Can I Overdose from Alcohol? What Happens Next?

Given the rampant opioid epidemic that’s sweeping the nation, it’s easy to see why one might overlook alcohol abuse. For starters, it’s legal for recreational purposes; you can walk into your local grocery store and buy a handle of vodka or tequila or whiskey in a matter of minutes. Likewise, you don’t need a prescription to buy alcohol, which means it really can’t be all that bad for you. Right?


The sad reality is that, on average, six people die every single day from alcohol poisoning in the United States. And in 2016, alcohol was linked to more deaths than guns, car crashes, or even HIV/AIDS at its peak.

With alcohol being the third leading preventable cause of death in America, it begs the question: how have we as a society become so desensitized to its ever-present dangers?

The Dangers of Drinking Too Much

People who drink heavily have a greater risk of psychiatric disorders, cirrhosis, hepatitis, stroke, chronic pancreatitis, sleep disorders, depression, domestic violence, sexually transmitted diseases, and cancer. And, as statistics show, excessive alcohol use can also lead to death.

Of the 88,000 alcohol-attributable deaths in the United States each year, binge drinking is responsible for more than half –– a staggering statistic for a legal substance.

The NIAAA defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 grams percent or above. For men, this typically occurs after consuming five or more drinks within a two-hour time span. According to the CDC, approximately 23% of adult men report binge drinking five times a month, averaging 8 drinks per binge.

Who’s at Risk of Alcohol Overdose?

While alcohol poisoning deaths affect individuals of all ages in the United States, research has shown that three out of every four people killed are men. The common denominator? Yep, you guessed it: binge drinking.

Aside from binge drinking, other common risk factors that can raise the chances of alcohol overdose among men include:

  • Age
  • Height & weight
  • Ethnicity
  • Social class
  • Additional drug use
  • Other health conditions

Drinking on College Campuses

While 76 percent of the men who die from alcohol overdoses are between the ages 35 and 64, the prevalence of alcohol use on college campuses is not something to be ignored.

Studies show that certain demographics may be at a higher risk of encountering and abusing alcohol. For instance, male students who are involved in a fraternity’s tend to drink more than male students who do not participate in the Greek system.

While there are many positive benefits to Greek life, fraternities across the country have a longstanding history with alcohol hazing as part of membership initiation rituals. In recent years, there has been an influx of highly publicized hazing incidents that have resulted in extreme cases of alcohol poisoning, severe accidents, and even death.

––9 face hazing charges in alcohol-linked death of Florida State University fraternity pledge

––Members of a Penn State fraternity charged after the death of a sophomore pledge

––10 people arrested in the death of Louisiana State University student after fraternity drinking ritual

––A Texas State University fraternity pledge found dead with a blood alcohol content level more than four times the legal limit

What is an Alcohol Overdose?

An alcohol overdose, or alcohol poisoning, occurs when there is an excess of alcohol in the bloodstream. Because the liver can only process one serving of alcohol per hour, an overdose typically occurs when too much alcohol is consumed over a short period of time –– aka, binge drinking.

Alcohol poisoning affects the body by slowing brain functions that control balance, coordination, blood sugar, breathing, heart rate, and temperature. Unbeknownst to many, the effects of bingeing continue long after one has ceased drinking. In fact, a person can consume a fatal dose of alcohol prior to passing out. This is due to the fact that alcohol continues to be released from your stomach and intestines into your bloodstream –– whether conscious or unconscious.

Signs & Symptoms of an Alcohol Overdose

Alcohol poisoning is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate medical attention. If someone is experiencing the following signs and symptoms, call 911 right away:

  • difficulty remaining conscious or unresponsiveness
  • confusion
  • vomiting
  • seizures
  • slow heart rate
  • abnormal or slowed breathing
  • pale skin which may show signs of a bluish shade
  • extremely low body temperature
  • dulled responses

After contacting emergency medical help, it’s important to stay with the individual to prevent him from accidentally injuring himself. If possible, try to keep him conscious and in an upright position.

If the person is conscious, try to give him small sips of water if he is able to swallow. Whatever you do, do not attempt to give him any form of caffeine to help him “sober up” faster. If the person is unconscious, it’s necessary that you carefully roll him onto his side to prevent him from choking on his own vomit. Alcohol poisoning has a tendency to make people feel cold, so cover him in a warm blanket until medical personnel arrives.

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