Last weekend, Indiana law enforcement picked up a man with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of .552, almost seven times the legal limit. James Henderson, 28, was found unconscious on the side of a road. His level of intoxication would kill most people, or put them in a coma. Remarkably, Henderson was alive, though suffering from extreme alcohol poisoning.
Alcohol poisoning is a serious — and sometimes deadly — consequence of drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. When a person has alcohol poisoning they have consumed a toxic amount of alcohol, usually over a short period of time. Their BAC is so high it is considered toxic to their body. Alcohol poisoning can be life threatening and requires immediate medical care.
Signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:
- Cold, clammy, pale, or bluish skin
- Unconscious or unable to be roused
- Slow or irregular breathing
- Puking repeatedly or uncontrollably
Alcohol poisoning commonly results from binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as more than five drinks in a sitting for men, and more than four for women. Alcohol poisoning can also occur when someone drinks household products containing alcohol, either accidentally or on purpose.
Alcohol slows involuntary body responses like gag reflex and breathing. With enough alcohol, these reactions can slow to a dangerous level or stop altogether. Someone who has alcohol poisoning is at risk for decreased breathing and gag reflex. Alcohol also irritates the stomach. Many people who are suffering from alcohol poisoning vomit. If the person suffering from alcohol poisoning is unconscious when vomiting begins, they run the risk of asphyxiating on the vomit, particularly if they are lying on their back. People with alcohol poisoning may have seizures or succumb to hypothermia, since alcohol lowers your internal body temperature.
When you drink alcohol, your liver has to filter out the alcohol, a toxin, from your blood. Alcohol poisoning occurs because you are ingesting alcohol more quickly than your liver can metabolize it. In general, the liver metabolizes one drink an hour, although there are slight variations based on sex, size, and race. If you consume more than one drink per hour, the alcohol begins to build up in the blood stream and you increase your risk for alcohol poisoning. Even after a person stops drinking, alcohol in the stomach and intestine continues to enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body. This means that your blood alcohol content continues to rise, even after you have passed out.
If you suspect someone has alcohol poisoning, you should immediately call 911. Stay with the person until help arrives. If the person is vomiting due to alcohol poisoning, turn them on their side. Try to keep the person suffering from alcohol poisoning conscious by talking to them. Cover them with a blanket and wait for emergency personnel. It is important to call for medical help, because someone suffering from alcohol poisoning could seize, die, or experience permanent brain damage if they are not medically treated in a timely manner.