How Long Does Alcohol Poisoning Last?

Alcohol poisoning is a dangerous and potentially lethal consequence of consuming too much alcohol too quickly. Consuming large quantities of alcohol in a brief timeframe impacts the following functions:

  • Body temperature
  • Heart rate
  • Breathing
  • Gag reflex

The worst outcome of alcohol poisoning is fatal alcohol overdose triggered by coma. The CDC reports that thousands of deaths in the United States each year are attributable to alcohol poisoning.

All cases of alcohol poisoning should be treated as a medical emergency requiring immediate clinical assistance.

woman has head in her hands representing how long to recover from alcohol poisoning.

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What Is Alcohol Poisoning?

Many people who drink heavily may wonder, “How long does it take to recover from alcohol poisoning?“. But first, let’s start with what is alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol poisoning occurs when you consume too much alcohol in a short space of time. One of the most common abusive patterns of consumption that often leads to alcohol poisoning is binge drinking.

According to NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism), when a man consumes five standard drinks or more in two hours or a woman consumes at least four standard drinks in the same period, this is classified as binge drinking.

For the purpose of NIAAA’s definition, a standard drink is any of the following:

  • Beer (5% ABV, 12oz)
  • Wine (12% ABV, 5oz)
  • Distilled spirits (40% ABV, 1.5oz)

Consuming this amount of alcohol in a brief period causes a dramatic increase in BAC levels (blood alcohol concentration) and places extreme stress on the liver. Alcohol poisoning occurs when BAC levels reach the point of toxicity.

Blood alcohol concentration levels of alcohol will rise for about forty minutes after the last alcoholic beverage.

Binge drinking does not automatically lead to alcohol poisoning, and not every case of alcohol overdose is caused by binge drinking episodes. That said, there is a strong correlation between abusive patterns of alcohol consumption like binge drinking and acute alcohol intoxication, also known as alcohol poisoning.

How Long Does Alcohol Poisoning Last?

If you’re suffering from alcohol poisoning or are worried it could affect you in the future, you might be wondering, “how long does alcohol poisoning last?”.

If you get the proper supportive care, the side effects of alcohol poisoning will wear off in a few hours. It typically takes eight hours for all alcohol to leave your system, depending on the amount of alcohol consumed. It will then take another day for the remaining symptoms to subside and for the body to return to a state of balance (homeostasis).

The following factors can influence the severity and duration of the alcohol poisoning timeline:

  • Type of alcohol
  • Gender
  • Body size
  • Tolerance

The ramifications of alcohol poisoning can last beyond the eight hours it takes to flush alcohol from the system, though.

Chronic and recurrent binge drinking episodes can deoxygenate the brain and overwork the liver in a condition called hypoxia. This can depress areas of the brain that govern heartbeat and breathing, influencing how long alcohol poisoning lasts. 

Why You Should Go To The Emergency Room if You Have Alcohol Poisoning

A good way to figure out how long does alcohol poisoning last in a safe environment is by heading to the emergency room as soon as possible. There is no cure for alcohol poisoning beyond getting treated by a medical health professional. They can monitor your BAC level until it is below dangerous levels, intervening if required.

If you develop a serious case of alcohol poisoning, you may require a tube inserted into your windpipe to help you with breathing. A medical practitioner may also administer an intravenous drip to help raise blood sugar levels, manage hydration, and boost vitamin levels.

It is also quite common for those with alcohol poisoning to experience incontinence. This can be challenging to manage in a non-clinical setting. A urinary catheter may help to control this issue.

In some extreme cases of alcohol poisoning, it may be necessary for a doctor to pump the person’s stomach. Fluids can be sluiced through a tube placed down the mouth or nose.

It can take several hours to recover from alcohol poisoning. The alcohol poisoning recovery timeline will be extended if you suffer from any chronic damage or complications associated with alcohol abuse.

Those with existing kidney or liver problems may find that the timeline is protracted, potentially leading to permanent liver damage or brain damage.

Alcohol poisoning should be considered a medical emergency. Seeking prompt medical treatment could be life-saving. Call 911. While waiting for the emergency responders, consider the following pointers:

  • Do not leave the person unattended.
  • If the person is conscious, tell them that help is on the way.
  • If possible, keep the person awake and hydrated.
  • Try to keep the person upright. If they lay down, turn their head to one side. This will reduce the chances of choking.
  • Help the person if they are vomiting.
  • Keep the person warm to mitigate the development of hypothermia.
  • Be ready to give the paramedics information about the amount and type of alcohol the person has consumed.

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Alcohol Overdose

Alcohol poisoning can result in fatal alcohol overdose. As such, alcohol poisoning should be treated as a medical emergency.

These are the most common indicators of alcohol overdose:

  • Vomiting: Vomiting can occur with or without alcohol poisoning. Some people may vomit when they are intoxicated, but when someone is vomiting and experiencing the other symptoms below, this can indicate alcohol overdose. Vomiting can further dehydrate you.
  • Breathing problems: Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol causes the heart rate to slow significantly. If breathing rate drops to below eight breaths per minute, you should call 911. This is indicative of alcohol overdose.
  • Low body temperature: When large quantities of alcohol flood the system, this causes core body temperature to fall. Very low body temperature can lead to cardiac arrest.
  • Dulled responses: The gag reflex can be inhibited in those experiencing alcohol overdose, leading to a heightened risk of choking on vomit.
  • Mental disorientation: Cognitive confusion is commonplace among those who are drunk, but this manifests more acutely in those experiencing alcohol overdose. Here, normal functioning is radically impaired, and you may not recognize common places or familiar people.
  • Difficulty remaining conscious: If you lose consciousness at any stage while drinking alcohol, this is potentially dangerous and also one of the most common red flags for alcohol overdose.
  • Seizure: Blood sugar levels can become extremely low during alcohol overdose, potentially triggering a seizure. When a seizure takes place, this involves uncontrolled electrical disturbances in the brain that cause problems with standing and remaining conscious.

Any of the following alcohol poisoning symptoms are suggestive of a critical alcohol overdose:

  • Clammy skin
  • Pale blue hue to skin
  • Extremely low body temperature
  • Stupor
  • Mental confusion
  • Suppressed gag reflex
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Breathing rate of less than 8 breaths per minute
  • Irregular breathing
  • Difficulty remaining conscious
  • Seizure

NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) reports the effects of alcohol overdose as follows: 

image of man representing how long does alcohol poisoning stay.
  • Coordination
  • Memory
  • Speech
  • Attention
  • Sleepiness
  • Relaxation
  • Coordination
  • Balance
  • Speech
  • Aggression
  • Memory
  • Relaxation
  • Risk of injury
  • Driving skills
  • Intoxication
  • Vomiting
  • Losing consciousness
  • Decision making
  • Losing consciousness
  • Driving ability dangerously impaired
  • Judgment
  • Speech and balance severely impaired
  • Suppression of vital functions
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Significant risk of death

Signs of Alcohol Poisoning

There are many contributory factors to the quantity of alcohol required to trigger alcohol poisoning (or alcohol overdose) in an individual, including:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Weight
  • Tolerance for alcohol

If you weigh 100 pounds, you could raise BAC levels to the point of toxicity after three standard drinking. If you weight 275 pounds, by contrast, you might consume a handful of standard drinks before BAC levels get dangerously high.

While it can be challenging to differentiate between alcohol poisoning and alcohol intoxication, look out for the following alcohol poisoning symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Passing out
  • Incoherency
  • Impaired motor coordination
  • Lowered body temperature
  • Stupor
  • Confusion
  • Abnormal breathing patterns
  • Pale and clammy skin

If you notice any of the symptoms above in yourself or a loved one, it suggests blood concentration is becoming saturated with alcohol. It is not necessary for all the symptoms of alcohol poisoning to present before seeking medical assistance. Allowing someone overdosing on alcohol to lose consciousness can be life-threatening and possible fatal.

How to Move Beyond Alcohol Poisoning

Any form of alcohol abuse like binge drinking will heighten your chances of developing alcohol use disorder (the clinical descriptor for alcoholism), or experiencing alcohol overdose. Alcohol use disorder is a chronic brain condition that is characterized by the compulsive use of substances. Alcohol use disorder is incurable but treatable, so the first thing you should consider if you are abusing alcohol is to engage with an inpatient or outpatient treatment program. We can help you with this here at  Gratitude Lodge.

Treatments for alcohol addiction like medication-assisted treatment and mental health care can provide you with the right tools and medical intervention for a successful, safe, and comfortable detox and recovery process. A treatment center can also provide you with the right support and connections you need even after you leave treatment that you can lean on as you continue to progress in your recovery journey. Having the right tools and support system can be the difference between a life free from addiction or carrying the weight of substance abuse throughout your life. 

You may also benefit from connecting with peer support groups like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous). When supplemented by evidence-based addiction treatment, 12-step and non-12-step support groups can provide valuable support for many people diagnosed with alcohol use disorder.

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Treatment for Alcohol Abuse at Gratitude Lodge

We have pet-friendly and inclusive alcohol detox and young adult rehab programs located in Long Beach and Newport Beach. Take advantage of our supervised medical detox program to withdraw from alcohol as comfortably and safely as possible. After a week or so, you will be ready to transition directly into a 30-day inpatient program or an intensive outpatient program.

Whatever level of treatment intensity makes the smoothest fit, you can access these interventions at Gratitude Lodge:

  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • Group counseling
  • Individual counseling
  • Psychotherapy (CBT or DBT)
  • Family therapy
  • Holistic therapy
  • 12-step immersion program

The best way to prevent alcohol poisoning is to refrain from abusive patterns of alcohol consumption. Kickstart your recovery and reclaim your life from alcoholism by calling Gratitude Lodge at 800-994-2184.

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Alcohol Poisoning FAQS

Recovery time from alcohol poisoning can vary depending on the severity of the condition and individual factors. In general, it typically takes about 24 to 48 hours for someone to recover from alcohol poisoning. However, severe cases may require longer hospitalization and medical intervention.

Alcohol poisoning and being drunk are related to excessive alcohol consumption, but they are distinct conditions. Being drunk refers to the state of intoxication resulting from consuming alcohol, characterized by impaired judgment, coordination, and cognitive functions. It is a common consequence of consuming alcohol in excessive amounts.

On the other hand, alcohol poisoning is a severe and potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when high levels of alcohol in the bloodstream impair critical functions of the body, such as breathing, heart rate, and body temperature regulation. It is an acute medical emergency that requires immediate attention.

Signs of alcohol poisoning may include:

  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Vomiting or retching
  • Seizures
  • Slow or irregular breathing (less than eight breaths per minute or more than 10 seconds between breaths)
  • Blue-tinged or pale skin
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature)
  • Unconsciousness or inability to wake up
  • Slow heart rate or irregular heartbeat
  • Choking on vomit or being unresponsive
  • Mental confusion or stupor

If you suspect someone may be experiencing alcohol poisoning, it is crucial to seek medical help immediately.

Alcohol poisoning takes about 30 minutes-2 hours to kick in after overconsumption. However, in extreme cases, symptoms can take several hours to appear, requiring immediate medical attention.