How much alcohol is too much? It’s one of the most common questions people have. Moderation is always considered the most important factor related to drinking alcohol. Knowing how much that is, though, can be a challenge. It’s important to understand why people drink alcohol. Most people who would not be classified as alcoholics enjoy alcohol in small amounts. They don’t think about it throughout the day obsessively. They use it to get a slight buzz or perhaps to reduce their stress a bit. They don’t drink so much that they can’t remember their day or use alcohol to hide their feelings completely. Where do you fit on this spectrum?
The Dangers of Alcohol ‘Overdose’
Alcohol is readily available. It’s within reach for most people when they desire it. This ease of access makes it very difficult to see the risks associated with it. Yet alcohol, like any other drug, is only acceptable when it doesn’t cause physical harm to your body or brain. An alcohol overdose can create this risk.
Alcohol overdose, or alcohol poisoning, is a high-risk situation. If you believe your loved one is suffering from this, seek immediate help.
When a person drinks too much, he or she suffers numerous problems and health risks. These include:
- A loss of impulse control
- Difficulty making decisions
- Impairments to motor control and coordination
- Reduced inhibitions leading to reckless behavior
- Difficulty communicating
If you find yourself in these situations, you are likely drinking too much and over your personal limit. If you believe your loved one may be experiencing this, it’s important to consider care through FHE Health.
When Does an Alcohol ‘Overdose’ Occur?
The National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism provide some clear indications on when alcohol overdose occurs compared to when drinking within controlled limits occurs. In a physical sense, when an overdose occurs, there is too much alcohol in the bloodstream. As a result of this, the areas of the brain that control life-support functions within the body begin to slow and, in some cases, shut down. This includes the heart rate, the rate of breathing, temperature control and the central nervous system as a whole. An overdose is a life-threatening situation requiring immediate medical help.
Anyone, even those without an alcohol addiction, can suffer an alcohol overdose at any time. The amount of alcohol causing this depends on various factors. For some, a single shot of alcohol can cause it. For others, it takes a significantly higher amount.
Signs of alcohol overdose include the following:
- Clammy skin
- A slowed or faint heartbeat
- Mental confusion or lack of focus
- Vomiting, sometimes violently
- Difficult breathing or catching one’s breath
- Inability to respond normally to pain, stimuli or vocal commands
- Low body temperature
There are some symptoms of alcohol poisoning that can indicate a medical emergency requiring a call to emergency personnel. These include:
- Mental confusion and stupor
- Inability to remain conscious
- Inability to be awakened
- Low body temperature
- Blue-colored skin
- Irregular breathing
- Irregular heartbeat
Blood Alcohol Concentration: Understanding Your Limits
When does overdose occur? Why do some people have the ability to drink so much more alcohol than others while remaining coherent? It all comes down to blood alcohol concentration or BAC. This is the numeric figure that represents the amount of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream. Breath alcohol concentration expresses the amount of alcohol present on a person’s breath.
Technically, BAC represents the weight of ethanol in the blood. This is expressed in grams using about 100 milliliters of blood. When too much alcohol enters the bloodstream at a rapid rate, it creates an increased risk of overdose when the brain and body can’t handle that amount and begin to shut down. The National Institutes of Health, and most state laws, indicate that when a BAC rises to 0.08 percent or higher, there is a heightened risk for alcohol overdose and impairment to occur.
Typically, this happens in about:
- Four drinks consumed by an average-sized woman
- Five drinks consumed by an average-sized man
A standard drink is equal to 12 ounces of a regular beer, which contains 5 percent alcohol, or eight to nine ounces of a malt liquor, which contains about 7 percent alcohol. About five ounces of wine contains about 12 percent alcohol, and 1.5 ounces or a shot of spirits such as tequila, vodka or whiskey, which contains about 40 percent alcohol, also equates to a single standard drink.
How the Body Absorbs Alcohol
The number of drinks you have is a basic indicator of intoxication risk. The more drinks consumed, the higher the BAC is likely to be. However, other factors also impact when a person drinks too much. Specifically, the rate at which the body absorbs and metabolizes alcohol, which differs from one person to another, is a key determining factor.
In other words, these factors determine when your BAC is going to reach that critical 0.08 percentage where risk is high. Among those factors are the following, according to Stanford University:
Your biological sex
The differing biological makeup of men’s bodies and women’s bodies impacts absorption. As a general rule, a male body is capable of metabolizing alcohol at a faster rate than a female body. That’s because women have fewer enzymes to do so than men do. Biologically, then, it takes less alcohol for a woman to reach that level.
You may have heard that having some food in your stomach can help to slow down intoxication. This is true. The digestive system is irritated by alcohol. As a result, it absorbs the alcohol at a faster rate to remove it. However, when a person consumes food first, this can soften the blow to the digestive system and minimize the impact of the alcohol.
A person’s weight impacts how much it takes to get drunk, too. For example, someone who is 150 pounds has less body mass and blood flowing through their body than someone who is 250 pounds. That means a 150-pound person needs to consume less alcohol to reach a full intoxication level.
In addition to these factors, others can contribute as well. For example, some medications interact with alcohol, speeding the intoxication impact. Also, many medications taken with alcohol can create additional side effects that can make it even harder to focus. Some interactions are fatal. Drinking at a rapid rate can also impact how quickly it takes to overdose. The onset of significant amounts of alcohol in a short period of time increases BAC much faster than sipping a drink.
Seeking Help for Alcohol Use
When a person consumes alcohol at this rate on a frequent basis, there is a risk that the individual is suffering from alcoholism or an addiction to alcohol use. As a person uses alcohol more and more, the body becomes better able to absorb it, but that doesn’t mean the risk factors for long-term impact don’t occur. Alcoholism needs treatment. At the FHE Health, we can provide support for this type of care in a safe environment, reducing the risk of alcohol overdose or poisoning occurring.