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Alcohol Poisoning vs. Overdose: Are They Different?

Alcohol Poisoning vs. Overdose Are They Different

Alcohol is the most commonly used mind-altering substance in the U.S. and can also be extremely dangerous. Excessive alcohol use is known for causing intoxication, liver damage, poisoning, and overdose. While many are familiar with the first two, what is the difference between alcohol poisoning vs. overdose? Are they the same thing? 

Can You Overdose on Alcohol? 

As with other substances, consuming alcohol in excessive amounts at once can lead to serious health complications. An alcohol overdose is one major health problem that can be the result of heavy drinking.   

Alcohol is a drug that impacts the central nervous system. It’s considered a depressant, as it slows down your speech, movement, and reaction time. It also impacts the organs, such as the stomach, liver, and small intestine. 

Alcohol overdose occurs when the stomach and small intestine quickly absorb alcohol, after which it enters the bloodstream at a rapid rate. The more alcohol you consume, the more it enters your bloodstream. Additionally, while the liver metabolizes the alcohol, it can only break down so much alcohol at once, and what the liver can’t break down is then redirected throughout the rest of the body.  

Key signs of alcohol overdose include:  

  • Changes in mental states, such as confusion 
  • Nausea and/or vomiting 
  • Pale or purplish blue skin 
  • Decrease in body temperature (hypothermia) 
  • Unconsciousness 
  • Slowed or stopped breathing and heart rate 
  • Reduced gag reflex, which increases the risk of choking on vomit 
  • Cardiac arrest  
  • Seizures 

Many factors can contribute to alcohol overdose, one of them being alcoholism. If you or someone you know struggles with alcohol abuse, our Heartland detox can help kickstart their recovery by safely and successfully getting them through the withdrawal period.  

Is Alcohol Poisoning an Overdose? 

Alcohol poisoning is a serious – and sometimes life-threatening – consequence of drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period. Drinking too much too rapidly can affect your breathing, heart rate, body temperature, and gag reflex, potentially leading to a coma or death.  

Sound familiar? There is no difference between alcohol poisoning and overdose; they’re the same. The terms overdose and poisoning are used interchangeably because both refer to a condition in which the body is overwhelmed by a sudden influx of a substance – alcohol, in this case.  

The most common risk factors of alcohol overdose or poisoning include:  

  • Age: Young adults are more likely to engage in heavy and binge drinking, which can lead to alcohol overdose. 
  • Gender: Men are more likely to drink heavily than women, placing them at an increased risk of overdose or poisoning. 
  • Body size: Your height and weight greatly determine how quickly your body absorbs alcohol. Someone with a smaller body may experience alcohol effects quicker than someone with a larger body.  
  • Tolerance: Having a high tolerance for alcohol or quickly drinking can increase your risk of alcohol overdose, as tolerance requires an individual to drink more heavily to experience any side effects.  
  • Binge drinking: People who binge drink (more than four or five drinks an hour) are also at risk for alcohol overdose/poisoning.  
  • Drug use: Combining alcohol with drugs can reduce the effects of alcohol, which may lead the individual to drink more heavily.  
  • Certain health conditions: Health conditions such as liver disease can impair the body’s ability to break down alcohol, making it more likely for the individual to experience poisoning.  

How Much Alcohol Is Fatal? 

A blood alcohol concentration (BAC) between 0.60% and 0.80% is commonly fatal. However, the amount of alcohol that can kill a person can vary by individual factors. It’s important to be aware of binge drinking, as it can cause a BAC that is higher than 0.08%.  

However, death is not the only consequence of excessive drinking. Alcohol can be especially harmful to a person’s health, and many alcohol-related deaths are caused by the resulting repercussions of excessive alcohol use, such as cancer or liver disease.   

In addition to the chronic health conditions caused by heavy drinking, short-term effects of excessive drinking can include polysubstance overdose, suicide, vehicle crashes, and other incidents. Even drinking while taking over-the-counter medications can be dangerous.  

Help for Alcoholism   

Individuals with alcohol use disorders are more likely to experience the repercussions of heavy drinking firsthand, including alcohol poisoning. Preventative measures are, therefore, necessary. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcoholism, our alcohol addiction treatment can help.  

Our Illinois drug rehab offers various levels of addiction treatment and substance-specific programs to address various types of substance use disorders. No matter how long you’ve been addicted, we can help. 

Call Banyan Treatment Centers today at 888-280-4763 to get started. 



 Vital Source - The ASAM Principles of Addiction Medicine  


Related Reading:   

Moonshine Methanol Poisoning 

What Does Alcohol Poisoning Look Like? 

Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.
Alcohol Poisoning vs. Overdose: Are They Different?
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