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Ethanol poisoning


Definition:

Ethanol poisoning is caused by drinking too much alcohol.

This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure. If you have an exposure, you should call your local emergency number (such as 911) or 1-800-222-1222 for a local poison control center.

Poisonous Ingredient:

Ethanol

Where Found:

Alcoholic beverages, including:

  • Beer
  • Gin
  • Vodka
  • Wine
  • Whiskey
Symptoms:

Symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Internal (stomach and intestinal) bleeding
  • Slowed breathing
  • Slurred speech
  • Stupor (decreased level of alertness)
  • Unsteady walking
  • Vomiting, sometimes bloody
  • Chronic alcohol overuse can lead to additional symptoms and multiple organ failure.
Home Care:

If you can wake an adult who has drunk too much alcohol, move the person to a comfortable place to sleep off the effects. Make sure the person will not fall or get hurt.

Place the person on their side in case they throw up (vomit). DO NOT make the person throw up unless told to do so by a health care professional or Poison Control.

Check the person frequently to make sure their condition does not get worse.

If the person is not alert (unconscious) or only somewhat alert (semi-conscious), emergency assistance may be needed. When in doubt, call for medical help.

Before Calling Emergency:

The following information is helpful for emergency assistance:

  • Person's age, weight, and condition
  • Name of the drinks consumed (ingredients and strengths if known)
  • Time it was swallowed
  • Amount swallowed

However, DO NOT delay calling for help if this information is not immediately available.

Poison Control:

In the United States, call 1-800-222-1222 to speak with a local poison control center. This hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.

This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. You can call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What to Expect at the Emergency Room :

The health care provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. The person may receive:

  • Airway support, including oxygen, breathing tube through the mouth (intubation),and ventilator (breathing machine)
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Chest x-ray
  • CT (computerized tomography, or advanced imaging) scan
  • EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
  • Fluids through the vein (intravenous or IV)
  • Medicines to treat symptoms
Outlook (Prognosis) :

Survival over 24 hours past the drinking binge usually means the person will recover.

References:

Goldfrank LR, ed. Goldfrank's Toxicologic Emergencies. 9th ed. New York, NY: McGraw Hill; 2011.

White, SR. Toxic alcohols. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al., eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 155.


Review Date: 1/23/2015
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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