Understanding the Danger of Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is a dangerous and life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. But what makes this condition so dangerous, and what exactly is it? Here’s everything you need to know to understand the danger of alcohol poisoning.

What Is Alcohol Poisoning?

To better understand alcohol poisoning, it’s helpful to know about a closely related term known as binge drinking. Binge drinking occurs when drinkers consume alcohol in a short time. While this amount can change depending on a person’s size and metabolism, the measured amount of binge drinking is whenever someone’s blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) reaches or exceeds 0.08 percent within two hours. This will typically happen at colleges, parties, and other social events where heavy drinking occurs. However, binge drinking can also occur when someone is isolated.

But what happens after binge drinking? This is where alcohol poisoning comes into play.  Alcohol poisoning is the aftermath of binge drinking, resulting from drinking large amounts of alcohol in a relatively short time. It is called “poisoning” because the high blood alcohol level becomes toxic to a person, resulting in a dangerous series of events. 

What Happens During Alcohol Poisoning?

Immediate indicators that someone should notice when alcohol poisoning occurs include pale skin, vomiting, changes in breathing, and overall confusion, sometimes due to hypothermia. People should be especially aware if these signs are present when someone is still drinking. A person’s blood alcohol concentration can continue to rise for almost 40 minutes after they have stopped drinking.

Warning Signs

While these signs are easy to downplay in party settings, they can be warning signs of much more harmful things taking place in our bodies, which can become life-threatening if not acted upon. Since the liver can safely process only a certain amount of alcohol in a given time, drinking “poisonous” levels of alcohol means excess alcohol is redirected into the stomach and eventually the bloodstream. This results in a breakdown of one’s vital organ functions since the body’s messaging from the brain is disrupted.

From here, the fatal risks include brain damage, asphyxiation, seizures, and heart failure. These instances result from the organs' inability to work properly because of the toxic levels of alcohol in the body.

The Danger of Time

Unfortunately, alcohol poisoning can come with deadly results. But this has to do with what happens after binge drinking. It’s important to know that going to sleep or passing out does not reset the body after a person drinks to the point of alcohol poisoning, at least as long as their body continues to process alcohol. Being unconscious greatly increases asphyxiation risk, which can be lethal since alcohol can suppress the gag reflex.

This risk is dangerous when we are alone since no one is around to help if we lose consciousness because of alcohol poisoning. Tragic examples of this can include various celebrities who returned to their homes after a night of ingesting lethal amounts of alcohol and went to bed, never to wake up. Other examples can include college hazing when someone is returned to their apartment, assuming they will be fine the next morning, only to find that they died by themselves from drinking more alcohol than their body could handle.

How to Respond

Since alcohol poisoning comes with warning signs and the added risk of alcohol continuing to work through the body after being consumed, the best response to alcohol poisoning is taking immediate action. Seeking medical attention to treat alcohol poisoning is a vital first step to ensure the worst does not happen. Medical attention can include treatment options, including fluids, oxygen therapy, and flushing. These treatments help protect the body’s vital organs at risk while also speeding up the process of getting the toxic levels of alcohol out of our bodies.  


If possible, you should call 911 if you are by yourself and suspect that you have alcohol poisoning, but the ability to do this is unlikely when experiencing alcohol poisoning. While being around others when drinking is a safer alternative to dealing with the symptoms of alcohol poisoning all alone, it falls short of a lasting game plan for avoiding the dangers of alcohol poisoning altogether.


Being Proactive

While it’s important to know how to respond if you or someone you know is experiencing alcohol poisoning, these steps are reactionary. A better way to address alcohol poisoning is to take proactive steps in the right direction. This can be difficult since many people who experience alcohol poisoning suffer from alcohol use disorder (AUD).


This brain disease is a condition when alcohol consumption cannot be controlled or avoided. If this is the case, the ongoing use of alcohol in larger amounts can greatly increase the risk of alcohol poisoning during use. The good news is alcohol use disorder is treatable and a vital step in the right direction. If you or someone you know has AUD, avoid the dangers of alcohol poisoning by seeking guidance from a dedicated team of professionals who can help you.


Mayo Clinic (2018, Jan 19.). Alcohol Poisoning. Retrieved https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-poisoning/symptoms-causes/syc-20354386

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). How to Quickly Recover After an Alcohol Binge. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/alcohol/recover-from-binge/

Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. (2015 January 6). Alcohol Poisoning Deaths. Retrieved https://archive.cdc.gov/#/details?url=https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/alcohol-poisoning-deaths/index.html

Medical News Today. (n.d.). What to know about alcohol poisoning. Retrieved https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/215627#symptoms

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Alcohol Poisoning: How to Tell, What to Do, and the Health Risks. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/alcohol/alcohol-poisoning/

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021, May.). Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Overdose. Retrieved https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-dangers-of-alcohol-overdose

Fortune. (2023 January 23). The parents of a student who died of alcohol poisoning after a frat hazing incident just got almost $3 million in a settlement from his university. Retrieved https://fortune.com/2023/01/23/family-gets-3-million-settlement-hazing-lawsuit-bowling-green-state-university/

Healthline. (2019 June 10). How Long Does Alcohol Poisoning Last? Retrieved https://www.healthline.com/health/alcoholism/how-long-does-alcohol-poisoning-last

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021 April). Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder. Retrieved https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-alcohol-use-disorder

Alcohol Poisoning


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