Know if You Have Alcohol Poisoning

Edited by Train Wreck, Eng, Inukshuk, VisiHow

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Alcohol poisoning kills an average of six Americans every day. Knowing if you need a hangover cure or treatment for alcohol poisoning can mean the difference between life and death. The thing is, it's not always easy to tell. Being extremely drunk and suffering from alcohol poisoning have similar symptoms, including dehydration, nausea, and general sickness. But there are also big differences between them, with hangovers being easily treated by home cures, while an alcohol poisoning cure usually means a trip to the hospital.

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Alcohol Poisoning Symptoms

The symptoms of alcohol poisoning are similar to those of a severe hangover, but there are several important differences you should be aware of. Keep in mind that most people never even discuss alcohol with their doctors, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)[1]. This means you may have a problem and not even be aware of it.

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  1. 1
    The first sign of alcohol poisoning is continuous vomiting.
    This is when you are unable to stop throwing up. Not only does this increase dehydration, but it also wreaks havoc on the body, making heart conditions or other issues much worse.
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  2. 2
    Another sign is an increased heart rate with a much lower blood pressure.
    This is a problem, because it means your heart is working harder, but your blood pressure isn't as high as it should be.
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  3. 3
    Difficulty breathing, or at a minimum a much slower rate of breathing.
    When this happens, you're taking in less oxygen, which makes it much harder for the body to manage basic life support functions.
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  4. 4
    Blue-tinged fingernails and lips.
    If you see your own lips and nail beds or those of someone else turning blue, it's a sure sign of alcohol poisoning. Get to a hospital. Delaying a hospital trip could kill you.
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  5. 5
    Chills and a low body temperature.
    When you get chills, and can't seem to get warm, it's another clear warning sign. This means the body is unable to regulate temperature. You will continue to get colder until body systems start to shut down and you die.
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  6. 6
    Seizures and severe loss of motor coordination.
    Any time you completely lose control of yourself and have seizures, it's a sign of alcohol poisoning. This is the brain losing control of the body. Critical life support systems can follow, and you may die. Call an ambulance.
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  7. 7
    Severe confusion or outright stupor.
    Unfortunately you won't be able to check this one yourself, because you'll be too far gone with alcohol poisoning. However, if you see someone else in this state, get them help. Call an ambulance so they can receive treatment before their condition worsens.
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Know the difference between alcohol poisoning and a hangover.

Hangover symptoms, as we discussed earlier, are very similar to those of alcohol poisoning. We discussed alcohol poisoning in the previous section. Now we will go over the symptoms of a severe hangover so that you can understand the differences.

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  1. 1
    Severe headache.
    This is the most commonly reported symptom of a bad hangover. It is when your head hurts so much you can't think. Any small movement can trigger a spike in headache pain.
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  2. 2
    Light and noise sensitivity.
    Along with a terrible hangover headache, you'll also experience sensitivity to light and noise. These symptoms will persist for hours, and with the other hangover symptoms discussed here, will also make you feel quite unwell.
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  3. 3
    Weakness and a feeling of being very tired.
    Because you have drank too much, your body will be exhausted from processing all of the poisons from what you drank, as well as the byproducts of eliminating alcohol from your liver. This will leave you feeling completely exhausted.
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  4. 4
    Muscle aches and pains.
    In addition to feeling weak and tired, your whole body is going to hurt. You'll ache all over. This is due to a number of factors, but chief among them is the overall dehydration of your body, and increased levels of toxins from the alcohol. Because you are dehydrated, the body can't easily remove these poisons. They sit in your muscles, causing aches and pains.
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  5. 5
    Sickness, and possible diarrhea.
    This is one of the more unpleasant side effects, though it doesn't happen to everyone. You'll feel sick, sometimes from just drinking water, and will perhaps have diarrhea from the alcohol wreaking havoc on your intestines and gut bacteria.
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  6. 6
    Irritability.
    If all of the above symptoms weren't enough to make you feel irritable, you're going to feel irritable anyway. Worse, you're probably going to have a severely shortened attention span, leaving you both irritated with yourself and everyone around you.
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How long does it take to recover from alcohol poisoning?

Now that you know the difference between alcohol poisoning and a hangover, it's time to think about just how long it can take you to recover. Because alcohol poisoning is so serious, and can be life threatening, it's not something you should expect to quickly recover from. Read on to get an idea of how long you should expect recovery to take.

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  1. 1
    The most simple cases of alcohol poisoning take up to 24 hours to treat.
    This generally means an overnight stay in a hospital. In these cases, you haven't likely caused any permanent damage to yourself. You were lucky.
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  2. 2
    More complex cases of alcohol poisoning can take up to 48 hours to treat.
    In this case you can expect to spend two days in a hospital. It's possible that you will have done some permanent damage to yourself. Likewise, you will likely experience lingering systems for a day or three after you come home from the hospital.
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  3. 3
    Severe cases of alcohol poisoning can take from three days to one week to treat.
    These are the most severe instances. Many times a person has done permanent damage to themselves. Recovery will be at least three days in a hospital or care facility. This will be followed up by additional treatment. Worse, you may find symptoms such as shaking hands or a lack of coordination that persist for weeks.
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Tips and Suggestions

  • Never try to sober up someone who has alcohol poisoning. None of the tricks to help sober yourself up will work on a person with alcohol poisoning. In fact, some of them can even make the person worse than they were before. Call an ambulance instead.
  • Do not take a cold shower. If you or someone you know has alcohol poisoning, taking a cold shower will only further lower their body temperature. This can cause hypothermia, which the body won't be able to recover from in their drunken state.
  • Just because a person has stopped drinking doesn't mean they are ok. The blood alcohol content (BAC) of a person can continue to rise as the body absorbs alcohol in their system. If someone has passed out, they can continue to get drunk, and may even die as a result. Princeton University[2] has a helpful fact sheet on identifying alcohol poisoning from a medical perspective. Read it and benefit.
  • Don't try the hair of the dog remedy. Drinking more will only make you worse off than you were before. In fact, if you don't already have alcohol poisoning, it can push you over the edge and into full on alcohol poisoning.
  • Make sure you get treatment. Alcohol poisoning is no laughing matter. You should not hesitate to check into a hospital or take your friend there so professionals can treat the alcohol poisoning. Failure to get treatment can prolong recovery in the best of cases. In the worst cases, it can result in death.
  • Don't take aspirin (or anything else) before you drink. A study by the American Medical Association (AMA)[3] actually found that ingesting aspirin can slow the rate your body is able to metabolize alcohol. This means a higher BAC, and puts you one step closer to alcohol poisoning. Instead, eat before you drink alcohol. You'll thank yourself later.

References on How to Know if You Have Alcohol Poisoning

  1. Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
  2. Princeton University Alcohol Safety
  3. American Medical Association (AMA)
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See more related tutorials: Treat Alcohol Poisoning, Drink Alcohol and Exercise, Get Rid of Alcohol Breath, Be a Designated Driver, Sleep After Drinking, DUI Fines, Drink Responsibly, Drink Without Getting Drunk, Eat Before You Drink Alcohol, Get Help with a Drinking Problem, and Drink Alcohol.

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Recent edits by: Inukshuk, Eng, Train Wreck

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