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Learn / How Long Does Alcohol Poisoning Last? Symptoms, Timeline & Treatment

How Long Does Alcohol Poisoning Last? Symptoms, Timeline & Treatment

By 
Hannah Friedman
|
 September 5th, 2023|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

When you drink more than your body can handle, you might start wondering, “How long does alcohol poisoning last?” The short answer is, it’s different for everyone. But a few factors can make it easier or harder to get through alcohol poisoning. Learn what to expect, and how to know when you need medical attention. 

What Is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning is another term for alcohol overdose.1 At first, it can look or feel like a person is just drunk and relaxed. But the signs of overdose can sneak up on you, with very serious consequences. 

When someone has too much to drink, they may start slurring their words or vomiting. Often, alcohol poisoning makes you lose consciousness. If you see someone develop these symptoms while drinking, they may need medical attention. 

Alcohol overdose occurs when a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) gets too high. While your BAC is related to the amount you drink, it’s not identical. Your height, weight, alcohol tolerance, and hydration levels can all affect how quickly you get drunk. 

If your BAC gets high enough, alcohol poisoning can be life-threatening. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), a blood alcohol level of 0.31% carries a “significant risk of death in most drinkers due to suppression of vital life functions.” 

For example, choking is one of the greatest dangers of alcohol poisoning. Overdose can make you lose consciousness and vomit, possibly at the same time. It also inhibits your gag reflex. If you start to vomit in your sleep, you risk asphyxiation. This experience can cause permanent brain damage, and it can be fatal.

Duration of Alcohol Poisoning Symptoms

Several factors can affect how long alcohol stays in your system. According to the California Department of Beverage Control, these aspects of health influence the way your body processes alcohol:2

  • Gender
  • BMI
  • Prescription medications
  • Altitude
  • Energy levels
  • How recently you ate
  • How much you drink
  • Which types of alcohol you drink
  • How quickly you drink

On average, your liver processes the equivalent of 1 standard drink an hour. But that’s just an estimate. And there’s a chance your symptoms will get worse before they get better. That’s because it takes time for alcohol to take effect. If you notice symptoms while you’re still drinking, they may intensify as your body processes the rest of the alcohol you consumed.



Short-Term Effects of Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol is considered a drug because it has an impact on the way your body functions. Specifically, alcohol depresses your central nervous system.3 That means it can slow down breathing and other essential involuntary activities.

Like any other type of drug overdose, alcohol poisoning has dangerous short-term effects:4

  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Clammy skin
  • Trouble breathing
  • Low heart rate
  • Low body temperature
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Lack of motor control, including the gag reflex
  • Seizures

Alcohol is a diuretic,5 meaning it affects the way your body processes water. Excessive drinking can cause dehydration, which has additional symptoms:

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Delerium

Seeking Medical Attention for Alcohol Poisoning

If you or someone near you is showing signs of alcohol overdose, call 911 immediately.

There are many popular misconceptions about alcohol overdose.6 But the NIAAA urges people to trust medical experts instead of trying folk remedies: 

“Do not wait for the person to have all the symptoms, and be aware that a person who has passed out can die. Don’t play doctor—cold showers, hot coffee, and walking do not reverse the effects of alcohol overdose and could actually make things worse.”

When first responders arrive, they’ll probably ask several questions:

  • How much did the person have to drink?
  • How many hours ago did they start drinking?
  • Have they taken any other drugs?
  • Are they taking any medications?
  • Do they have any health issues?

They’ll also perform a quick exam, and probably take the person to the hospital. Treatment for acute alcohol poisoning7 usually includes IV fluids and airway protection to make sure they continue breathing.

Recovery Process and Aftercare

It can take many hours to detox from alcohol. Data shows that every time you have a drink, your blood alcohol levels increase quickly,8 peaking about an hour later. Then your BAC goes back down slowly over the next 4 hours. But that’s true for every drink you have—so if you drink a lot in one night, you could experience several of these peaks in a row. 

This data describes the average person, so your experience may be different. Medical attention may or may not speed up the recovery process. 

After the alcohol clears from your system, you may feel better right away. No matter how you feel, it’s important to follow up with a medical professional a few days later. Arrive for that appointment clear-headed and ready to talk about your health. They may need to share medical information about what happened while you were intoxicated. They might also need to officially evaluate you for signs of alcohol addiction.

Prevention of Alcohol Poisoning

To avoid alcohol poisoning, experts recommend you have no more than 1 drink per hour.9 You can alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, or alcohol and water. 

It’s also important to know your limits. If you’re not feeling well, or you haven’t eaten all day, your alcohol tolerance might be lower than usual. There’s no need to “keep up with” the people around you if they’re drinking more heavily. Your body’s limits might just be different from theirs. 

If and when you do drink, you can take certain actions to minimize risks. For example, you can make a plan for how you’ll get home at the end of the night. Choose a designated driver or budget to take a rideshare. Never drive after you’ve been drinking. And if possible, travel with a friend so you can each make sure the other gets home safely. 

Long-Term Effects and Risks of Alcohol Poisoning

Experts say that repeated alcohol poisoning can “interfere with brain development,”10 especially for teens. While one episode of alcohol overdose may seem like no big deal, this pattern can quickly spiral out of control.

Regular binge drinking increases your risk of alcohol addiction.11 This condition can have very serious effects. For example, excessive drinking can damage your internal organs12 over time. It can also undermine your relationships, career goals, and mental health. 

If you’re concerned about alcohol addiction, it’s never too early to start recovery. Treatment can help you address the root cause of your behavior and not just the symptoms. This approach helps clients find long-term recovery from alcohol abuse.

Drink Smarter, Not Harder

Alcohol poisoning is a type of drug overdose. It has dangerous short-term effects, and can even be life-threatening. Repeated alcohol overdoses can cause addiction, organ damage, and other serious health problems. 

If you think someone has alcohol poisoning, don’t wait to be sure—get help right away. Immediate medical attention could save their life. To learn more about how to drink responsibly, you can check out these free resources: 

Some people can learn to drink safely. Others are at a greater risk of addiction. Your genetics, family history of drinking, and other factors can all play a role. Despite your best efforts, you might still need help recovering from alcohol abuse. 


Connect with a rehab for alcohol addiction to get the support you need.


Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol Poisoning 

What is alcohol poisoning and how long does it last?

Alcohol poisoning, also known as alcohol overdose, occurs when someone consumes a dangerous amount of alcohol, leading to severe symptoms. The duration of alcohol poisoning varies, influenced by factors such as the person’s alcohol tolerance, body weight, and hydration levels. It’s a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention.

What are the short-term effects of alcohol poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning depresses the central nervous system, causing symptoms like vomiting, confusion, low heart rate, and loss of consciousness. It can also lead to dangerous complications such as choking and breathing difficulties. If someone shows these symptoms while drinking, it may indicate alcohol poisoning and means they need prompt medical intervention.

How can alcohol poisoning be prevented?

To prevent alcohol poisoning, experts recommend consuming no more than 1 drink per hour and knowing your limits. Alternating between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages can help. If you’re concerned about alcohol addiction, seeking early treatment can help prevent long-term health risks and complications.


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