Poison alcohol (ethanol) (overdose)

General or Other | Emergency Medicine | Poison alcohol (ethanol) (overdose) (Disease)


Alcohol poisoning is a serious - and sometimes deadly - consequence of drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time.

Drinking too much too quickly can affect your breathing, heart rate and gag reflex and potentially lead to coma and death. Binge drinking - rapidly downing five or more drinks in a row - is a main cause of alcohol poisoning.

Causes and Risk factors

Alcohol poisoning can also occur when you accidentally or intentionally drink household products that contain alcohol. An important class of alcohols are the simple acyclic alcohols which are the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages.

Ethanol in alcoholic beverages has been consumed by humans since prehistoric times for a variety of hygienic, dietary, medicinal, religious, and recreational reasons. The consumption of large doses of ethanol causes drunkenness (intoxication), which may lead to a hangover as its effects wear off.

Depending upon the dose and the regularity of its consumption, ethanol can cause acute respiratory failure or death. Because ethanol impairs judgment in humans, it can be a catalyst for reckless or irresponsible behavior.

Other alcohols are substantially more poisonous than ethanol, partly because they take much longer to be metabolized and partly because their metabolism produces substances that are even more toxic.

Methanol (wood alcohol), for instance, is oxidized to formaldehyde and then to the poisonous formic acid in the liver by alcohol dehydrogenase and formaldehyde dehydrogenase enzymes, respectively; accumulation of formic acid can lead to blindness or death.

Diagnosis and Treatment

In addition to checking for visible signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning, your doctor will likely order blood tests to check blood alcohol levels and identify other signs of alcohol toxicity, such as low blood sugar. A urine test also may help to confirm a diagnosis of alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol poisoning treatment usually involves supportive care while your body rids itself of the alcohol. This typically includes: careful monitoring, prevention of breathing or choking problems, oxygen therapy, fluids given through a vein (intravenously) to prevent dehydration, the use of thiamin and glucose, as needed. These nutrients may help prevent a serious complication of alcohol poisoning. ...

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