Alcohol poisoning and what you should know

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By Our Special Correspondent

Alcohol poisoning can happen when you drink alcohol quicker than your body can process it. It can make you seriously ill and you may need to go to hospital for treatment. To check if it’s alcohol poisoning, you need to know that the symptoms start after drinking a lot of alcohol and may include: confusion, slurring words or being unable to speak, being unable to coordinate movement, for example, being unable to stand, walk, or pick things up; being sick, peeing or pooing on yourself, pale or blue-tinged skin – on black or brown skin this may be easier to see inside the lips, on the gums and under the fingernails; slow or irregular breathing, having a seizure or fit and loss of consciousness.

These are the things you can do to help someone who has drunk too much alcohol:

  • stay with them because there’s a risk they could choke on their own sick or stop breathing
  • sit them up if they’re awake, or put them in the recovery position if they’ve passed out and check they’re breathing properly
  • give them water to sip if they’re able to swallow
  • keep them warm with a jacket or blanket
  • do not let them drink more alcohol
  • do not give them coffee or drinks containing caffeine because this can dehydrate people with alcohol poisoning
  • do not put them in a cold shower or bath because there’s a risk they could get too cold, fall or lose consciousness in the water
  • do not try to make them sick

You’ll need to go to hospital to be monitored if you have alcohol poisoning. It can cause serious complications, like liver and heart failure, which can be fatal. You may be given fluids, which may be given into your veins with a drip. You may also be given help with your breathing until the effects of the alcohol wear off.

Alcohol poisoning is usually caused by binge drinking, which is where you have a lot of alcohol in one drinking session. It can happen when you drink alcohol faster than your body can filter it out of your blood.

Having too much alcohol in your blood stops your body working properly and can be life-threatening. Alcohol affects people differently. Some people may be able to drink more alcohol than others, with fewer effects.

Realizing you have a problem with alcohol is the first big step to getting help. You may need help if you often feel the need to have a drink; you get into trouble because of your drinking; other people warn you about how much you’re drinking and if you think your drinking is causing you problems. A good place to start is with your personal doctor. And by the way, it is important that everyone has a personal doctor in case of an emergency.  Try to be accurate and honest to your doctor about how much you drink and any problems it may be causing you.

If you have become dependent on alcohol, you will have found it difficult to fully control your drinking in some way. So you’ll probably need some help either to cut down and control your drinking or stop completely, and also some plans to maintain the improvement after that. Your personal doctor may suggest different types of assessment and support options available to you, such as from local community alcohol services, if there is any such organization in your community, Mosque or Church.

You can also ask about any free local support groups and other alcohol counselling that may suit you. If you have become physically dependent and need to stop drinking completely, stopping overnight could be harmful. You should get advice about this and about any medicine you may need to do this safely. The sorts of mild or moderate withdrawal symptoms that suggest you may need medicine include anxiety after waking; sweating and mild tremors; nausea or retching in the morning and vomiting.

Complain to your personal doctor if you have severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, including: hallucinations, severe tremors, seizures or fits.

Cutting down or stopping drinking is usually just the beginning. Most people will need some degree of help or a long-term plan to stay in control or completely alcohol free. Getting the right support can be crucial to maintaining control in the future. Only relying on family, friends or carers for this often is not enough. Ask your personal doctor or an alcohol service about what longer-term support is available in your area.

If you need medicine to help you stop drinking, it can often be taken at home or when attending a local service daily. But some people will need a short stay in a medically supported unit so they can receive safe treatment of their withdrawal symptoms or other problems. Some people are assessed as needing intensive rehabilitation and recovery support for a period after they stop drinking completely, either through attending a programme of intensive support in their local community or by attending a residential rehabilitation service. This type of intensive treatment is usually reserved for people with medium or high levels of alcohol dependence, and those who have received other forms of help previously that have not been successful.

It’s also possible to pay for residential rehabilitation privately. Medical insurance companies may fund this for a certain period.

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