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Alcohol Intoxication

AMBULATORY CARE:

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.

Common signs and symptoms:

  • Breath that smells like alcohol
  • Blackouts or seizures
  • Enlarged pupils, or eye movements that are faster than normal for you
  • Fast heartbeat and slow breaths
  • Loss of balance, or no ability to walk straight or stand still
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Slurred or loud speech
  • Quick mood changes
  • Trouble at work or school, or risky behavior, such as unprotected sex or driving while intoxicated

Treatment:

Your healthcare provider will ask about your use of alcohol. These questions may include how much, how often, and what kind of alcohol you drink. He or she may test your memory. Blood or urine samples may be tested for alcohol and for signs of liver, kidney, or heart damage. Treatment may include any of the following:

  • Medicines may be given to help you stay calm, control seizures, or prevent nausea and vomiting. You may also be given glucose or vitamin B1 if your levels are too low.
  • Brief intervention therapy means a healthcare provider 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.
  • Extra oxygen may be given if you are so intoxicated that you cannot breathe well on your own.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You have sudden trouble breathing or chest pain.
  • You have a seizure.
  • You feel sad enough to harm yourself or others.

Call your doctor if:

  • You have hallucinations (you see or hear things that are not real).
  • You cannot stop vomiting.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Recommended alcohol limits:

  • Men 21 to 64 years should limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day. Do not have more than 4 drinks in 1 day or more than 14 in 1 week.
  • All women, and men 65 or older should limit alcohol to 1 drink in a day. Do not have more than 3 drinks in 1 day or more than 7 in 1 week. No amount of alcohol is okay during pregnancy.

Treatment:

Your healthcare provider will ask about your use of alcohol. These questions may include how much, how often, and what kind of alcohol you drink. He or she may test your memory. Blood or urine samples may be tested for alcohol and for signs of liver, kidney, or heart damage. Treatment may include any of the following:

  • Medicines may be given to help you stay calm, control seizures, or prevent nausea and vomiting. You may also be given glucose or vitamin B1 if your levels are too low.
  • In brief intervention therapy, a healthcare provider helps you think about your alcohol use differently. He or she helps you set goals to decrease the amount of alcohol you drink. Therapy may continue after you leave the hospital.
  • Extra oxygen may be given if you are so intoxicated that you cannot breathe well on your own.

Manage alcohol use:

  • Decrease the amount you drink. This can help prevent health problems such as brain, heart, and liver damage, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer. If you cannot stop completely, healthcare providers can help you set goals to decrease the amount you drink.
  • Plan weekly alcohol use. You will be less likely to drink more than the recommended limit if you plan ahead.
  • Have food when you drink alcohol. Food will prevent alcohol from getting into your system too quickly. Eat before you have your first alcohol drink.
  • Time your drinks carefully. Have no more than 1 drink in an hour. Have a liquid such as water, coffee, or a soft drink between alcohol drinks.
  • Do not drive if you have had alcohol. Make sure someone who has not been drinking can help you get home.
  • Do not drink alcohol if you are taking medicine. Alcohol is dangerous when you combine it with certain medicines, such as acetaminophen or blood pressure medicine. Talk to your healthcare provider about all the medicines you currently take.

For more information:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous
    Web Address: http://www.aa.org
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
    PO Box 2345
    Rockville , MD 20847-2345
    Web Address: http://www.samhsa.gov

Follow up with your doctor as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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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.

Learn more about Alcohol Intoxication (Ambulatory Care)

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Further information

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