Alcohol poisoning occurs when too much alcohol has been consumed too quickly, and the body can’t absorb or process it. While alcohol is the most popular beverage on the planet, many people do not know that alcohol is a toxin for which regular heavy use over time can damage all of the body’s organs and lead to death. In fact, according to the NIH alcohol is the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S after tobacco and poor diet/physical inactivity (obesity).An estimated 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) perish from alcohol-related causes annually. With binge drinking alcohol poisoning occurs over a short period of time.
Here’s how the body processes alcohol
Alcohol enters the bloodstream through the stomach. Once alcohol reaches the bloodstream, it travels to the liver to be processed or metabolized. The liver produces enzymes that break down the alcohol molecules. Women have fewer of these enzymes to process the alcohol, so they get drunk at twice the rate of men and stay drunk longer. This difference in biology accounts for loss of consciousness and blackouts that women experience because of their lack of understanding about alcohol’s impact on the body.
In either gender, however, when someone is drinking alcohol quickly, the liver cannot process all the alcohol at a faster rate, or even the same rate as when it is consumed slowly. In general, the body can process one ounce of alcohol an hour. So you can imagine how flooded the body is when five or six drinks are consumed quickly.
The higher higher a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is, the more pronounced the effects are and the longer it takes to be absorbed and then leave the system. Again, women get drunk quicker and stay drunk longer.
The effects of a high blood alcohol concentration may include impaired memory, confusion, slurred speech, and nausea. Around 20 percent of the alcohol a person drinks is absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream through the stomach. A further 80 percent approximately is absorbed by the small intestines. Reduced inhibitions, impaired memory, slurred speech, confusion, breathing problems, impaired balance and loss of coordination all occur with alcohol use.
Call 911 when you see these the signs of alcohol poisoning
- Mental confusion, stupor, coma, or person cannot be roused
- Slow breathing (fewer than 8 breaths per minute)
- Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)
- Hypothermia (low body temperature), bluish skin color, paleness
Long term risks The long-term risks of heavy drinking may include liver disease, heart disease, and stroke. While alcohol use is commonplace, there are health risks associated with heavy drinking. Heavy alcohol use is linked with:
- Cancer of the mouth, throat, and breast
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
- Brain or nervous system disease
Keeping track of what and how much a person drinks can help them recognize when they might be drinking too much.