Blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) of 0.31% to 0.45% are considered life-threatening. The lethal dose of alcohol is about 5 to 8 grams per kilogram of body weight (g/kg).
BAC refers to the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream. If a person has a 0.20% BAC, that means the blood contains two parts of alcohol per 2,000 parts blood.
The legal intoxication level of alcohol is 0.08% BAC.
Learn more about the lethal dose of commonly abused drugs.
How The Lethal Dose Of Alcohol Is Determined
Alcohol is classified as a central nervous system depressant that slows down vital functions of the body.
If a person consumes a few drinks and has BAC levels between 0.05% and 0.15%, this will likely result in impairments such as slurred speech, memory loss, and poor driving skills.
However, the more a person drinks, the higher the alcohol content is in the body, and the more severe these impairments and side effects get.
If someone reaches BAC levels closer to the 0.31% to 0.45% range (about four bottles of wine or 30 standard drinks), they may lose consciousness, overdose, and suffer from vital organ failures.
What Causes An Alcohol Overdose?
Alcohol is filtered through the liver with enzymes in the liver cells called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), which breaks down the alcohol.
But alcohol is processed very slowly compared to food. When a person drinks a large amount of alcohol at once, the body is unable to metabolize it at the rate it’s being consumed.
This causes the BAC to rise as alcohol is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream.
Alcohol then has a number of effects on the body, such as an increased heart rate, impairment of breathing, loss of consciousness, and more.
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Recognizing The Signs Of Alcohol Poisoning
When a person overdoses on alcohol this is called alcohol poisoning.
Here are a few warning signs to pay attention to:
- loss of consciousness
- hypothermia (recognizable through pale or blue-colored skin)
- irregular or slow breathing
If you notice any of the above symptoms, seek medical attention right away. Alcohol poisoning is not always fatal and can be treated in an emergency setting.
In the hospital, alcohol poisoning can be treated through intubation to open up the airways, an IV drip, and stomach pumping to remove the contents of the stomach.
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Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — Alcohol Poisoning Deaths
- Mayo Clinic — Alcohol poisoning
- National Health Service UK (NHS) — Alcohol poisoning
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) — Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Overdose