What Is an Alcohol Overdose?

In the United States, approximately 95,000 people die from alcohol-related causes each year. Alcohol ranks number three among the leading causes of preventable deaths in the United States. Alcohol accounts for about 18% of all emergency department visits and about 22% of prescription opioid-involved overdose deaths.1  These alcohol overdose statistics illustrate the dire need for overdose awareness and overdose prevention.  

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Alcohol Overdose Statistics

To demonstrate how risky alcohol use is, let’s review a few saddening and possibly shocking alcohol overdose statistics in the United States: 1 

If a person has a significant amount of alcohol in their bloodstream, an alcohol overdose can occur. When the bloodstream is bombarded with alcohol, essential bodily functions like breathing or temperature control can shut down.2 

What Is a Standard Drink?

In the United States, a standard drink varies based on the type of alcohol. Here are the measurements for the four most common alcoholic beverages: 2 

How Much Alcohol Does it Take to Overdose?

The amount of alcohol it takes to overdose varies based on the individual. Variables like age, gender, medications, amount of food eaten, speed of drinking, and sensitivity to alcohol or tolerance play a role. Virtually anyone who drinks too much alcohol can be at risk for an alcohol overdose, particularly a person who is binge drinking. 2 

What Causes Someone To Overdose On Alcohol?

When a person consumes a lot of alcohol too fast, they can suffer from alcohol poisoning and show signs of alcohol overdose.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)

As an individual’s blood alcohol concentration increases, their risk of alcohol overdose also rises. Signs of alcohol overdose like poor motor coordination and judgment skills can lead to high-risk behaviors or injury. If a person has a high BAC, they can blackout, lose consciousness, or die.2
Alcohol Overdose

What Happens To Your Body When You Have Alcohol Poisoning?

Even after a person has stopped drinking or become unconscious, their blood alcohol concentration can continue to rise.2

Critical Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of alcohol overdose can include the inability to wake up, vomiting, slow breathing, seizures, confusion, slow heart rate, paleness, clammy skin, and extremely low body temperature.

If you suspect alcohol poisoning or notice symptoms of alcohol overdose, it’s critical to call 911 for medical assistance immediately. Contrary to popular belief, sleeping it off, cold showers, and a cup of coffee will not help a person suffering from an alcohol overdose.2


When a person is heavily intoxicated, their body may develop dulled responses and lose its gag reflex. This issue puts the individual at high risk of choking on their vomit. Permanent brain damage can be the result of complications such as unconsciousness and choking.

What Should You Do If You Think Someone May Have Alcohol Poisoning?

If you think someone near you may have alcohol poisoning, there are immediate and urgent measures you should take. In the following three sections, we will highlight the most important steps to take if someone is suffering from an alcohol overdose2

Call 911

First things first, if you notice signs of alcohol overdose, you must call 911 immediately. Do not wait for additional symptoms of an overdose to appear, as time is a critical factor when it comes to life-saving measures.

Do Not Leave the Person Alone

A person who is intoxicated is at significant risk of injury from falling or choking. As such, it is essential for you to stay with the person until first responders arrive.

Help Sit Up the Person

If possible, try to keep the person on the ground but sitting up. This position is preferred over sitting in a chair due to the risk of seizure.

How Can You Prevent Alcohol Overdose?

On average, six people die every single day from alcohol poisoning in the U.S.3  However, there are steps a person can take to prevent alcohol overdose. The best way to prevent alcohol poisoning is to avoid alcohol altogether. However, if that is not possible, drinking in moderation is another option.

Drink In Moderation

To drink in moderation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adult men consume two or fewer drinks per day and women consume one or fewer drinks per day. This recommendation only applies to individuals of the legal drinking age.4 

Do Not Drink On An Empty Stomach

Having food in your stomach helps to slow down the rate at which alcohol is absorbed. It is essential to eat before drinking any alcoholic beverages.5 

Talk To Teens

Preparing your teen for alcohol-related situations and providing education can save lives. All teens should receive alcohol education in case there’s a situation where the teen or someone they know is highly intoxicated. It’s critical to address fears of getting in trouble or the possibility their friend may be mad at them for calling 911 or involving adults.6 

Store Products Safely

To keep minors safe in the home, you should safely store all alcoholic beverages in a place only accessible by adults of the legal drinking age.7 

Receive Follow-Up Care

After an alcohol overdose or alcohol poisoning, follow all after-care instructions provided by medical staff. Additionally, you should schedule a follow-up appointment with your primary care provider for long-term care.

Getting Treatment for Alcoholism After An Overdose

If a person experiences signs of an alcohol overdose, they may be struggling with alcohol addiction. In that case, alcohol withdrawal syndrome and alcohol detoxification is of concern. In this next section, we’ll discuss treatment options for alcohol withdrawal and alcohol poisoning.

Seek Professional Help

If you or someone you know is experiencing alcohol withdrawal, it is time to seek treatment. Even if a person shows severe symptoms of alcohol poisoning, treatment is beneficial for anyone with an alcohol use disorder (AUD).8 

Inpatient Treatment

Alcohol withdrawal stages differ from person to person. Luckily, there are many inpatient and residential programs of varying lengths available for people with AUD. To find an inpatient treatment center, call local behavioral health providers to ask questions and find the best option for you.8 

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment is another excellent tool for individuals struggling with AUD. During substance use treatment, individuals typically work with their therapist to work on relapse prevention and behavior modification.8 


For AUD, there are multiple types of therapies available. For instance, behavioral therapy, medication management, and support groups. Therapy can help you develop skills to stop drinking, create a sober support network, and cope with triggers.8