Your body isn’t meant to process alcohol efficiently.
When you drink, especially at a fast pace, your system is still processing the first drink while you’re swallowing the second. In short, alcohol poisoning occurs when you consume alcohol faster than your body can process and excrete it, says Gareth Staley, Operations Manager for Assistance Services at ER24. “Allowing your body time to break down the alcohol, together with adequate water and food intake, could prevent poisoning,” he advises.
Alcohol poisoning can have serious, even fatal, consequences. “Elevated blood alcohol levels act as system depressants resulting in loss of consciousness, decreased breathing and heart rates, seizures, and loss of the gag reflex,” says Staley. Losing your gag reflex is especially dangerous, since it prevents you from choking on your own vomit. Alcohol poisoning can also lead to brain cell damage, other vital organ damage, respiratory and cardiac arrest, and even death.
The signs of alcohol poisoning
“The initial signs and symptoms in any patient suffering from alcohol intoxication include drowsiness, loss of balance, slurred speech, decreasing level of consciousness, and vomiting,” Staley says. “Alcohol poisoning can lead to more severe symptoms like seizures, aspiration of vomit, and even cardiac arrest.”
The do’s and don’ts if someone has alcohol poisoning
If you think someone has alcohol poisoning, ensure the patient’s airways are clear and they are breathing. If not, call 084 124 for real help, real fast and start CPR.
- Stay with them because there’s a risk they could choke on their vomit or stop breathing.
- Sit them up if they’re awake or put them in the recovery position if they lose consciousness and check that they are breathing properly.
- Give them water to sip only if they’re able to swallow.
- Keep them warm with a jacket or blanket.
- Let them drink more alcohol.
- Give them coffee or drinks containing caffeine because this can dehydrate people with alcohol poisoning.
- Put them in a cold shower or bath because they’re at risk of getting too cold, falling, or losing consciousness in the water.
- Try to get them to vomit as they may choke on their own vomit.
Once ER24 paramedics arrive they will focus on supporting the body’s vital functions. “Patients usually require oxygen, and intravenous fluid therapy and more severe cases need artificial ventilation,” Staley explains. “In some cases, we drain the patient’s stomach of any alcohol that hasn’t been absorbed, leaving the liver to process only what has already been absorbed.”