Acute Alcohol Poisoning Facts

Acute alcohol poisoning occurs when someone drinks very large quantity of alcohol (ethyl alcohol) in short time and it is usually a serious and a medical emergency. Drinking large quantity of alcohol in short duration can affect breathing, heart rate, body temperature and also gag reflex, which make situation serious with potentially fatal consequences. If you suspect anyone is suffering from acute alcohol poisoning, call medical emergency number immediately. Alcohol poisoning may also occur from consumption of household products containing alcohol, accidentally by children or intentionally.ID-10056065
Alcohol when consumed in large quantity rapidly get accumulated in blood, leading to toxicity. Because alcohol is eliminated from our body by mechanism known as “
zero order kinetics”, unlike most drugs/substances and chemicals, which are eliminated by “first order kinetics”. In “zero order kinetics” a drug/substance is removed from body/blood in fixed quantity every unit time (for example, 20 grams of alcohol every hour). Hence, if someone drinks large amount of alcohol in short time, it get accumulated in the body, as body cannot handle such large amount of alcohol in short time, because it is eliminating only fixed amount of alcohol in a given time and alcohol starts accumulating, leading to toxicity. This problem is not there with drugs that are eliminated by “first order kinetics”, because these drugs are eliminated in half quantity in a given time (known as half-life of a drug), which means even if someone consume large quantity of such drug/substance half of it will be eliminated in single half-life and the substance/drug cannot accumulate in body. If half life is short, than within four to five half-life the entire (almost entire amount) get eliminated from body. This is not the case for alcohol poisoning, because alcohol follow “zero order kinetics” of elimination.  

What are the symptoms of acute alcohol poisoning?

The symptoms of alcohol poisoning include, a given individual may not have all the below mentioned symptoms,

  • Vomiting
  • Confusion, seizures,
  • Unconsciousness and may not be possible to awaken. This is a serious condition and may be fatal if urgent medical attention is not available or not given.
  • Hypothermia or low body temperature
  • Slow breathing (may be less than eight breaths per minute) as well as irregular breathing and there may be a gap of 10 seconds or more in between two breaths
  • Skin may be blue tinged or pale in color

If you suspect someone to be having acute alcohol poisoning, call emergency medical help immediately. Never leave a person with acute alcohol poisoning who is vomiting or unconscious alone. Because the gag reflex is affected (and may be even absent) and the vomit may enter lungs and lead to serious consequences. If patient is vomiting, make him/her upright and make him/her to sit. If the person is unconscious or must lie down, make sure to lie down on one side and not supine or prone position.


Image courtesy of [zirconicusso] at

Related Articles

Leave a Comment