hypothermia (pale or blue-tinged skin caused by low body temperature)
stupor (being conscious but unresponsive)
passing out and being unconscious
In the most severe cases, alcohol poisoning can lead to coma, brain damage and death.
When to seek medical help
If you suspect alcohol poisoning, dial 999 immediately to request an ambulance. While you're waiting:
try to keep them sitting up and awake
give them water if they can drink it
if they've passed out, lie them on their side in the recovery position and check they're breathing properly
keep them warm
stay with them and monitor their symptoms
Never leave a person alone to 'sleep it off'. The level of alcohol in a person's blood can continue to rise for up to 30-40 minutes after their last drink. This can cause their symptoms to suddenly become much more severe.
You also shouldn't give them coffee or any more alcohol, put them under a cold shower or walk them around. These won't help someone 'sober up' and may even be dangerous.
How alcohol poisoning is treated in hospital
In hospital, the person will be carefully monitored until the alcohol has left their system. If treatment is required, this may include:
inserting a tube into their mouth and windpipe (intubation) – to open the airway, remove any blockages and help with breathing
fitting an intravenous drip, which goes directly into a vein – to top up their water, blood sugar and vitamin levels
fitting a catheter (thin tube) to their bladder – to drain urine straight into a bag so they don't wet themselves
Every time you drink alcohol, your liver has to filter it out of your blood. Alcohol is absorbed quickly into your body (much quicker than food), but the body can only process around one unit of alcohol an hour.
If you drink a lot of alcohol over a short space of time, such as on a night out, your body won't have time to process it all. Alcohol poisoning can also occur if a person drinks household products that contain alcohol – children sometimes drink these by accident.
The amount of alcohol in your bloodstream – known as your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) – will rise.
The effects of alcohol
Around 1-2 units
your heart rate will speed up and your blood vessels will expand
you get the warm, sociable feeling associated with moderate drinking
Around 4-6 units
your decision making and judgement will start to be affected, making you lose your inhibitions and become more reckless
the cells in your nervous system will start to be affected, making you feel lightheaded
your co-ordination will be affected and your reaction time may be slower
Around 8-9 units
your reaction times will be much slower
your speech will be slurred
your vision will begin to lose focus
your liver won't be able to remove all of the alcohol overnight, so it's likely you'll wake up with a hangover
At this stage you should seriously consider not drinking any more alcohol.
If you do:
Around 10-12 units
your co-ordination will be seriously impaired, placing you at high risk of having an accident
you may stagger around or feel unstable on your feet
you'll feel drowsy or dizzy
the amount of alcohol in your body will begin to reach toxic (poisonous) levels
you may need to go to the toilet more often as your body attempts to quickly pass the alcohol out of your body in your urine
you'll be dehydrated in the morning, and probably have a severe headache
the excess alcohol in your system may upset your digestive system, leading to nausea, vomiting, indigestion
More than 12 units
you're at high risk of developing alcohol poisoning, particularly if you're drinking lots of units in a short space of time
the alcohol can begin to interfere with the automatic functions of your body, such as your breathing, heart rate and gag reflex
you're at risk of losing consciousness
Recommended alcohol limits
If you drink most weeks, to reduce your risk of harming your health:
men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week
spread your drinking over three days or more if you drink as much as 14 units a week
One unit of alcohol is equivalent to:
half a pint of lower-strength lager, beer or cider (ABV 3.6%)