It may not seem like it but alcohol is a poison and can sometimes have lethal consequences.

Your body can only process one unit of alcohol an hour. Drink a lot in a short space of time and the amount of alcohol in the blood can stop the body from working properly.

It can:

  • slow down your brain functions so you lose your sense of balance.
  • irritate the stomach which causes vomiting and it stops your gag reflex from working properly – you can choke on, or inhale, your own vomit into your lungs.
  • affect the nerves that control your breathing and heartbeat, stopping both.
  • dehydrate you, which can cause permanent brain damage.
  • lower the body’s temperature, which can lead to hypothermia.
  • lower your blood sugar levels, so you could have seizures.

The Symptoms

The symptoms can come on quickly, one minute your house guest is stupidly drunk, the next they’re dangerously intoxicated.

Symptoms to look out for are:

  • Confusion
  • Loss of coordination
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Irregular or slow breathing (less than eight breaths a minute)
  • Blue-tinged or pale skin
  • Low body temperature (hypothermia)
  • Stupor – when someone’s conscious but unresponsive
  • Unconsciousness – passing out

What not to do

Acute alcohol poisoning can be extremely dangerous. Your best intentions could make it worse. There are so many myths around about how to deal with people who’ve drunk to excess, so it’s a good idea to make sure you’re aware of what NOT to do.


  • Leave someone to sleep it off – The amount of alcohol in someone’s blood continues to rise even when they’re not drinking.
  • Give them a coffee. Alcohol dehydrates the body. Coffee will make someone who is already dehydrated even more so.
  • Make them sick. Their gag reflex won’t be working properly which means they could choke on their vomit.
  • Let them drink any more alcohol.

It’s true that binge drinking is often the cause of alcohol poisoning. But not always.

It depends on your age, sex, size, weight, how fast you’ve been drinking, how much you’ve eaten, your general health and other drugs you might have taken. Always drink within your limits.

Things to do if someone is showing signs of alcohol poisoning

  • Try to keep them awake and sitting up.
  • Give them some water, if they can drink it.
  • Lie them on their side in the recovery position if they’ve passed out, and check they’re breathing properly.
  • Keep them warm.
  • Stay with them and monitor their symptoms.

Use the buttons below to try out our Online audit test to find out if your drinking habits may be affecting your health, and to find out more about binge drinking.

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