The end of Alcohol Awareness Month is rapidly approaching and the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division (ABD) would like to take these last days to address alcohol overconsumption. Alcohol poisoning is a serious and sometimes deadly consequence of consuming large quantities of alcohol within a short period of time.
Drinking too much too quickly can affect a person's breathing, heart rate and gag reflex, which can potentially lead to coma or death. Vomiting and loss of consciousness are the most severe and recognizable warning signs of alcohol poisoning. Confusion, irregular or slow breathing (less than 8 breaths per minutes), seizures, and low body temperature can also be indicators to seek immediate medical assistance.
No one should ever be afraid to seek help if alcohol poisoning is suspected; someone's life may depend on it. "People may worry about the consequences for themselves, friends or loved ones, particularly for those who are underage," said ABD Administrator Stephen Larson. "However, the consequences of not getting the right help in time can be far more serious."
In cases where someone cannot or will not get help, try to keep the person warm, sitting upright and awake if possible. Regularly check for normal breathing and lay them on their side if they are unconscious. Keep in mind that even when someone is unconscious or has stopped drinking, alcohol continues to be released into the bloodstream and their blood alcohol concentration continues to rise. Do not leave someone you suspect has alcohol poisoning alone; stay with them to monitor breathing.
Drinking alcohol in moderation, not drinking on an empty stomach and knowing what type of alcohol you are consuming can help in avoiding alcohol poisoning. It takes approximately one hour for the human liver to process the alcohol in one 12-ounce can of beer at five percent alcohol, five ounces of wine at 12 percent alcohol, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.
If someone is unconscious and or experiencing symptoms of alcohol poisoning, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Never assume that a person will "sleep off" alcohol poisoning. If the person is conscious, call 800-222-1222 and you will be routed to a local Poison Control Center. The trained staff will instruct you on what to do.