Alcohol consumption is a common occurrence for many individuals. When alcohol is absorbed into the body faster than it can be metabolized, however, then dangerous effects can ensue.
But how much alcohol is too much? It’s important to be aware of the detrimental health effects drinking can have on the body. Read on to learn more about alcohol poisoning, the dangerous effects of binge drinking, and how to recover from alcoholism.
Alcohol poisoning occurs when an individual consumes too much alcohol over a short period. The individual’s body may not be able to process the alcohol fast enough. When the body absorbs alcohol faster than it can metabolize it, the excess leads to alcohol poisoning.1 Alcohol poisoning is a serious health emergency that requires immediate medical intervention. In extreme cases, alcohol poisoning can result in loss of consciousness or a coma. Alcohol poisoning can even lead to death in the most severe situations. There is no set amount of alcohol consumption that can result in alcohol poisoning. The effects of alcohol vary from person to person and can depend on a number of factors including someone’s:
Binge drinking is a pattern of alcohol overconsumption. It is characterized by frequent consumption of alcohol that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, to 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter or above.
While the effects of alcohol consumed will depend on a person’s size, tolerance, etc., the typical amount of alcohol consumption considered to be binge drinking is five drinks for men and four drinks for women over two hours. 2
Binge drinking is a dangerous practice and can lead to alcohol poisoning in many cases. Although the dangers of binge drinking can result in serious health effects and even death, it’s still an incredibly common occurrence. When binge drinking becomes a regular habit, this can quickly develop into alcoholism and increase a person’s risk for alcohol overdose.
Binge drinking is extremely common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in six adults in the United States binge drinks around four times per month, resulting in an estimated 17 billion total binge drinks consumed by adults each year.
In terms of the percentage of the U.S. population that binge drinks, around 66 million people – nearly a quarter of the population age 12 and over – reported binge drinking over a month-long time.3
In addition to the many physical side effects that binge drinking has on the body, binge drinking also has exorbitantly costly impacts on society, including the costs of health care, criminal justice expenses, damages to property, and estimated losses due to decreased workplace productivity. It’s estimated that these expenses cost approximately $191 billion annually in the United States alone.4
Binge drinking is incredibly common in young adults, especially among college students. For those who reported drinking before the age of 21, the majority reported consuming large amounts of alcohol, categorized as binge drinking.
The prevalence of drinking culture in many colleges and universities has led to a high amount of students binge drinking frequently. According to a recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 33% of college students reported binge drinking, which was more than 5% higher than individuals of the same age that do not attend college.5
The effects of alcohol on the body can vary widely based on several factors. The biggest impact on whether or not an individual will experience alcohol poisoning is their alcohol tolerance. The higher a person’s alcohol tolerance, the less sensitivity they will have to the physical effects of alcohol consumption. It will take more drinks before they will feel the effects.
While a higher alcohol tolerance increases the number of drinks needed for alcohol poisoning takes place, a higher tolerance is not an indication of health. Instead, higher alcohol tolerance can have detrimental health effects due to the larger quantities of alcohol needed to feel its effects.
There are a number of physical signs to look to indicate a person is suffering from alcohol poisoning, including:
The symptoms of alcohol poisoning can be a major indicator that a person needs immediate medical attention. Signs of typical alcohol intoxication include slurred speech, dizziness, and even vomiting. However, when these symptoms become severe, medical help must be sought to avoid serious, long-term health effects.
Complications of alcohol poisoning can result in choking on trapped vomit, severe dehydration, hypothermia, seizures, heart attacks, brain damage, and even death.
While seizures are not commonly linked with casual alcohol consumption, binge drinking is another story. There is a greater risk of seizures for individuals who regularly consume large amounts of alcohol.
Alcohol seizures can be triggered by several things, including alcohol toxicity, the body’s response to alcohol withdrawal, or metabolic changes in the body when processing large amounts of alcohol. Certain seizure medications, especially for epilepsy, decrease a person’s tolerance for alcohol and render the medications less effective. This increases the likelihood for a seizure to occur after drinking.6
Binge drinking can quickly become a dangerous pattern and have detrimental health effects on the body. There are steps, however, to cut back on binge drinking and avoid the potential dangers of an alcohol overdose.
A change in environment is often an effective way to stop binge drinking. Cutting down on consumption is easier without constant reminders. For those struggling with binge drinking and alcoholism, a change in the people, places, and activities can help stop their drinking pattern.
Setting limits on consumption also has many health benefits. For those who are not addicted to alcohol but want to lead a healthier lifestyle free of binge drinking, moderating the number of drinks is a healthy way to consume alcohol without going overboard.
Sometimes, quitting binge drinking requires the help of a professional. Attending therapy for alcohol addiction or attending an inpatient or outpatient detox program can change one’s lifestyle.7
Medical treatment is imperative for individuals with alcohol poisoning. For most, this involves close and careful observation while the body rids itself of alcohol. People are typically monitored to ensure safety from potential choking hazards and breathing problems.
Additionally, fluids can be administered intravenously to prevent as well as reverse dehydration. Other supplements which help the body recover include vitamins or glucose. When alcohol poisoning treatment is not given, individuals are at risk of serious health complications including choking, comas, and even death.
Alcoholism treatment is an individualized journey, and often takes the help of a medical professional to overcome alcohol addiction. For those with dangerous binge drinking patterns, different routes can be effective in overcoming alcoholism.
Counseling and therapy, both one-on-one or in a group setting, can be a helpful way to identify the causes, triggers, and behaviors that lead to alcohol binges. For others, medical detoxification may be required to safely stop drinking without any withdrawal effects.
Support groups and organizations are available for individuals struggling with binge drinking, alcoholism, and making the lifestyle changes required to stop overconsumption. Recovery is possible by seeking out help and committing to changing one’s relationship with alcohol.