What Is Alcohol Poisoning and Its Link to Addiction?
Every day an average of six people in the United States die from alcohol poisoning by overdosing on the substance, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Alcohol poisoning happens when alcohol concentration in the blood becomes toxically high and leads to dangerous and even life-threatening symptoms and complications. Usually alcohol poisoning results from an episode of binge drinking, or consuming more than a healthy or moderate intake of alcohol. For men, that is up to two drinks per day and for women up to one drink per day, according to Dietary Guidelines for Americans quoted by the Centers for Disease Control.
Alcohol poisoning does not follow one rule or pattern that applies to everyone. One person’s metabolism of alcohol may differ wildly from another; on average the time required for alcohol to filter through one’s liver is roughly one drink per hour, but individuals can respond very differently to the substance, with excess consumption inflicting varying degrees of harm.
An experience of alcohol poisoning can indicate the presence of a substance abuse problem, insofar as alcohol poisoning most typically results from binge drinking, which is a form of abusing alcohol and potentially a sign of addiction. This article will educate readers on:
- who is most at risk of alcohol poisoning
- signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning
- how to know if an experience of alcohol poisoning may signify an addiction
Alcohol Poisoning and College Binge Drinking
One population commonly known to be at risk for alcohol poisoning is college students on university campuses and in a season of life when heavy partying and binge drinking are part of the larger culture and a quasi-form of ritualization into adulthood. In this new environment where adjusting, making new friends and succeeding academically are paramount, the pressures to drink can be enormous. And with roughly 60 percent of college students ages 18–22 reporting they drank in the last month, according to a fact sheet by the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, college drinking is more the norm than not.
What many do not know is that two thirds of these college students who booze binge drink, meaning:
- they drink five or more alcoholic beverages on the same occasion on at least one day in a period of 30 days, by the definition of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- or, as described by the NIAAA, they engage in “a pattern of drinking” that increases blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to .08g/dL (typically occurring after four drinks for women and five drinks for men in about two hours).
Alcohol Poisoning and Middle-Aged Men
The more surprising fact is that middle-aged men may actually be more susceptible to alcohol poisoning, if a recent fact check by The Washington Post is accurate. (The Washington Post based its conclusion on the same CDC report cited earlier, which stated that three out of four alcohol poisoning fatalities occur among white men between the ages of 45 and 54.) Exactly why this is so remains a question for researchers, but an article in The Atlantic surmised that alcohol dependence increases with age and in turn poses greater risks of poisoning.
The Link Between Alcohol Poisoning and Addiction
There is therefore a clear and apparent link between alcohol poisoning and addiction. This link does not exist for the majority of people who experience alcohol poisoning, but by the CDC’s account, for roughly 10 percent of people who experience alcohol poisoning, the dangerous complication is a consequence of abusing alcohol, and a pattern of alcohol abuse can signify alcoholism.
Alcohol Poisoning: Signs and Symptoms
Alcohol poisoning can endanger one’s life as much as a drug overdose, as evidenced by the following signs and symptoms cited by the Mayo Clinic.
Signs of alcohol poisoning:
- Confusion and disorientation
- Severe dehydration
- Pale, bluish skin
- Irregular heartbeat
- Low blood pressure
- Shallow breathing
- Loss of consciousness
If you have experienced any of the above alcohol poisoning symptoms as a negative consequence of your drinking, and if you have not been able to reign in your drinking after alcohol poisoning, treatment can help. The National Helpline, a service of SAMHSA, can be a helpful source for treatment referrals and advice. So can speaking with an addiction treatment professional via a free phone consultation.