Alcohol Intoxication

Alcohol intoxication occurs when the amount of alcohol that a person has consumed impairs his or her ability to mentally and physically function. Alcohol directly impairs the normal chemical activity of the brain. Drinking large amounts of alcohol can lead to changes in mental function and behavior, and it can cause many physical effects that can be harmful.

Alcohol intoxication can range in severity from mild to very severe. Various factors can affect the level of intoxication that occurs, such as the person's age, gender, weight, frequency of alcohol consumption, and the presence of other medical conditions (such as diabetes, seizures, or heart conditions). Dangerous levels of alcohol intoxication may occur when people drink large amounts of alcohol in a short period (binge drinking). Alcohol can also be especially dangerous when combined with certain prescription medicines or "recreational" drugs.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

Some common signs and symptoms of mild alcohol intoxication include:

  • Loss of coordination.

  • Changes in mood and behavior.

  • Impaired judgment.

  • Slurred speech.

As alcohol intoxication progresses to more severe levels, other signs and symptoms will appear. These may include:

  • Vomiting.

  • Confusion and impaired memory.

  • Slowed breathing.

  • Seizures.

  • Loss of consciousness.

DIAGNOSIS

Your health care provider will take a medical history and perform a physical exam. You will be asked about the amount and type of alcohol you have consumed. Blood tests will be done to measure the concentration of alcohol in your blood. In many places, your blood alcohol level must be lower than 80 mg/dL (0.08%) to legally drive. However, many dangerous effects of alcohol can occur at much lower levels.

TREATMENT

People with alcohol intoxication often do not require treatment. Most of the effects of alcohol intoxication are temporary, and they go away as the alcohol naturally leaves the body. Your health care provider will monitor your condition until you are stable enough to go home. Fluids are sometimes given through an IV access tube to help prevent dehydration.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • Do not drive after drinking alcohol.

  • Stay hydrated. Drink enough water and fluids to keep your urine clear or pale yellow. Avoid caffeine.  

  • Only take over-the-counter or prescription medicines as directed by your health care provider.  

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You have persistent vomiting.  

  • You do not feel better after a few days.

  • You have frequent alcohol intoxication. Your health care provider can help determine if you should see a substance use treatment counselor.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You become shaky or tremble when you try to stop drinking.  

  • You shake uncontrollably (seizure).  

  • You throw up (vomit) blood. This may be bright red or may look like black coffee grounds.  

  • You have blood in your stool. This may be bright red or may appear as a black, tarry, bad smelling stool.  

  • You become lightheaded or faint.  

MAKE SURE YOU:

  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.