Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning happens when too much alcohol (beer, wine, or liquor) is consumed. It's important to remember that alcohol poisoning can happen to both experienced and novice drinkers. When large amounts of alcohol is absorbed in a short period of time, people may suffer severe, life-threatening intoxication. It is important to be mindful of how much you are consuming.

If your friend or roommate has passed out and is very hard to arouse, there is reason to be concerned. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Consumed rapidly and in large doses, alcohol can shut down respiratory and brain functioning. If it is consumed rapidly enough, it will suppress the nausea response so the body cannot eliminate the toxin. With severe alcohol poisoning, a person can pass out and never wake up.

Alcohol Poisoning Video

Worried about alcohol poisoning?

If they are conscious and responsive:

  • Don't leave your friend! Stay with them and check often to make sure they are still conscious and responsive.
  • Make certain that your friend stays on their side, not their back. 
  • Keep them quiet and comfortable. If they are in the sun, move them to the shade. If cold, move them to a warm place and offer a blanket.
  • Don't give them food, drink, or medication of any kind.
  • Remember that only time will sober up a drunk person. Walking, showering, or drinking coffee will not help and may actually cause harm.

If the person is unconscious, semi-conscious, or unresponsive:

  • Cannot be roused and are unresponsive to your voice, shaking, or pinching their skin.
  • Skin is cold, clammy, pale, bluish, and/or blotchy.
  • Breathing is slow - eight or fewer breaths per minute.
  • Experience lapses in breathing - more than 10 seconds between breaths.
  • Exhibit mental confusion, stupor, or coma.
  • Have seizures, convulsions, or rigid spasms.
  • Vomit while asleep or unconscious and cannot be awoken.


If any of these symptoms of alcohol overdose exist, call 911 for help, and while waiting for emergency personnel:

  • Gently turn them onto their side. This will help prevent choking.
  • Don't leave an unconscious person alone. Because alcohol poisoning affects the way your gag reflex works, someone with alcohol poisoning may choke on his or her own vomit and not be able to breathe. Be prepared to administer CPR.
  • Remember that there is a chance that a person who has passed out may not ever regain consciousness and there is a serious risk that death could occur.

It can be difficult to decide if you think someone is drunk enough to warrant medical attention. You may worry about the consequences for yourself or your friend or loved one, especially if you're underage. But the consequences of not getting the right help in time can be far more serious. See the GVSU Medical Amnesty Policy 

Page last modified February 13, 2024