Binge drinking – consuming five or more drinks in about two hours for males and four or more for females – is the most common pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States, according to the CDC. It’s a serious problem that can have lasting, and potentially fatal, effects.

What is alcohol poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning – a severe and potentially fatal physical reaction to an alcohol overdose – is the most serious consequence of binge drinking. When a person drinks excessive amounts of alcohol within a short period of time, the brain is deprived of oxygen. In response to the overdose of alcohol and the lack of oxygen, the brain eventually shuts down the functions that regulate heart rate and breathing.

There are 2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths in the US each year, according to the CDC.

What are the symptoms of alcohol poisoning?

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Cold, clammy, pale or bluish skin
  • Slow or irregular breathing
  • Seizures

Severe alcohol poisoning can lead to respiratory arrest, coma and death.

What do I do if I suspect alcohol poisoning?

If you suspect alcohol poisoning, don’t worry that the person may be offended or embarrassed when they sober up. Your decision to help may save the person’s life.

  • Call emergency medical services right away. If you are near a hospital and have not been drinking, take the person to the emergency room right away.
  • Turn the person on their side to prevent choking in case of vomiting.
  • Do not leave the person alone.
  • Pay close attention to the person’s breathing. If it stops, administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). If you are alone, call for emergency medical services first, then start CPR.

For more information on binge drinking, visit our Health Library.

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