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Alcohol-Related Death: Do People Die from Drinking?

Drinking alcohol is a common adult pastime but not everyone can drink alcohol in moderation. Some people consume too much alcohol in a single setting and eventually develop alcohol addiction.

According to research by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 95,000 Americans die each year from excessive alcohol consumption. A person can die from alcoholism.

Excessive alcohol use is especially dangerous when mixed with substance abuse. Cocaine, for example, counteracts the depressing effects of alcohol, leading users to underestimate their intake. While on cocaine, a person drinking alcohol might not feel the intoxication. Even if he/she is not an over-drinker, it could lead to a fatal alcohol overdose.

How does alcohol abuse lead to deadly consequences? What are the stages of alcohol use disorder?

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Binge Drinking

Binge drinking occurs when a person drinks so much alcohol in a single setting that it quickly raises his/her blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08%. At that level or above, it’s illegal to operate a motor vehicle or a defensive weapon.

While not full-blown AUD, binging is a type of alcohol abuse that often occurs at parties. It’s a common habit among high school and college-age people who attend parties where alcohol is served. In the US, where the drinking age is 21, people in the 16-20 age group often binge because they want to get that buzz before parents or authorities come and end the party. 

The fear of getting “busted” and feeling like they must drink as much as they can, while they can, is especially common at binge parties that involve cocaine, pot, ecstasy, LSD, speed and other drugs that cause paranoia.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines binge drinking as consuming too much alcohol in two hours. For men, the threshold is five drinks. For women, the threshold is four.

The woman’s body has more fat and less water than men’s. This, combined with the smaller physical stature of women, causes a slower passage and less-effective breakdown of alcoholic beverages in the female body. For health reasons, women should keep social drinking to half the amount of men.

Alcohol Abuse

The next stage of a drinking problem is alcohol abuse, where the person consumes too many drinks each day. While binge drinking is an isolated phenomenon that people do at parties, perhaps only once or twice in their lives, excessive alcohol consumption is a daily habit.

Alcohol abuse takes hold as the person drinks to cope with daily stress. If the individual is depressed, he/she might drink due to the numbing effects of alcohol. When these effects become necessary for the individual to cope in life and handle day-to-day obligations and realities, it becomes a case of alcohol dependency.

Warning Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder

Some people get emotional or manic when they’re drunk; others get belligerent. It depends on personality. While most individuals keep these tendencies in check while sober, alcohol sometimes blows the lids off these traits.

When a person’s alcohol use disorder becomes noticeable to others, this could be a red flag that he/she is heading for danger. You’ll sometimes see these behaviors in settings where alcohol is abundant (bars, parties), but not in everyday life (work, home, supermarkets). Warning signs include:

  • Belligerence – When a once-friendly, well-mannered person grows into a loud, quarrelsome and frequently irritated individual, that person might be drinking throughout the day: at home, at lunch, after work, etc.
  • Slurred speech – If a once-coherent and well-spoken individual now slurs words constantly and often seems incoherent, it could be a dangerous case of AUD.
  • Irresponsible – If a once-responsible, reliable person becomes a constant flake who makes tons of excuses and seems to forget important things, he/she is possibly drinking heavily throughout the day.

When a friend or family member shows these and other signs of AUD — such as constantly reaching for the bottle despite being visibly tipsy — contact a nearby addiction treatment center.  Their actions are dangerous to themselves and others, especially when mixed with stimulants and other drugs that obscure or intensify the effects of alcohol.

Alcohol Poisoning Deaths

Alcohol use disorder can eventually spiral into a deadly, all-consuming addiction. Some people live for years with AUD while others succumb within months. It depends on their bodily tolerance for abuse and how hard they indulge in a single instance.

Symptoms of late-stage alcoholism include mental confusion, lapsed consciousness, and hypertension. In some of the worst episodes, a person might experience vomiting or seizures. Alcohol-related deaths are often preceded by:

  • Liver disease – The liver performs more than 500 tasks to ensure bodily health. With alcohol, the liver removes toxins before they enter the bloodstream. When the liver gets overwhelmed by binge drinking or constant alcohol abuse, it can’t keep up and gradually wears down. Liver failure is life-threatening.
  • Cardiovascular problems – Issues like high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia) and other effects of heart disease emerge in many people after years of heavy drinking. Symptoms may include chest pain, tightened chest, numbness and soreness in the limbs.
  • Respiratory problems – People with late-stage alcoholism often suffer respiratory depression. When a person can’t breathe properly, it robs the brain of oxygen. This can damage the brain and central nervous system and cause strokes.

Other warning signs of late-stage alcoholism include clammy skin, low body temperatures and jaundice, a yellowing of the skin caused by alcoholic hepatitis. Jaundice is especially dangerous for women, the elderly and people with cirrhosis of the liver.

Alcohol Advice from the CDC

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that adults limit their alcohol consumption as follows:

  • Men: 2 drinks or less in two hours
  • Women: 1 drink or less in two hours

The CDC advises people not to drink if they’re:

  • Below the legal drinking age; alcohol can stunt brain development in growing individuals
  • Pregnant; women who drink pass the toxins to their offspring. This can cause appearance abnormalities and brain damage in infants.
  • Has a physical condition or takes medication that would interact poorly with alcohol.
  • Recovering from AUD; once a person recovers from alcohol addiction, he/she should never drink again, not even in moderation.

The best way to avoid alcohol poisoning is to never drink more than one or two drinks in a single evening.

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Don't go through the process of recovery alone. There are people who can help you with the struggle you're facing. Get in touch with one today.

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Get Help: Contact an Alcohol Rehab Treatment Center

Excessive drinking is a dangerous habit with all kinds of negative consequences, including mental disorders, diminished overall health and chronic disease. Alcohol scars everyone close to the individual who suffers AUD. Combining alcohol with drugs makes the problem worse.

Across the US, treatment centers offer alcohol detox, immediate medical care, counseling and family therapy. Treatment options include residential inpatient and intensive outpatient programs. Today’s treatment providers take a holistic approach to alcohol withdrawal that treats each patient on the physical, mental and spiritual levels.

Alcoholism affects anyone who knows, relies on, or cares about a person struggling with alcohol dependence. In the final stage, the situation is possibly lethal without immediate care and basic life support functions.

Don’t let your friend or loved one reach end-stage alcoholism. Contact a treatment provider before his/her heavy drinking causes progressive disease and premature death. Look up the specific treatment center listing for your area and contact a treatment facility through the website’s main phone number.

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