Alcohol poisoning can happen if you drink alcohol more quickly than your body is able to process it – and it can be very dangerous
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Drinking alcohol very quickly can lead to alcohol poisoning, which can be extremely dangerous.
There is no minimum amount of alcohol that could cause alcohol poisoning.
The amount that can cause alcohol poisoning depends on a person’s age, sex, size, weight, how fast they have been drinking, how much they have eaten, their general health and whether they have taken medication or drugs.
Alcohol poisoning can reduce your body temperature – risking hypothermia, cause vomiting (with a risk of choking), lead to a heart attack or a fit, or cause you to stop breathing.1 Tragically, acute alcohol poisoning was the cause of 552 deaths in the UK during 2020.2
This guide explains the causes, signs and symptoms, what you can do to stay safe and how you can help others.
If you think someone might be experiencing alcohol poisoning - even if you have doubts - place them on their side in the recovery position and call 999 for an ambulance.
It takes an average adult around an hour to process one unit of alcohol so that there's none left in their bloodstream, although this varies a lot from person to person.
Drinking a lot in a short space of time increases the concentration of alcohol in the blood. Alcohol poisoning happens if the concentration of alcohol reaches a dangerous level that stops the body from working properly.
Both men and women can be affected, however women tend to have higher blood alcohol levels after drinking the same amount of alcohol as men, so may be at greater risk of alcohol poisoning.
Drinking a lot in a short space of can:4
Avoid drinking a lot in the first place
A healthy meal before drinking can help slow down the absorption of alcohol, but certainly doesn’t mean it's safe to drink a lot
Make sure to drink water or soft drinks to slow down the rate you’re drinking and help limit the amount of alcohol you have
If you’re out, make sure your phone is charged and you have a plan to get home
Incidents and injury are more likely if you’re on your own.
Look out for others.
Recognising the signs and knowing what to do could help save someone’s life – remember, if they have alcohol poisoning, they won’t be able to help themselves.
Someone may have only had a few drinks, or they could have had several, but this alone isn’t a reliable indicator of likely alcohol poisoning. Signs and symptoms to look out for:
Call 999 to request an ambulance as soon as you suspect that someone may have alcohol poisoning
Remember, if you think someone might have alcohol poisoning - even if you have doubts - call 999 to request an ambulance.
If you choose to drink, to keep short-term risks low (including alcohol poisoning, accidents or injury) the UK Chief Medical Officers advise it’s important to limit how much you drink on any single occasion – and never to binge drink.
The UK low risk drinking guidelines also advise you to limit how much you consume each week - it's safest for both men and women to drink no more than 14 units a week, spread over three or more days with several drink-free days.
Drinkchat is a free online chat service. Their trained advisors are on hand between 10am-2pm, Monday to Friday, to provide confidential advice.
Arming yourself with strategies and tips can help you or a loved one take small steps towards big results.
 Office for National Statistics. Alcohol-specific deaths in the UK: registered in 2020 (2021) [Accessed 10 February 2022] Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/causesofdeath/bulletins/alcoholrelateddeathsintheunitedkingdom/registeredin2020
Last Reviewed: 26th May 2022
Next Review due: 26th May 2025