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Substance Use

Alcohol poisoning (overdose)

​​​​​​Alcohol is a depressant that impacts the whole body, including the central nervous system (the brain), cardiovascular system (the heart), and respiratory system (the lungs and breathing). When someone drinks too much alcohol or too quickly, it can overwhelm or suppress the healthy performance of these systems in the body. This can lead to the person passing out or having alcohol poisoning. A person can die from alcohol poisoning if their respiratory system (breathing) shuts​ down.

Signs of an alcohol poisoning

Signs of poisoning include:

  • ​constant throwing up (vomiting)
  • throwing up while passed out
  • not waking up after throwing up
  • not responding when being talked to or shouted at
  • fast heart rate
  • not responding to being pinched, shaken, or poked
  • not responding to efforts trying to wake the person up
  • not being able to stand up
  • breathing that is slow and sounds like it’s hard for the person to breath
  • skin that is a blue or purplish
  • cold, clammy skin

Don’t take chances when a life is at stake. If you see any of these symptoms in someone who has been drinking, get medical help as soon as possible.

What to do

  • Call an ambulance.
  • Roll the person on their side into the recovery position so they won’t choke if they throw up.
  • Don’t leave the person alone. Stay with them and make sure they’re breathing until medical help arrives.
  • If you aren’t sure what to do, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. GET HELP if you suspect an alcohol overdose, even if the person is underage.

The recovery position

If someone passes out from drinking too much, you can help by putting them in the recovery position so they won’t choke if they throw up. You may not think they’ve had too much to drink, but they may have mixed alcohol with another drug. Or they may have a medical condition you don’t know about.

  • Raise the person’s closest arm above their head. Prepare the person to roll toward you.
  • Gently roll the person’s entire body toward you. Guard the person’s head while you roll them.
  • Tilt the person’s head to keep their airway open. Tuck the person’s nearest hand under their cheek to help keep their head tilted.
  • Do not leave the person alone. Stay with them until medical help arrives.

The position doesn’t have to be perfect, it’s more important to keep their airway open so fluids like vomit can drain from their mouth.

To find out more about how we can help you make a change, or to find an addiction services office near you, please call the 24-hour Help Line, 1-866-332-2322.

For 24/7 nurse advice and general health information call Health Link at 811.

Current as of: October 3, 2022

Author: Addiction & Mental Health, Alberta Health Services