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How Long Does Alcohol Poisoning Last?

how long does alcohol poisoning last

What exactly is alcohol poisoning? Does everyone experience it the same way? And how long does alcohol poisoning last?

If you’ve had a few too many drinks, gone on a binge, experienced a blackout, or woken up with the worst hangover ever after a night of partying, these questions may be swirling around in your head.

Here’s the good news: If you’re sober enough to read this, you’re probably not suffering from alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol poisoning is a serious, life-threatening emergency. You owe it to yourself and your friends to know the signs of alcohol poisoning and call 911 if you see them.

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning

There is no minimum amount of alcohol that someone has to consume in order to get alcohol poisoning. Alcohol is inherently poisonous. The symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Stumbling
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Blue-tinged or pale skin
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature)
  • Loss of consciousness

Don’t wait around wondering, “How long does alcohol poisoning last?” and expecting your friend to just walk it off. The risk of coma or death is very real in cases of alcohol poisoning and can occur very quickly. Only medical professionals can help someone suffering from alcohol poisoning, so call 911 if you see these warning signs. Their stomach may need to be pumped and they’ll need medical attention to help them recover.

When you call 911, stay on the line for instructions about what to do until first responders arrive.

How Long Does Alcohol Poisoning Last?

With proper supportive care, the effects of alcohol poisoning can wear off in a few hours, but there are other factors that contribute to the length and severity of alcohol poisoning. A few are:

Type of Alcohol

The type of alcohol a person drinks affects how quickly alcohol poisoning happens. This is because different alcoholic drinks are measured in different serving sizes:

  • 1 serving of beer is 12 fluid ounces
  • 1 serving of wine is 5 fluid ounces
  • 1 serving of hard liquor is 1.5 fluid ounces

If you’re used to being able to drink a large amount of beer, you may be surprised by how little liquor it takes to leave you feeling sick.

Body Size

A person’s height and weight play a major role in how much alcohol it takes to cause alcohol poisoning. Less weight means you’ll reach a dangerously high blood alcohol level (BAC) faster. Someone with less body weight may drink the same amount of alcohol as someone with a heavier weight and experience much worse effects.

Tolerance

You’ll have a higher alcohol tolerance if you are a heavy drinker. This doesn’t mean you’re less likely to get alcohol poisoning. It’s actually easier to develop alcohol poisoning if you have a high tolerance because you may not experience the warning signs a lighter drinker has, like feeling drunk. This is especially true if you drink to avoid alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Gender

Women can get alcohol poisoning quicker because they are generally shorter and lighter. The composition of women’s bodies makes a difference too: Women absorb alcohol more quickly. It also takes longer for them to metabolize alcohol. Due to this slower breakdown of alcohol, women are more vulnerable to long-term effects of alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol poisoning is most commonly associated with binge drinking, but the definition of a “binge” varies from person to person based on gender, height, and weight.

To be safe, avoid binge drinking practices, and educate yourself on what to do to help a friend (or stranger!) who shows signs of alcohol poisoning. It’s as smart as learning the signs of drowning before you go for a swim.

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Poisoning

Drinking to the point of alcohol overdose doesn’t just result in a few temporary—but deadly—symptoms. Many long-lasting health problems can result from drinking heavily. Some of these may stay with you for life:

  • Liver problems and liver disease
  • Impaired coordination
  • High blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, stroke
  • A greater risk for certain types of cancers
  • Pancreas damage and digestion problems
  • A weakened immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to illness

Providing Immediate Help: Dos and Don’ts

If a friend shows signs of alcohol poisoning, here are some important dos and don’ts to follow until help arrives.

DO:

  • Help them sit up and stay awake
  • Let them drink water
  • Put a blanket or jacket around them to keep them warm
  • Stay with them
  • Monitor their breathing
  • Lay them on their side if they have passed out

DON’T:

  • Have them “sleep it off” or “walk it off”
  • Induce vomiting – The risk of choking on vomit or breathing it into the lungs is very high in cases of alcohol poisoning, and both are deadly.
  • Try to “sober them up” with coffee or a cold shower
  • Leave them

You’re risking a lot more than a ruined night and a trip to the ER when you binge drink. You could be setting yourself up for a lifetime of health problems. If you worry you, a friend, or a loved one may be at risk for alcohol poisoning, consider contacting Promises Treatment Centers to learn more about our alcohol abuse treatment programs.

Resources

Facts About Alcohol Overdose (or Alcohol Poisoning)

Alcohol Poisoning – Symptoms, Causes and Effects

What Is a Standard Drink?

Women and the Dangers of Drinking

Posted on December 22, 2016 and modified on April 21, 2019

Krisi Herron

Medically Reviewed by

Krisi Herron, LCDC

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