Skip to main content

Alcohol poisoning

Alcohol is toxic (poisonous) to the body

Your body has to work hard to remove alcohol from your system. If you drink more than your body can cope with, you will suffer the symptoms of alcohol poisoning. 

Most people’s bodies need about an hour to process one standard drink

If you drink too much too quickly, your body will not be able to process the alcohol quickly enough. You may be sick while you are drinking or suffer from a hangover the next day.

Find out more about what happens during hangovers.

When alcohol is broken down in your body it creates an even more toxic substance called acetaldehyde. Any food or drink contaminated with the amount of acetaldehyde that a unit of alcohol produces would be banned for being too risky to consume.

What are the symptoms of alcohol poisoning?

  • Loss of balance, loss of coordination, confusion
  • Feeling sick (nausea) and being sick (vomiting)
  • Slow breathing (less than 8 breaths a minute)
  • Seizures (fits)
  • Low body temperature
  • Skin that is cold and clammy or pale and bluish
  • Stupor (being unresponsive) or unconsciousness (passing out)

What to do if you think someone has alcohol poisoning

  • Dial 999 / 112 and ask for an ambulance if you suspect alcohol poisoning.
  • Don’t try to make the person vomit. It won’t reduce the amount of alcohol in their bloodstream and they could choke on their own vomit, as their gag reflex will be impaired.
  • Turn the person on to their side and place a cushion under their head. This will help to stop them choking on their own vomit if they are sick.
  • Don’t leave them alone to ‘sleep it off’, even if they appear to be breathing normally. The levels of alcohol in a person’s blood can continue rising for up to 30-40 minutes after a person’s last drink, and this could cause their symptoms to suddenly worsen.


Although you can die from alcohol poisoning, most people recover, especially if they are cared for properly.


Alcohol was implicated in 1 in 3 (137) of all poisoning deaths in 2013¹

 ¹ Mongan, D. and Long, J. (2016) Alcohol in Ireland: consumption harm cost and policy response, HRB. Dublin.


service finder

Where to get help

Find your nearest support group, by selecting your county below