Alcohol Poisoning

Having an alcoholic drink is not usually a problem but when taken in excess it can lead to alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning may be a one-off event for the person involved, or it may be linked to a more serious case of alcoholism.

Alcohols are a group of chemical compounds, most of which are liquid at room temperature and pressure. Ethanol is the second most basic alcohol – with methanol being the most basic. In any “alcoholic” drink, whether that be beer, wine or spirits, the actual alcohol is ethanol. It is a drug that suppresses the activity of the central nervous system and in particular, the brain.

As someone drinks, the alcohol starts to affect them and can cause:

  • Personality changes
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Tiredness.

An excessive or prolonged consumption can severely impair all physical and mental functions, and the person may sink into deep unconsciousness. It can be very difficult to wake them from this. Situations like this start to head towards serious problems and, in certain circumstances, can lead to death.

Alcohol Poisoning

The risks of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Unconscious casualty risks inhaling and choking on vomit.
  • Alcohol widens or dilates the blood vessels. This means that the person loses heat, and hypothermia may develop.
  • Serious liver damage may ensue, especially if part of a severe bout of alcoholism.
  • A casualty who smells of alcohol may be misdiagnosed and not receive appropriate treatment for an underlying cause of unconsciousness, such as a head injury, stroke, or heart attack.

When you come across a person there may be a strong smell of alcohol and other things near them like empty bottles or cans. They may be in a pub or club, or at a party. When you try to talk to them they may not respond and they may look flushed. Their breathing may be deep and noisy and if you check their pulse it may be hard and fast. As time passes their breathing will become shallow and the pulse becomes weak and rapid. Their pupils will become dilated and not react very well to light.

If you suspect alcohol poisoning, try to put them in the recovery position and keep the airway open to allow vomit to pass out without causing choking. Get emergency medical help and you may want to consider contacting the police in case they or people around them become violent.

Try and keep them warm by placing a coat or blanket over them and monitor their vital signs to ensure that they do not stop breathing when you would need to start CPR. DO NOT induce vomiting but if they are sick ensure that you avoid coming into contact with their the vomit. Turn them on their side to ensure that it does not block their airway.

For more information on training courses, visit our “Courses” page which also includes our First Responder and First Person on Scene (FPOS) Courses.