Blog | Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol Poisoning: When One Drink Turns to Too Many

It’s no secret that college students drink — often under age and in large quantities. College introduces many young people to alcohol, and because their brains are still developing, they tend to overdo it and may be unaware of the consequences of their actions.

In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 90 percent of underage drinkers binge drink, consuming more than nine drinks at a time.1 And binge drinking only increases during spring break — with 44 percent of women and 75 percent of men reporting they get drunk daily on spring break.2

The Consequences Are Real

Friends on beach taking selfieDrinking is a common part of college life that can lead to dangerous consequences if students don’t monitor themselves appropriately. Sadly, each school year, 1,825 college students under the age of 25 die due to alcohol-related accidents and injuries. This includes death from alcohol poisoning.3

Alcohol poisoning happens when the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream causes a person’s basic life-support systems — breathing, heart rate and temperature control — to shut down.4 Alcohol poisoning is particularly risky because it can be hard to identify when someone has moved beyond being drunk to entering a life-threatening level of intoxication.

How to Spot the Signs of Alcohol Poisoning

Binge drinking is a major contributing factor for alcohol poisoning, and it doesn’t take much to be in danger. For men, five or more drinks within two hours qualifies as binge drinking, while four or more drinks within two hours does for women .5

 It’s important to be aware of the signs of alcohol poisoning so you know when a friend may be in crisis. These signs include:

  • Pale skin5
  • Vomiting4,5
  • Passing out with an inability to wake up5
  • Irregular breathing4,5
  • Confusion4,5
  • Seizures4,5
  • Low body temperature4,5
  • Clammy skin4

If your friend exhibits any of these signs, he may be at risk for alcohol poisoning and its potentially deadly consequences, which include slowed heart rate, hypothermia and hypoglycemia. Asphyxiation is another serious concern because alcohol depresses the nerves that control the gag reflex, putting someone at risk of choking on vomit. Even if alcohol poisoning doesn’t prove fatal, it can result in irreversible brain damage.6

Seeking Medical Attention

If you suspect your friend has alcohol poisoning, call 911 immediately. It’s not worth the risk of death to try to guess whether he’s drunk enough to reach alcohol poisoning. Don’t take it lightly if he passes out, as a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) can continue to rise while in this state. 6

When you call 911, medical staff can handle treatment you’re not equipped to provide. They’ll manage breathing problems, administer fluids to combat dehydration and low blood sugar and flush your friend’s stomach to clear the body of toxins.7 Leave your friend’s health in the care of professionals who can resuscitate him and prevent the worst from happening.

It's important to stay safe and take action when a problem arises

Safety and Spring Break

Spring break is for relaxation. After all, you’ve worked hard all school year and deserve to have some fun. However, it’s important to be aware of the dangerous side effects of binge drinking.

You might want to mix up what you’re doing on spring break and include some fun, sober activities like water sports, hiking and biking. Remain aware of your surroundings at all times, and stay in groups so your friends can keep track of each other. Keep all this in mind, and you’ll be prepared to have a fun (and safe) spring break!

By Taylor Davis


1 Chang, Juju. “Spring Break’s Biggest Danger? Binge Drinking.” ABC News, March 15, 2013.

2 Lohmann, Raychelle Cassada, MS, LPCS. “Spring Break and Alcohol.” Psychology Today, March 3, 2017.

3 Glatter, Robert, MD. “Spring Break’s Greatest Danger.” Forbes, March 11, 2014.

4 Alcohol Drug Facts.” National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens, Accessed February 10, 2018.

5Alcohol Poisoning.” Mayo Clinic, January 19, 2018.

6Facts About Alcohol Overdose (or Alcohol Poisoning).”, Accessed February 10, 2018.

7Alcohol Overdose: The Dangers of Drinking Too Much.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Accessed February 11, 2018.