Santa Clara University

Wellness Center

Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is a very real and serious medical emergency caused by ingesting too much alcohol too quickly. This usually happens through drinking games (i.e., Century Club, 21 shots for 21st b-day, quarters, etc.) and other high risk drinking behaviors such as keg stands, beer-bonging and shot-gunning.  Alcohol causes death directly by acting on those brain areas that control consciousness, respiration and heart rate. As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol can "turn off" these vital brain areas, possibly resulting first in a coma and eventually death.


Signs of life-threatening levels of intoxication:

  • A person’s breathing is very slow (less than 8 times per minute), and perhaps irregular (with 10 seconds or more between breaths)
  • A person’s pulse is weak, or is either very slow or very fast
  • A person has passed out, or is asleep, and cannot be aroused, or can only be slightly aroused for a few moments
  • A person’s hands or feet are colder and clammy, or skin is pale or bluish
  • Vomiting, urinating or defecating while sleeping or passed out, and not waking up after doing so

This is a medical emergency!  Call the EMTs at x4444 or 911 immediately


What to do:

  • Call the EMTs (x4444) or 911 IMMEDIATELY!!
  • Do not leave the person alone.
  • Turn the victim on his/her side to prevent choking or suffocating in case of vomiting. 
  • Stay with the person until medical help arrives.
Remember, it is always be “better safe than sorry” if you are not sure what to do.  How can your friend be angry about you caring for him/her?

If you are having difficulty determining whether an individual is in danger, contact a professional for help immediately –  YOU CANNOT AFFORD TO GUESS!!!

What if the symptoms aren't life-threatening but I am still concerend?

What to do:

  • Do keep the person comfortable - but not by giving them another drink.
  • Do position a drunk person on his/her side if they go to be, or pass out.  Be sure the person is not lying on his/her back because if they vomit, they could choke and suffocate.
  • Do keep the person from driving, biking or transporting themselves anywhere alone.
  • Do keep your distance if the person gets agitated.  Some people who are usually very laid-back may become violent when intoxicated.
  • Do talk to the person about their behavior later, in a private place.  Don't be surprised if you encounter denial or irritation

What NOT to do:

  • Don't leave the person alone, for safety reasons.
  • Don't give any drugs or medication (not even aspirin) to the person to try to sober him/her up.
  • Don't give the person food in attempts to "absorb the alcohol."  This will increase the risk of vomiting.
  • Don't give the person coffee, tea or other liquid stimulants.  You'll just have a wide-awake, agitated drunk person.
  • Don't give the person a cold shower.  He/she could fall, or the shock could make them pass out.
  • Don't try to exercise the person in hopes of "burning off the booze."  This will not help, and could cause injuries.

If you are concerned about your own drinking behaviors or those of a friend, please seek help. Contact the Counseling Center or Wellness Center on campus to speak with a professional about your options. All meetings are confidential.



Printer-friendly format