What To Do in the Event of Alcohol Overdose


Alcohol Overdose and Alcohol Overdose Symptoms. Keep in mind that an alcohol overdose is the same thing as alcohol poisoning. Having said this, what should you do in the event of an alcohol overdose of a friend or a family member?

What alcohol overdose symptoms or alcohol poisoning symptoms should you look for if you suspect that you or someone else is experiencing an alcohol overdose?

Understanding the causes and the symptoms of alcohol overdose and responding intelligently and appropriately to such a situation can help avoid a fatal alcohol overdose.

So when someone asks you what to do in the event of alcohol overdose, the best answer is this: "seek immediate medical assistance by calling 911."

An Alcohol Overdose Definition and Basic Considerations

Researchers use the term "lethal dose" (LD) to describe the dose (or "concentration" for alcohol cases) that causes death in half of the population (LD:50).


Most alcoholism experts agree that blood alcohol concentrations in the 0.40% to 0.50% range satisfies the LD:50 requirement.

The blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is the percentage of alcohol in the blood after the alcohol has been absorbed by the stomach and entered the blood supply.

Based on the above we can arrive at a working definition of the term "alcohol overdose."

An alcohol overdose is a dangerous and sometimes deadly result of drinking extreme amounts of alcohol that result in blood alcohol concentrations from 0.40% to .50%. It must be pointed out, moreover, that "binge drinking" (consuming five or more alcoholic drinks at one sitting) can also result in an alcohol overdose.

Key Issues About Your Blood Alcohol Level

The effects of the alcohol on your body depend on the amount of alcohol in your blood (blood alcohol level). Factors that affect your blood alcohol level, also known as "blood alcohol content" (BAC), include the following:

  • How much food is in your stomach at the time you drink.

  • How strong the alcoholic drink is.

  • How quickly you consume the alcoholic drink.

  • How quickly your body metabolizes the alcohol.

What Does Blood Alcohol Level Mean in Typical Drinking Situations?

Alcoholism experts define a "standard drink" as 12 ounces of beer, 1.5 ounces of 72-proof distilled spirits, or 5 ounces of wine, all of which contain approximately .54 ounces of alcohol. Moreover, the average person metabolizes alcohol at the rate of approximately one drink per hour.

Now that we know what makes up a "standard drink" and how long it takes a person to metabolize an alcoholic drink, we can put the discussion of "lethal dose" into a more understandable framework:

  • A 100-pound man or woman would have to consume 9 or 10 standard drinks in less than an hour to reach the LD:50.

  • A 200-pound man or woman would have to consume approximately 5 or 6 standard drinks per hour for 4 hours to reach the LD:50.

Even though drinking patterns such as these are not typical in most drinking situations, participating in club "initiations" (such as sorority or fraternity initiations) or in drinking "games" (such as "Century Club," "Flip the Cup," or "Sink the Battleship" that are played at many parties) frequently involves drinking that can, and does, reach the lethal dose.

Obviously, excessive drinking can lead not only to impaired judgment but also to serious health problems that can result in death.

Symptoms of Alcohol Overdose

The first symptom of an alcohol overdose is usually nausea, followed by vomiting. These symptoms are messages from your body that you consumed more alcohol than your body can metabolize. The following represent other alcohol poisoning symptoms and signs:

  • Absent reflexes.

  • No response to being shaken or pinched.

  • Confusion.

  • Difficulty awakening the person.

  • Inability to stand.

  • Seizures.

  • Having a rapid pulse rate.

  • Slow, shallow, or irregular breathing.

  • Blue-tinged skin or pale skin.

  • Unconsciousness (passing out).

Alcohol Overdose Action Plan

What To Do in the Event of Alcohol Overdose. The most difficult aspect of saving someone from an alcohol overdose, interestingly, does not take place in the hospital Emergency Room. Nor does saving a person from alcohol poisoning involve complicated medical treatment.

The hardest part of an overdose case is making the decision to seek immediate medical help when it is apparent that the person is exhibiting alcohol overdose symptoms or alcohol poisoning symptoms.

The fear of embarrassment, public humiliation, possible legal repercussions (for instance, for underage drinkers), or a lack of knowledge about the symptoms of alcohol overdose and the seriousness of overdosing from alcohol can lead to indecision, which can be fatal.

If you see any of the above symptoms of alcohol overdose in a person who has been drinking, the following represents some guidelines on what to do:

  • If someone who has been drinking heavily persists in falling asleep, waken him or her. If the person does not respond easily, it is time to call the police emergency number (911) and ask for assistance.

  • Roll the person on her side so she will not choke if she vomits.

  • Do not assume that the person will "sleep it off" or would prefer not to be disturbed.

  • Getting the person home and in bed is not a good solution, and may actually place the drinker at risk due to the fact that he or she is no longer being observed.

  • Be sure to tell the ambulance driver or medical personnel if you believe that other drugs were also ingested.

The basic idea when experiencing a possible alcohol overdose situation is this: Do not take chances when someone's life is at stake. If you suspect that a person has alcohol poisoning or is overdosing on alcohol, get immediate medical assistance, even if the person is underage.

It must be pointed out that alcohol can also be dangerous in smaller amounts if it is used in combination with the following drugs:

  • Narcotic pain medications (such as codeine, codeine derivatives, opium, heroin, and darvocet).

  • Sedatives (examples include barbiturates, tranquilizers, and cannabis).

  • Certain anti-seizure medications (such as phenobarbital).


Conclusion: What To Do in the Event of Alcohol Overdose

In the United States, roughly 50,000 cases of alcohol poisoning are reported each year, and approximately once per week, someone dies from a totally preventable alcohol overdose.

Not only this, but when combined with other drugs, legal or illegal, alcohol accounts for approximately 33% of all drug overdoses in the United States.

Understanding the symptoms of alcohol overdose and the causes of alcohol poisoning, and responding intelligently and appropriately to such a situation, can help avoid a fatal overdose. So when someone asks you what to do in the event of alcohol overdose, the best answer is this: "seek immediate medical assistance by calling 911."