How to Spot Alcohol Poisoning in Your Teen

How to Spot Alcohol Poisoning in Your Teen

August 19, 2022

The published statistics on alcohol poisoning and abuse are sometimes frightening. Drinking, binge drinking, and alcohol abuse are prevalent across all demographics and, unfortunately, almost all age groups in the United States. Alcohol is the most widely used substance by American youth and teens. Data from 2019 indicates that approximately 25% of US teens (ages 14-15) report drinking at least one drink. Also, 7 million youth and teens ages 12-20 report drinking “more than a few sips” of alcohol in the last month. 


Recent surveys show that American youth drink 4% of all alcohol consumed in the United States. While 4% may not seem like much, it is essential to take a moment to consider that for this age group, alcohol consumption remains illegal in all states. Therefore, not only is this activity illegal, but it is also highly dangerous. 


What is “A Drink?”

A “standard” serving size for most alcoholic beverages contains about 0.6 ounces (14 grams) of pure alcohol. These are the serving sizes often used when attempting to determine how many drinks one can (or should) have before exceeding the recommended allowance or before their drinking is considered excessive. Typical beverage sizes that fall under a standard serving include a 12-ounce beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 8 ounces of malt liquor. 


A word about binge drinking

A common and dangerous problem for teens (and many adults) is binge drinking. Binge drinking is best defined as consuming enough alcohol to bring your blood alcohol concentration to 0.08% in one sitting. This usually means five or more drinks for males (four or more for females). Typically, a “sitting” is narrowed to a period of two hours (or less) as the body does not have enough time to process the alcohol taken into the system during such a short window. 


Severe risks and various health problems accompany binge drinking. Some of the most common include chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease, and heart disease. It also contributes to increased instances of cancer, memory difficulties, and learning problems. The aftermath of binge drinking also includes unintentional injuries and accidents (car crashes, falls, and alcohol poisoning), violence, and legal difficulties. Each year, binge drinking leads to approximately 2,200 alcohol poisoning-related deaths nationwide. 


Understanding the Dangers of Underage Drinking

The dangers of alcohol use and abuse are well known. The physical and psychological effects of alcohol abuse affect all demographics, including all age groups. 

In addition to health consequences such as liver disease, heart disease, stomach problems, and increased risk of cancers, excessive alcohol consumption and binge drinking can cause another potentially fatal consequence- alcohol poisoning. 


What is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning or alcohol overdose occurs when someone drinks an excessive amount of alcohol in a short period of time. Binge drinking is a major cause of alcohol poisoning. Anyone is at risk for alcohol poisoning. However, certain factors specific to your teen may increase their risk. Examples include:

  • Body size and weight
  • Whether they ate recently
  • Overall health
  • Percentage of alcohol in each drink
  • Rate and amount of alcohol consumption
  • Tolerance level
  • Whether they combine alcohol with other substance


What are the Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Estimates provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate nearly 100,000 deaths each year in the United States are directly attributed to alcohol-related causes. Although some are related to the long-term effects of alcohol abuse, many are linked to one specific short-term effect-alcohol poisoning. More than 2,200 people die yearly from alcohol poisoning (sometimes called an alcohol overdose).


To ensure your teen receives life-saving treatment for alcohol poisoning, understanding and recognizing the warning signs of alcohol poisoning or alcohol overdose is vital. Acute symptoms of alcohol poisoning include: 

  • Increased confusion
  • Difficulties staying conscious (or unable to wake up)
  • vomiting
  • alcohol-induced seizures
  • Slowed breathing (8 breaths per minute or less)
  • Irregular breathing


  • Slowed heart rate
  • Clammy skin
  • Dulled responses
  • Little or no gag reflex
  • Low body temperature


Any of these symptoms require prompt alcohol poisoning treatment. It is critical to call 9-1-1 immediately as your teen could lose their life from an alcohol overdose. 


Treating Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is a dangerous and life-threatening medical emergency. Treatment for alcohol poisoning requires immediate medical intervention with ongoing supportive care while your teen’s body rids itself of alcohol. In most cases, this process involves IV fluids to prevent dehydration, vitamins and glucose to help prevent serious complications from alcohol poisoning, oxygen therapy, controlling breathing and choking problems, and ongoing careful monitoring.


Some people believe that various at-home remedies can prevent or reduce the dangers of alcohol poisoning. This is a dangerous and possibly fatal misconception. One cannot reverse the effects of alcohol poisoning using at-home or over-the-counter methods. In fact, some wives’ tail remedies could make things worse. 


Sleeping it off

When someone is severely intoxicated, falling asleep is dangerous. You can lose consciousness while sleeping, putting you at risk of several other complications, including problems breathing and choking. 


A cold shower

A cold shower does nothing to reverse the effects of alcohol or speed up how quickly the body processes alcohol. In some instances, the shock of cold water can lead to loss of consciousness. 


Walking it off

A common misconception about alcohol is that it is possible to speed up how quickly the body processes alcohol through activity. This is another misconception that could lead to delays in seeking life-saving medical assistance. Walking, exercising, dancing, and other physical activities will not increase the speed at which alcohol leaves the body. 


Black coffee or caffeinated beverages

Caffeine or coffee will not counter or reverse the effects of alcohol poisoning, and consuming caffeine with excessive alcohol could cause other physical health complications. 


Getting Help for Teen Alcohol Abuse at Hillcrest

Many teens struggle with stress and other emotional health issues during adolescence. These are common, and while challenging at the time, they typically resolve themselves without much fanfare. However, if you notice your teen is behaving differently for no apparent reason – such as acting tired, depressed, or uncharacteristically moody – it could be a sign that they are developing a problem with alcohol. 


If you are unsure whether your child is abusing substances, you can enlist the assistance of your teen’s primary care provider, school guidance counselor, or drug abuse treatment provider. These individuals may be able to provide you with other signs and symptoms to look for or offer valuable insight into your child’s behaviors outside of the home that you may be unaware of. 


Teen substance use is not uncommon. There are many reasons why teens may drink alcohol. Some of the most common include peer pressure and the desire to “fit in.” Unfortunately, many teens do not realize that it does not take a lot of alcohol to become intoxicated. The “average drink” listed above considers the average adult’s body weight, size, and stature. Teens are, for the most part, smaller than your average adult male or female. As a result, one standard drink for a teen may be far more intoxicating than that same standard drink for an adult. As a result, medical emergencies such as alcohol poisoning or alcohol overdose can quickly occur.


Another challenging factor in ensuring early and effective medical treatment in the event of alcohol poisoning is that most teens engage in drinking behaviors outside of situations where adult supervision is present. As previously mentioned, drinking remains illegal throughout the United States for individuals under the age of 21. Therefore, most drinking activities among adolescents and teens occur at parties or at home when parents or caregivers are not around.


When emergencies arise, parents, guardians, law enforcement, or medical personnel are not necessarily the first phone call that comes to mind. However, it is crucial to talk to your teen about the potentially deadly effects of binge drinking and alcohol poisoning so they understand the urgent need to seek help if they notice symptoms of alcohol poisoning in a friend or loved one.


Many teens with an unhealthy relationship with alcohol may also have co-occurring mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression. The most effective treatment programs not only address their relationship with substances but also the required here necessary to manage their mental health in a safer, more effective way that does not involve using drugs or alcohol. Suppose you are researching treatment programs to help your teen manage a harmful relationship with alcohol. In that case, it is crucial to find a program with licensed professionals trained to address dual diagnosis conditions (co-occurring disorders) as part of a comprehensive, simultaneous treatment program.


If you are worried about drinking activity and your teen, consider reaching out to a  teen-focused treatment program designed to address the unique nature of treatment and recovery for adolescents and youth. Here at Hillcrest, our programs are designed specifically around the individual rather than the illness. Developing comprehensive, uniquely designed treatment programs ensure each person receives specialized care from our caring and compassionate, highly trained team of medical and mental health professionals.


If your teen has experienced alcohol poisoning or you are aware of a dangerous relationship with alcohol, it is crucial to seek treatment help. Overcoming alcohol addiction without support and guidance from a qualified team of treatment professionals may not provide the greatest opportunity for positive treatment outcomes. 


Conversely, it may increase your teen’s risk of relapse and future physical and emotional challenges related to alcohol. If you are concerned your teen might be drinking, don’t wait to seek help. Research shows early intervention is the most successful path to achieving lasting recovery and ongoing sobriety. To learn more about our Los Angeles area teen-focused treatment program, contact a member of our admissions department at Hillcrest today.

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