Alcohol poisoning

Alcohol poisoning occurs when a person drinks a toxic amount of alcohol, usually over a short period of time (binge drinking).

Being poisoned by alcohol can damage your health or even put your life in danger.

Alcohol poisoning is a leading cause of poisoning in England, especially among young people.

It's important to avoid misusing alcohol and to be aware of how much you're drinking and the effect this could have on your body.

Signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning

The signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:

In the most severe cases, alcohol poisoning can lead to coma, brain damage and death.

When to seek medical help

If you suspect alcohol poisoning, dial 999 immediately to request an ambulance.

While you're waiting:

Never leave a person alone to "sleep it off". 

The level of alcohol in a person's blood can continue to rise for up to 30 to 40 minutes after their last drink.

This can cause their symptoms to suddenly become much more severe.

You also should not try to "sober them up" by giving them coffee or putting them under a cold shower, for example.

These methods will not help and may even be dangerous.

How alcohol poisoning is treated in hospital

In hospital, the person will be carefully monitored until the alcohol has left their system.

If treatment is required, this may include:

Dangers of alcohol poisoning

If a person is poisoned by alcohol, they could:

Repeated vomiting and retching can lead to vomiting blood, caused by a torn blood vessel at the junction of the stomach and gullet.

Other related risks

Drinking too much alcohol can affect a person's judgement and put them in situations where their health and safety are at risk.

For example, they may:

How alcohol poisoning happens

Every time you drink alcohol, your liver has to filter it out of your blood.

Alcohol is absorbed quickly into your body (much quicker than food), but the body can only process around 1 unit of alcohol an hour.

If you drink a lot of alcohol over a short space of time, such as on a night out, your body will not have time to process it all. 

Alcohol poisoning can also occur if a person drinks household products that contain alcohol. Children sometimes drink these by accident.

The amount of alcohol in your bloodstream, known as your blood alcohol concentration (BAC), will rise.

The effects of alcohol

Around 1 to 2 units

Around 4 to 6 units

Around 8 to 9 units

At this stage you should seriously consider not drinking any more alcohol.

If you do:

Around 10 to 12 units

More than 12 units

Recommended alcohol limits

If you drink most weeks, to reduce your risk of harming your health:

A unit of alcohol is equivalent to:

Find out more about alcohol units

You should also avoid binge drinking as it's dangerous and puts you at risk of alcohol poisoning.

Read more about drinking and alcohol, including tips on cutting down on your drinking.

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Page last reviewed: 1 April 2019
Next review due: 1 April 2022