Alcohol Poisoning


By Jill L. Ferguson

Alcohol poisoning, sometimes called acute alcohol intoxication, is what happens to your body when your liver cannot adequately process all of the alcohol you have consumed.

Your liver takes two hours to break down the alcohol in one drink. (That's one 1.5 ounce shot, 5 ounces of wine or champagne or 12 ounces of beer or wine cooler).

If you drink more than one drink every two hours, your liver will not be able to process all the alcohol, and alcohol being a depressant, will slow down your heart rate and breathing and lower your blood pressure.

Alcohol poisoning can slow down your vital functions to the point you become comatose or even die. If you do survive alcohol poisoning, you may have to suffer through the pain of having your stomach pumped, or you may have permanent brain damage from the unconscious or comatose state your were in.


Drinking games, shots and beer bongs encourage the drinking of large amounts of alcohol and increase the chances of alcohol poisoning. Being in an unconscious state also increases your chances of being a physical crime, such as rape or sexual assault.

There are no set amounts of alcohol that will cause alcohol poisoning. The amount each person's body can tolerate depends on the size, weight and chemical makeup of his/her body. Basically, different people experience different effects from the consumption of alcoholic beverages.

Just because a person has thrown up does not mean s/he is now sober, that it is safe for the person to start drinking again, or that the poison from drinking too much is gone from his/her body.

If you are with someone who has had too much to drink and passes out (or seems to have fallen asleep):

First, try to wake the person by calling his name or pinching his skin.

Turn the person on her side, so that if she does throw up, she will not asphyxiate on her own vomit.

Never leave the person unattended.

Check the person's skin temperature, color and breathing.

Dial 9-1-1 or call local emergency services in your area.

If your friend has passed out and will not respond, s/he is probably in the beginning stages of alcohol poisoning. Without professional medical treatment, alcohol poisoning can lead to coma and to death.

Jill L. Ferguson is a writer, editor, public speaker and professor. In the late 1990s, she served as executive director of a substance abuse coalition.

Her book, Sometimes Art Can't Save You, about a teenage girl trying to cope in a violent and chaotic household, was published by In Your Face Ink ( in October 2005.


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