What is Alcohol Emergency: Signs, Causes, Treatment, Factors That Can Make the Situation of Alcohol Emergency Worse

What is Alcohol Emergency?

Alcohol emergency is a condition when a person consumes too much alcohol within a very short span of time.1 This is also known as alcohol intoxication or alcohol poisoning. This can be a rather deadly situation and can also be fatal in many cases. Every year there are hundreds of cases of alcohol emergency which causes the death of the person or can even send the person into a state of coma. This condition is also known as alcohol poisoning that can have several alarming results like a problem in breathing, rapid heartbeat rate, dropping of the body temperature and also gagging reflexes.

What is Alcohol Emergency?

Signs of Alcohol Emergency or Poisoning

Often, alcohol emergency can assume really alarming dimensions for the person affected, as the people around him do not take the situation seriously. This can be a deadly mistake and can even cost the person affected, his or her life. Hence if someone consuming alcohol exhibits the following signs then as bystanders you must take immediate action2:

Loss of Consciousness as a Sign of Alcohol Emergency: One of the most common symptoms of this condition is passing out of the person. The person affected with the condition often cannot seem to stay awake and is even unable to get up with violent jerking, shaking and loud noises. In other cases, the person could have a confusion regarding the place they are in, the company they have, and what they are supposed to do.

Irregular Breathing: If you see that the person has irregular breathing and is breathing at real big gaps, this can be a state of the problem and the person could be in a situation of alcohol emergency. Hence if you see that the person has less than eight breaths in a minute or is breathing after a gap of ten or more seconds then you must call for help immediately.

Change of Skin Color: Often when a person is in a condition of alcohol emergency they can have a change in the skin color. The face can have a bluish color and the skin can look paler and whiter than ever before.

Vomiting as a Sign of Alcohol Emergency: Vomiting is yet again one of the major symptoms of the condition and can even turn out to be fatal as the vomit can choke the person if they are lying on their back. It is best to turn the person on one side immediately so that they do not choke of their own vomit.

Bystanders often feel that this is a general condition when the alcohol consumption is just a little high and they will be fine if they are allowed to sleep it off. This is one of the biggest mistakes to be made and it can even cost the person’s life. It is always better to call for help and medical assistance at once so that the person can be attended to and any major damage can be prevented. As a bystander, you must stay with the person till help arrives and should not leave them alone.

What Can Cause Alcohol Emergency?

What Can Cause Alcohol Emergency?

Alcohol can come in different forms. However, the most commonly consumed form of alcohol is that of ethyl alcohol that is found in alcoholic beverages and also in some of the cooking extracts and mouth wash. Ethyl alcohol can lead to alcohol emergency and poisoning if too much alcohol is consumed by a person within a short span of time.

This pattern of drinking where a large quantity of alcohol is consumed over a very short span of time is known as binge drinking. If a female consumes something near to four standard drinks over a span of two hours and if a man consumes a minimum of five standard alcoholic drinks within a span of two hours then it can lead to alcohol emergency. This is a condition that can continue for a variable span of time from a few hours to a few days.

Unlike food, it takes a much smaller amount of time for alcohol to get metabolized or processed as a result of which it gets mixed in the bloodstream at a much faster rate. Even after many hours of consumption, the blood may keep absorbing more alcohol released by the intestine that can make matters worse for a person who is in a condition of alcohol emergency. Alcohol is metabolized by the human liver and hence more amount of alcohol consumed within shorter spans can make matters worse.

Factors That Can Make the Situation of Alcohol Emergency Worse

Alcohol emergency is a condition that can have different effects on different people. There are various factors that happen to contribute to the condition and hence this is a condition that can have different far-reaching effects.

Physical Dimensions as a Contributing Factor for Worsening of Alcohol Emergency: The height and the weight of the person in concern happen to be an important aspect. It has been seen that people with bigger physical dimensions can tolerate a larger volume of alcohol as compared to people who have smaller physical sizes and are slimmer.

Overall Health: The overall health of the person happens to make a massive difference. If the person is sick or is convalescence from sickness then they can be more susceptible to this condition.

Stomach Condition That Can Affect Alcohol Emergency: The condition of the stomach is also of vital importance. In other words, consumption of alcohol in an empty stomach or full stomach can make a vital difference. It is always advisable that you must drink in a filled stomach.

Parallel Consumption of Other Substances: Parallel consumption of other substances can make matters worse.

Rate of Consumption Can Make Alcohol Consumption Worse: The speed at which someone is consuming alcohol is also of paramount importance.

How is Alcohol Emergency Treated?

If you see a person showing the signs of alcohol emergency, then call for medical assistance without any delay. Once asked for help, you can do the following things until help arrives:

  • If the person is conscious, then encourage them to lie down and turn to one side until the help arrives.
  • If the person is able to swallow, then ask them to have enormous amounts of water.
  • If the person is unconscious, turn them to one side so that they do not choke on the vomit.
  • Be with the person until any medical assistance arrives.
  • Once the medical assistance arrives, they will hospitalize the person and the following things are done:
  • Monitor the vital signs
  • Insert a breathing tube to prevent stopping of breathing or choking
  • Pump out the alcohol that has been ingested to prevent further absorption of it in the body
  • Provide intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration
  • Give vitamins as well as glucose supply to prevent further complication
  • Give oxygen therapy
  • Fit a catheter to drain the urine out.

Once the person is out of the emergency stage, they are kept in the hospital until their vitals are stabilized. During the recovery stage, a number of physical and psychological symptoms might appear like low mood and appetite, memory issues etc. However, with time it comes back to normal. In order to prevent any further episodes, a person might have to undergo therapy to make sure that the person is mentally fine.3


To round off the whole discussion, it needs to be said that the occurrence of this condition is a highly individualistic affair. The occurrence of alcohol emergency or alcohol poisoning depends on the tolerance level of the concerned person. It is not necessary that if a person consumes four or five pegs within a span of one hour will be intoxicated. Nevertheless, consumption of alcohol must be at a slow speed and it should not be taken at high quantities at a go.


  1. National Health Society. (January, 2019). “Alcohol Poisoning”. NHS, Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alcohol-poisoning/
  2. Kanny, D; Brewer, RD; Mesnick, JB; Paulozzi, LJ; Naimi, TS; Lu, H (9 January 2015). “Vital signs: alcohol poisoning deaths – United States, 2010-2012”. MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 63 (53):1238–42. Retrievedfrom https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4646044/
  3. Moyer, V.A. (August, 2013). “Screening and behavioral counseling interventions in primary care to reduce alcohol misuse: U.S. preventive services task force recommendation statement”. PubMed. 159(3).210-8

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