Alcohol Poisoning

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Acute alcohol poisoning or alcohol intoxication (AI) occurs when the quantity of alcohol consumed by an individual exceeds the person’s tolerance for alcohol and produces behavioral or physical abnormalities. Alcohol causes several changes in a person’s level of consciousness including slurred speech, unstable gait, impaired judgment and disinhibited behavior. This is proven from evidence of marked disruption in brain activity during AI including decrease in global and regional brain differentiation.1

Acute AI may result in coma or death due to respiratory depression and cardiovascular collapse subsequent to central nervous system (CNS) depression. On the other hand, chronic intoxication damages organs such as the liver, esophagus, heart as well as the brain and causes multiple vitamin deficiencies, leading to serious medical problems.2 No specific treatment can reverse the effects of acute AI.

Besides alcohol, there are several other substances, which also cause respiratory depression. Opiates such as heroin and benzodiazepines such as valium commonly cause respiratory depression and become more potent when combined with alcohol. Further, alcohol may mask certain medical conditions. Common conditions that mimic AI include head injuries, hypoglycemia, hypothermia, organic brain diseases and seizure disorders.

First Aid

The first aid in the management of AI are as follows:

  • Move the person away from all sources of alcohol.
  • Try to determine if the person has taken alcohol, any medications or other illegal drugs such as heroin.
  • Assess if the person is easy to arouse. Look for any evidence of a head injury.
  • Vomiting more than once may be a sign of head injury or other illness. However, if an intoxicated person vomits more than once and is not completely coherent, transfer the person to nearest medical facility.

Emergency Treatment

  • In severe AI cases, the person will be incubated in order to support respiration and to prevent aspiration of vomitus into the lungs.
  • They may be started on intravenous fluid to prevent dehydration and B complex vitamins to correct vitamin deficiencies.

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Never drink alcohol without taking any food.
  • Never drink alcohol and drive a  vehicle.
  • Avoid consuming alcohol while taking any medications.


1.Volkow ND, Ma Y, Zhu W, Fowler J, Li J, Rao M et al. Moderate doses of alcohol disrupt the functional organization of the human brain. Psychiatry Res. 2008 Feb 14; (Epub ahead of print).

2.Bertram G. Katzung, Basic & Clinical Pharmacology, 9th edn, McGraw Hill, New York, 2004.

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Written by: healthplus24 team
Date last updated: March 25, 2016

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