Alcohol Intoxication

What is alcohol intoxication?

Alcohol intoxication is a harmful physical condition caused when you drink more alcohol than your body can handle. It is also called ethanol poisoning, or being drunk.

What are the physical signs and symptoms of alcohol intoxication?

  • Breath that smells like alcohol

  • Blackouts or seizures

  • Enlarged pupils

  • Eye movements that are faster than normal for you

  • Fast heartbeats and slow breaths

  • Loss of balance, or no ability to walk straight or stand still

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Slurred or loud speech

What behaviors are common with alcohol intoxication?

  • Quick mood changes: You feel happy and quickly become angry, or you easily become sad. You may act out violently.

  • Risky sexual behavior: You have sex that is not protected, or you have sex with many people.

  • Work or school trouble: You have many absences or do not finish your work.

How is alcohol intoxication diagnosed?

Your caregiver will examine you. He will ask about your signs and symptoms and use of alcohol. These questions may include how much, how often, and what kind of alcohol you drink. He may ask you questions to test your memory and judgment. He may also send blood or urine samples to a lab. The samples are tested for alcohol and for signs of liver, kidney, or heart damage caused by alcohol. You may need to have these tests more than once.

How is alcohol intoxication treated?

  • Medicines:

    • Sedative: This medicine is given to help you stay calm and relaxed.

    • Antinausea medicine: This medicine may be given to calm your stomach and prevent vomiting.

    • Glucose: This medicine may be given to increase the amount of sugar in your blood.

    • Vitamin B1: This is also called Thiamine. You may be given vitamin B1 if your levels are low from excess alcohol.

  • Brief intervention therapy: A caregiver meets with you to discuss ways to control your risky behaviors, such as drinking and driving. This therapy also helps you set goals to decrease the amount of alcohol you drink.

  • Breathing support: You may need the following if you are so intoxicated that you cannot breathe well on your own:

    • Oxygen: You may need extra oxygen if your blood oxygen level is lower than it should be. You may get oxygen through a mask placed over your nose and mouth or through small tubes placed in your nostrils. Ask your caregiver before you take off the mask or oxygen tubing.

    • A ventilator is a machine that gives you oxygen and breathes for you when you cannot breathe well on your own. An endotracheal (ET) tube is put into your mouth or nose and attached to the ventilator. You may need a trach if an ET tube cannot be placed. A trach is a tube put through an incision and into your windpipe.

What are the risks of alcohol intoxication?

Alcohol intoxication puts you at risk for disease and injury. Alcohol can damage your brain, liver, heart, kidneys, and lungs. You may be more likely to act violently when you are intoxicated. You may break the law, or harm yourself and others. Risky sexual behavior could lead to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Alcohol intoxication and poisoning can put you into a coma (sleep that you cannot wake up from) and may be life-threatening.

Where can I find more information?

  • Alcoholics Anonymous
    Web Address: http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You need help to stop drinking alcohol.

  • You have trouble with work or school because you drink too much alcohol.

  • You have physical or verbal fights because of alcohol.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have sudden trouble breathing or chest pain.

  • You have a seizure.

  • You feel sad enough to harm yourself or others.

  • You have hallucinations (you see or hear things that are not real).

  • You cannot stop vomiting.

  • You were in an accident because of alcohol.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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