Treatment for Alcohol Poisoning

Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
Intoxicated Person

Alcohol poisoning occurs when someone drinks large amounts of ethanol alcohol in a very short period. It is a medical emergency that can have deadly consequences. People with alcohol poisoning need to be taken to the emergency room for immediate medical treatment. Once there, doctors will provide necessary treatments.

Act Quickly

If you find someone who is unconscious from alcohol and can't be awakened, or if you suspect alcohol poisoning, call for emergency medical services. While alcohol poisoning is a medical emergency, it can be effectively treated. When someone with alcohol poisoning goes to the hospital, he or she will receive certain types of treatments.

Onsite Treatment

If you are with someone who is exhibiting signs of alcohol poisoning, you will need to take several steps. According to the Mayo Clinic you should:

  • Call 9-1-1 right away.
  • Stay with the person until emergency services arrive.
  • If the person is vomiting, help him by sitting him up or rolling him on his side so he does not aspirate the vomit.
  • If the person is conscious, try to keep her awake and prevent unconsciousness.
  • Keep the person warm to prevent hypothermia.
  • Attempt to wake the person if she is passed out.

If the person is not breathing, you may also need to provide CPR or rescue breathing until medical personnel arrive.

What Not to Do

Many people mistreat alcohol poisoning because of common myths. The Alcoholism Guide suggests the following:

  • Do not think they can "sleep it off." Stay with them and seek immediate treatment.
  • Don't give them a cold shower to sober them up. Since hypothermia is an issue with alcohol poisoning, focus on keeping the person warm.

Additionally, the Mayo Clinic states providing coffee or caffeine to sober up a drunk is a myth. Caffeine does not counteract the effects of alcohol.

In the Ambulance

When emergency medical technicians arrive, they may provide the following treatments depending on the situation:

  • Assess the airway
  • Take necessary measures such as providing breathing support or inserting an endotracheal tube
  • Place an IV to replace fluids

When a tube is inserted (intubation):

  • Medical personnel insert a flexible plastic tube in the trachea via the mouth.
  • Medical personnel may attach the tube to a ventilator to assist with breathing.

With the exception of the rescue breathing, these steps should only be attempted by qualified medical personnel.

At the Hospital

At the hospital, medical personnel will provide an array of treatments depending on the severity and circumstances of the case. Much of the care is supportive, and helps the body through the alcohol poisoning's many effects such as central nervous system depression, irregular heartbeat, depressed respiration, seizures, vomiting, dehydration, and hypoglycemia.

Hemodialysis

In extremely severe cases, physicians may perform hemodialysis to rapidly reduce levels of alcohol in the bloodstream. When doctors perform hemodialysis, they use a machine that filters the patient's blood to remove toxins and waste products. Hemodialysis may also be used for poisoning with other types of alcohol such as methanol and isopropyl alcohol.

During hemodialysis, medical personnel will:

  • Insert a catheter into a vein in the neck, groin, or chest
  • Attach the catheter to a dialyzer
  • Slowly pump the blood from your body and return it through a filter

Supportive Care

The Mayo Clinic notes the hospital will provide monitoring and supportive care to prevent complications of alcohol poisoning such as choking. This may include:

  • Administering intravenous (IV) fluids to fight dehydration
  • Providing IV glucose to ward of hypoglycemia
  • Providing IV vitamins to prevent other complications

Gastric Lavage

The United Kingdom National Health Service notes that in severe cases gastric lavage (stomach pumping) may be administered. With gastric lavage, medical personnel will:

  • Insert a tube through the nose or mouth into the stomach
  • Spray small amounts of fluid through the tube
  • Apply suction to vacuum out the stomach's contents

Prevention

The best way to avoid alcohol poisoning's potentially deadly consequences is prevention and early intervention. Drink moderately yourself and learn to recognize the signs of alcohol poisoning in others. If you suspect alcohol poisoning in another, don't be afraid to call 9-1-1.

Was this page useful?
Treatment for Alcohol Poisoning