Alcohol Poisoning

How Much Alcohol Does it Take?

alcohol silhouette

View our brochure on signs of alcohol poisoning & resources: Alcohol_Poisoning

How Does Alcohol Poisoning Happen?

It is possible to develop alcohol poisoning through consumption of hard liquor, or large amounts of beer or wine. Both novice and experienced drinkers may suffer severe, life threatening intoxication when large amounts of alcohol are consumed in a short period of time, such as “doing shots,” drinking games, chugging, hazing incidents, and a lighter weight person trying to match a heavier weight person drink for drink (e.g., a small, 120 lb. woman and a large 180 lb. man drinking together).

Be Concerned

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, and, 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.

Signs of Severe Alcohol Poisoning

  • Inability to arouse the person with loud shouting or vigorous shaking, or inability of the aroused person to stay awake for more than 2-3 minutes
  • Slow or irregular breathing—fewer than 8 breaths per minute or lapses in breathing that last longer than 10 seconds
  • Weak pulse, or very rapid or very slow pulse
  • Cold, clammy, pale or bluish skin
  • Vomiting while passed out, and not awakening after vomiting
  • Since blood alcohol level can continue to rise after the person has stopped drinking, s/he should be reassessed every hour for at least 2-3 hours by sober persons (i.e., individuals who have not been drinking)

What To Do If You Suspect Severe Alcohol Poisoning

  • Call 911 immediately. If you live in a residence hall, contact Residential Life Staff.
  • Stay with the person until help arrives. Do not leave the person alone, even for a minute.
  • Turn the person on his/her side, with head slightly lower than the rest of the body, to prevent choking if the person vomits.
  • Be prepared to give emergency medical personnel as much information as possible, including any drugs or medications

Preventing Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is preventable. Here are steps you can take to keep it from happening to you:

  • Do not drink alcohol when you are under the influence of other drugs or are taking medication.
  • Do not participate in drinking games, chugging, beer bongs, funnels or other rapid consumption activities.
  • Do not drink on an empty stomach.
  • Pace your drinking by drinking slowly or alternating alcoholic drinks with nonalcoholic drinks.
  • If you choose to drink, do so in moderation.

For a printable brochure on this information view this PDF.

In 2010, Washington enacted a 911 Good Samaritan Law.  If there is a situation involving an overdose of alcohol or other drugs and someone calls 911 for help, the person and the person they are calling about are immune from possession charges.  Please see for a full description of what this law involves.