Alcohol Poisoning vs Drunk - young woman sitting near toilet

Alcohol poisoning vs drunk – it can be hard to tell the difference, but knowing the signs could be life-saving. Drinking alcohol has several effects on the brain and body. Research has shown that a single drink can impair our reactions and cognitive abilities, even when we are not aware of it. This is why it is advised that you do not drink at all when driving, even if you are under legal limits.

While some elements of drunkenness can be enjoyable to some people, however, there are also a lot of less pleasant side effects, as well as short- and longer-term risks. Drinking too much can potentially lead to alcohol poisoning, which can be very serious.


What is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning occurs when you drink more alcohol than your body is able to process. Essentially, you are drinking alcohol faster than your body is able to filter it out of your blood. This typically occurs during or immediately following a binge drinking session, when a lot of alcohol is consumed in the same session.

Alcohol poisoning may also be known as an alcohol overdose. With too much alcohol in the bloodstream, areas of the brain that control basic functions can start to shut down. These can include important functions for life-support, including breathing, heart rate, and temperature control.4

There is a big difference between alcohol poisoning and being drunk, and it’s important to know the difference. Spotting the signs of alcohol poisoning in someone who has been drinking could be potentially life-saving.


Alcohol Poisoning Vs Drunk – Knowing The Signs

The problem many people face is not knowing how to identify whether it’s intoxication or something more severe, such as alcohol poisoning. See below for an overview of the different signs and symptoms associated with being drunk and alcohol poisoning.

Common Signs of Being Drunk

Many people who drink alcohol will recognise at least some of the signs of being drunk, although these can vary depending on the amount of alcohol consumed, the individual and a number of other factors – such as whether you are drinking on an empty stomach and whether you are combining alcohol with any other drugs.

The early stages of intoxication can be pleasant for most people. They may feel happy, relaxed and more outgoing or confident. This can also be described as the ‘tipsy’ stage. Alcohol is a depressant, however, and drinking too much can lead to mood swings, depressive thoughts and aggression. It can also have a number of other physical and psychological effects, including:

  • Impaired judgement – making poor decisions.
  • Impaired coordination – such as feeling unsteady or losing your balance.
  • Impaired concentration – not being able to focus and forgetfulness.
  • Vision problems – experiencing blurred or double vision.
  • Speech production talking with slurred or unintelligible speech.
  • Drowsiness – which could lead to falling asleep or passing out.
  • Nausea and vomiting – experiencing an unsettled feeling in the stomach that often leads to a strong urge to vomit. This is your body trying to get rid of the excess toxins caused by drinking alcohol.
  • Breathing and heart rate – this can look like shortness of breath or shallow breathing, which is potentially lead dangerous.

While not as serious as alcohol poisoning, drunkenness of any kind carries its own risks. According to the NHS, more than 1.2 million violent incidents are linked to alcohol misuse every year in England alone, while there were 338,000 estimated admissions where the main reason for admission to the hospital was attributable to alcohol. This includes alcohol poisoning and illnesses caused by long-term drinking, but a quarter of cases were due to accidents related to being drunk.

Chronic or long-term drinking can also lead to addiction (alcoholism) and illnesses, including liver disease, high blood pressure and several types of cancer.


Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning

The signs that may indicate alcohol poisoning look similar to standard alcohol intoxication, but much more severe. This 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.
  • An inability to stop being sick.
  • Peeing or soiling yourself.
  • Pale or blue-tinged skin.
  • Slow or irregular breathing.
  • Having a seizure or fit.
  • Loss of consciousness.


Alcohol Poisoning Vs Drunk – Understanding the Difference 

There are some symptoms that may be present, both as signs of drinking too much and being drunk and a case of alcohol poisoning. Both may cause nausea and sickness, for example, as well as slurred speech. Some people may fall asleep or pass out when drunk without having a full-blown case of alcohol poisoning.

When it comes to alcohol poisoning vs drunk, though, the symptoms are generally more severe. As opposed to just slurring or getting words wrong, the person may be completely unintelligible. Instead of swaying and showing a lack of coordination, they may be completely unable to stand. Some symptoms, such as blue-tinged skin and seizures, are more likely to indicate alcohol poisoning than lesser forms of intoxication.

Cases of extreme drunkenness can also be dangerous, and if you think someone might be in such a state, it’s best to err on the side of caution and treat them as if they have alcohol poisoning, which can be potentially fatal.


Risks and Dangers of Alcohol Poisoning

When a person drinks so much that they suffer from alcohol poisoning, it can be extremely dangerous and often life-threatening. As parts of the brain that control life-support systems are overwhelmed, your breathing may slow or stop. Your body temperature can drop, leading to hypothermia. You can suffer from severe dehydration, organ failure and seizures. Another risk of alcohol poisoning is passing out and vomiting, which can lead to suffocation. Even if this is not fatal, a lack of oxygen can cause permanent brain damage.

The NHS advises to call 999 immediately if you suspect someone has alcohol poisoning. It also advises that you stay with them until help arrives as they could choke on their own sick or stop breathing. Sit them up if they are awake, or put them in the recovery position if they are passed out. If they are awake, you can give them sips of water, and you can also cover them in a blanket or coat to keep them warm.

It adds that you shouldn’t let them drink more alcohol or give them coffee, which can increase dehydration. Don’t put them in a cold bath or shower or try to make them be sick, as all these things can do more harm than good.


Find Help For Alcohol Addiction Today

If you’re finding yourself struggling to control your alcohol consumption or have a loved one you suspect may be developing an addiction – get in touch today. We offer a fast and seamless admission service into our alcohol rehab, where we offer comprehensive, specialised treatment to help combat addiction.

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