Alcohol Intoxication

What is alcohol intoxication?

Alcohol intoxication (or drunkenness) is a temporary condition caused by drinking alcohol. Severe alcohol intoxication is also known as alcohol poisoning. Symptoms such as an increased sense of well-being, increased social confidence or a fast heart beat can occur at even low blood alcohol levels. With increasing levels of blood alcohol, symptoms like dizziness, nausea, vomiting, changes in speech or a loss of control over body movements can occur. In severe cases, alcohol intoxication causes coma and even death. Alcohol intoxication is usually treated with fluids. People who have mild to moderate intoxication usually recover well, although they may suffer the symptoms of headache, nausea and vomiting for 1 or 2 days.

Risks

Alcohol intoxication is caused by an excessive intake of alcohol; it is a very common condition. The absorption rate of alcohol and associated risk of alcohol intoxication depends not only on the quantity of alcohol but also on the context in which it was drunk. People who do not drink alcohol often tend to get drunk more quickly and more severely than people who drink alcohol more regularly, though this is not always the case. Women and younger adults may become intoxicated more easily than men, due to the difference in body size and the ability to process alcohol. Drinking on an empty stomach, drinking quickly, or drinking beverages that are stronger than one is used to, all increase the risk of becoming intoxicated.

Symptoms

The symptoms depend on the level of alcohol in the blood and whether the individual drinks alcohol regularly. Early symptoms of alcohol intoxication include a rapid heart beat, a feeling of well-being and confidence, reddening of the skin and an unsteady gait. Symptoms of worse intoxication include disinhibition, nausea, vomiting, reduced attentiveness, slurred speech, a loss of control of body movements, sleepiness and loss of consciousness (blackouts). People with very severe intoxication may become very cold, dehydrated and may develop seizures.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis is usually made by considering the symptoms of the affected person and a physical examination. Alcohol levels can be measured in the blood, or in the breath with a breathalyzer machine.

Treatment

Treatment of alcohol intoxication usually involves fluids and management of nausea and vomiting. People who are mildly or moderately intoxicated will eventually process the alcohol, and will get better with time. People with severe alcohol intoxication may need medical assessment or hospitalization to receive fluids through an IV line (a drip) and to manage any complications (such as seizures or difficulty breathing).

Prevention

Moderate intake of alcohol or avoiding alcohol completely prevents alcohol intoxication. Strategies that help avoid alcohol intoxication include spacing drinks with non-alcoholic drinks (ideally water), counting drinks, choosing beverages with lower alcohol content and eating a solid meal before drinking alcohol.

Other names for alcohol intoxication

  • alcohol poisoning
  • ethanol intoxication in adults