Is it Possible to Overdose on Alcohol?

Alcohol overdose, also known as alcohol poisoning, happens when a person drinks too much alcohol within a short time. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Alcohol poisoning occurs when there is so much alcohol in the bloodstream that areas of the brain controlling basic life-support functions—such as breathing, heart rate, and temperature control—begin to shut down.” 

When a person drinks too much and passes out, they are at risk of asphyxiation from vomiting. Alcohol affects the nerves that control breathing and the gag reflex and excessive alcohol stops these functions. Even when alcohol consumption stops, any alcohol consumed before passing out continues to circulate throughout the bloodstream.

The Mayo Clinic states, “You can consume a fatal dose before you pass out. Even when you’re unconscious or you’ve stopped drinking, alcohol continues to be released from your stomach and intestines into your bloodstream, and the level of alcohol in your body continues to rise.”

Signs of alcohol overdose

Some signs of alcohol overdose are slowed breathing, seizures, confusion, vomiting, and low body temperature. An alcohol overdose can lead to permanent brain damage. Binge drinking, which is popular among college students, can be fatal, even without the person losing consciousness. Those at risk of alcohol overdose are people who struggle with alcoholism, college students, and those who consume alcohol while taking other drugs or medication.

Consuming alcohol and taking opioids or sedatives increase the risk of an overdose or serious health complication. Drinking alcohol while taking over the counter medicine can also be dangerous. Pain relievers and alcohol are a toxic combination and should not be taken together. Both are dangerous alone, but alcohol and opioids suppress areas in the brain that control breathing and could result in asphyxiation. When the brain stops receiving oxygen, the person is at high risk of irreversible brain damage. Benzodiazepines are sedatives that can produce severe memory impairments at high doses and when taken with alcohol, can lead to memory impairments.

Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) 

As BAC increases, so does the effects of alcohol. Even when alcohol consumption ceases, BAC continues to rise. High levels of BAC can cause a blackout, which is a form of amnesia. “Blackouts represent episodes of amnesia, during which subjects are capable of participating even in salient, emotionally charged events—as well as more mundane events—that they later cannot remember.” (D.W. Goodwin, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1995). 

Alcohol interferes with a person’s ability to form new long-term memories, leaving intact previously established long-term memories and the ability to keep new information active in memory for short periods. Some people are more susceptible to alcohol-induced memory impairment. Many people with alcoholism experience blackouts in the early part of addiction. Alcohol poisoning and blackouts are very harmful and lead to serious mental and physical impairment.

If a person experiences a blackout once, he or she is at risk of having more blackouts. Some people can have a genetic predisposition to blackouts, especially if family members have trouble with alcohol or alcoholism. A person who experiences a blackout can still have the ability to maintain language and motor skills.

During a blackout, the person may seem articulate because most parts of the brain are alcohol-tolerant. They can still eat, walk, hold conversations, have sex, drive, and get into fights. They just cannot record any of the memories.

Alcohol poisoning deaths

Over time, drinking alcohol can damage vital organs. Excessive drinking can cause liver failure, a heart attack, and severe brain damage or even an early death. With high-risk drinking, the concentration of alcohol in the brain becomes high enough to depress the areas of the brain responsible for consciousness and respiration. As a result, the drinker can lapse into a coma, stop breathing, and die. (Stanford University).


In addition to the risk of physical harm and death, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol causes unpleasant symptoms when the BAC drops to zero. A hangover is a group of unpleasant signs and symptoms that can develop after drinking too much alcohol. Frequent hangovers are also associated with poor performance and conflict at work and can lead to job loss due to trouble completing tasks, tardiness, and absences.

Alcohol irritates the lining of the stomach and increases the production of stomach acid, which delays stomach emptying. Any of these factors can cause abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting.

Treatment for addiction and substance use disorders

 Alcohol poisoning is life threatening and requires urgent medical treatment. If your friend or loved one is drinking too much and exhibiting the signs of alcohol overdose, get medical attention immediately. They might be angry with you, but ultimately you can save their life.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction or substance use disorder and a mental health condition, get help today. Mental health and substance use disorders often co-occur and need to be treated simultaneously as a dual diagnosis for the best outcome in recovery. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Take the first step toward a new, healthy, fulfilling lifestyle in sobriety and get help today. Although there is no cure for addiction, treatment is available and there is hope in recovery.


Daylight Recovery Services takes a holistic approach to substance abuse and co-occurring disorder treatment to address the physical, psychological, and spiritual facets of addiction and recovery. We ensure clients emerge from our facility with the proper tools and confidence in their ability to lead a healthy, enjoyable life. If you or someone you love is ready to break free of the bondage of addiction, contact one of our recovery experts today at 1-833-2DAYLIGHT.