of drinking too much. Perhaps you yourself have felt very unwell as a result of consuming large amounts of alcohol within a short space of time, or have seen a friend, family member or loved one slumped over and barely conscious as a result of alcohol intoxication.

Knowing the difference between someone who has consumed too much alcohol and someone who has consumed a potentially fatal amount is essential to getting them the critical care they need.

At Delamere we specialise in treating alcohol use disorders. We feel it is extremely important, to not only recognise the signs of alcohol poisoning but also know what action to take if you suspect someone is suffering from it.

What are the symptoms of alcohol poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning is considered a medical emergency. It can be difficult to tell when someone needs medical intervention or not. Yet knowing when to intervene is crucial to a person’s well-being.

We all know the pressure that alcohol places on the NHS, and this can make some individuals hesitant to call on them for alcohol related help.

Nevertheless, if you suspect someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning, the emergency services should be contacted without delay.

Untreated alcohol poisoning can lead to respiratory arrest, coma and death. When treating this condition, time really is of the essence and immediate medical intervention will be required.

The signs of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Slowed respiratory rate (less than eight breaths a minute)
  • Irregular breathing ( gaps of ten or more seconds between breaths)
  • Blue tinged or pale skin
  • Clammy cold skin
  • Hypothermia – Low body temperature
  • Unconsciousness/unresponsive
  • Continuous Vomiting
  • Seizures (1)

All of the above symptoms of alcohol poisoning are considered an emergency. If the person is unconscious and you are unable to wake them, then they could be at risk of dying, especially if accompanied with compromised breathing.

If you are unsure at all if the person is at risk or suffering from alcohol poisoning, it is always better to be safe and call the emergency services. They will be able to assess the patient over the phone and decide if emergency care is required

Helping a person with suspected alcohol poisoning

If someone you know is showing signs of alcohol poisoning, never leave them to “sleep it off” and assume they will be okay.

A person’s blood alcohol levels continue to rise for up to 40 minutes after their last alcoholic drink. Leaving them to sleep it off could prove a fatal mistake.

What to do to help a person showing signs of alcohol poisoning:

  • Call 999, your local emergency services
  • Try to get them to drink some water if they can (alcohol is very dehydrating for the body)
  • Stay with the person and keep them warm until the emergency services arrive
  • If the person is unconscious from alcohol poisoning, place them in the recovery position on their side and check their airways are clear
  • Try to keep them awake by talking to them and sitting them up
  • Collect any medications they may be taking to pass on to the paramedics
  • Try to give an estimate of what the person has drank and how much (if you know)
  • Advise the paramedics if they have taken any drugs or medications in combination with alcohol (1)

By taking these measures you will be doing all you can to keep the person alive and get them the medical help that they need.

What NOT to do if someone is showing the signs of alcohol poisoning:

  • Do not leave them to “sleep it off”
  • Do not leave them unattended
  • Do not try to sober them up with caffeine, a cold shower or other method
  • Do not leave them lying down on their back. If they vomit they could choke, causing obstruction to their airways
  • Do not give them any medications

By doing any of the above, not only will the situation not be helped but the person’s condition could further deteriorate as a direct result (1)

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The causes of alcohol poisoning

The top causes of alcohol poisoning are binge drinking, mixing alcohol with drugs (including prescription drugs) and consuming toxic products that contain alcohol (ie antifreeze, alcohol rub, cleaning products and solvents)

Depending on your tolerance to alcohol, your gender, BMI and hydration levels, drinking more than 10 to 12 units of alcohol in one episode is considered very dangerous and could well lead to alcoholic poisoning.

alcohol consumption

Peer pressure during drinking contests and games can easily lead to death from alcohol poisoning, know when to say no!

More than ten units of alcohol, consumed over a short space of time, can cause the following effects:

  • Impaired coordination and risk of accident
  • Impaired speech, slurring words or get them mixed up
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Blood alcohol concentration start to reach toxic levels
  • The need to pass urine more often as the body attempts to dispel alcohol through urine
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Feel extremely dehydrated the following morning, causing headache and the effects of a hangover to be felt
  • Impaired concentration, judgment and decision making skills

More than 12 units of alcohol, consumed over a short space of time, can cause the following serious and potentially fatal effects:

  • High risk of developing alcohol poisoning symptoms, especially if the person continues to drink
  • High risk of ‘alcoholic black out’ (unable to recall events whilst intoxicated) during alcohol black out a person can make very dangerous choices and decisions.
  • Risk of alcohol interfering with life supporting bodily functions such as heart rate, breathing and gag reflex
  • High risk of losing consciousness
  • Risk of coma, respiratory arrest and death

Regularly drinking more than ten to 12 units of alcohol in one episode also puts your body and brain at serious risk of long term damage and complications. This can easily be avoided by seeking the correct alcohol help and support.

10 Tips on preventing alcohol poisoning symptoms

  1. In order to prevent alcohol poisoning, you should know your limits and try to stick to The Chief Medical Officers safer drinking guidelines of no more than 14 units per week, evenly spread out, with at least 3 alcohol free days.
  2. If you are going for a night out of planned drinking, try to alternate alcohol with soft drinks.
  3. With lower alcohol longer drinks such as beer or wine spritzers you will be able to pace yourself more and feel the effects of alcohol more slowly, rather than it hitting you all at once from downing shots and spirits in succession.
  4. Drinking shots can often lead to consuming high amounts of alcohol within a very short space of time, so try and avoid this.
  5. Try not to mix your drinks. It can be tempting at the end of the night to drink more alcohol at a quicker pace, or swapping to high strength alcoholic shots or spirits before the bar shuts. This can easily lead to alcohol poisoning.
  6. Before drinking, eat something substantial or have something to eat during the early stages of your drinking. Food in your stomach will slow down the absorption rate of alcohol into your blood. It will also make you want to drink less as you will feel fuller.
  7. Before going to bed drink, at least a pint of water and take water to bed with you. This should help to ease any dehydration symptoms the following morning.
  8. After a night out of drinking, ensure that you give your body a break (at least one alcohol free day). Your liver will still be processing toxins from the alcohol the following day if you have consumed a large amount. Drink plenty of fluids and try to eat healthily.
  9. Never leave your drink unattended incase it is spiked and never leave alcohol where children can access it, especially drinks like alcopops where children may not realise it is an alcoholic drink.
  10. If you are unsure you are able to control the amount you drink on a night out, take a friend with you that you can rely on to get you home safely.

Help for binge drinking

If you are concerned that you or someone you love need help with a drink problem, call and speak with a friendly member of our Delamere team today.

We specialise in the treatment of all alcohol use disorders, including binge drinking, alcohol abuse with drugs, alcohol dependence and alcoholism.

Alcohol intervention not only saves lives but reduces the strain on the NHS and the economy.

Our multidisciplinary team of experts can advise you of the steps we can take to help you as an individual get your life back on track and free from alcohol. We can also advise you on alcohol interventions and how to help someone you care for.


  1. NHS