Acute Alcohol Intoxication

Knowing the signs and symptoms of acute alcohol intoxication and the proper action to take can help to avoid a tragedy.

Acute alcohol intoxication, or alcohol poisoning, can occur after drinking too much alcohol too fast. Some drinkers, or those sensitive to alcohol may become acutely intoxicated and suffer serious consequences after ingesting small amounts of alcohol.

Many students are surprised to find out death can occur from acute intoxication. Most think the worst that can happen is they'll pass out and have a hangover the next day.

Here's what happens:

  1. Alcohol (a depressant drug), once ingested, works to slow down some of the body's functions, including heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing.
  2. When the vital centers have been depressed enough by alcohol, unconsciousness occurs. Note: The amount of alcohol that it takes to produce unconsciousness is dangerously close to a fatal dose.

It is also important to note that the body breaks down about 1 oz. of pure alcohol (approximately one drink) an hour. If someone drinks quickly (shots, drinking games, etc.) they may pass out. Note: They may look okay, but all the alcohol hasn't reached their brain yet and they may get worse over time.

Acute Alcohol Intoxication: A Medical Emergency

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Semiconsciousness
    • Arouses to verbal stimuli with a groan or mutter
    • Responds only to pain stimuli
  • Slow respirations of eight or less per minute or lapses in respiration of more than 10 seconds
  • Cold, clammy, pale or bluish skin (person not getting enough oxygen)
  • Unconsciousness
    • Unresponsive to any stimuli

*In the event of acute alcohol intoxication, these signs and symptoms will most likely be accompanied by an odor of alcohol on the breath.

Appropriate Action

If you encounter a person who exhibits one or more of the signs and symptoms, call EMTs/Public Safety and Service (x2304) or 1-911 without hesitation--this is a medical emergency!

While waiting for assistance, gently turn the intoxicated person on her side. This is important in preventing aspiration should the person vomit. Stay with the person until medical help arrives.