When an individual consumes alcohol, the full impact of this intoxicant can take some time to manifest. The onset and intensity of effects can depend on various factors, including the following:
- Amount of alcohol
- Alcohol by volume (ABV) of drinks consumed
- Rate of consumption
- Sex (male or female)
- Age and health status
- Metabolic rate
- Amount and type of food in stomach
- Fat content of food
- Level of tolerance
Despite differences between drinkers, there are some very predictable stages of drunkenness through which an individual may progress as their drinking episode proceeds.
Stage 1: Sobriety
At a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05% or less, the person is unlikely to exhibit obvious signs of being under the influence of alcohol. Depending on the individual, judgment and reaction time may be slightly impaired. One standard drink typically results in a BAC beneath this threshold for both males and females.
Of note, a standard drink is considered to be 12 ounces of a 5% ABV beer, 5 ounces of 12% ABV wine, and one ounce of 40% ABV spirits, which include rum, vodka, gin, etc.
Stage 2: Euphoria
The next stage of drunkenness, euphoria, occurs when a person’s BAC is between 0.03-0.12% (around 1-4 drinks for a woman or 2-5 for a man). During this stage, the individual may feel more confident, social, talkative, and mildly euphoric. Inhibitions may also begin to be lowered.
Although the drinker may welcome many of the effects of alcohol at this time, the undesirable effects of alcohol, including impaired judgment, memory, and coordination, will also begin to manifest. At this stage, an individual’s motor skill responses may also be noticeably slower than when sober.
Likewise, alertness is diminished, and the person may begin to find it challenging to process information, and they will not be able to recognize potential danger as effectively. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an impaired driver is up to four times more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle accident than an individual with a BAC near zero. Operating an automobile with a BAC of 0.08 or above is illegal in most areas of the United States. It can result in arrest, incarceration, fines, and community service, among other unwanted consequences.
Stage 3: Excitement
Once a person’s BAC is between 0.09-0.25, they will have reached the third stage of drunkenness, also known as excitement. He or she may enter a state of emotional instability, and exhibit a loss in judgment and a significant delay in response time. They may also present with the following:
- Slurred speech
- Impaired perception
- Memory loss
- Vision problems
- Impaired coordination
- Drowsiness and fatigue
- Nausea and vomiting
At this stage, it will probably be evident to persons around the individual that he or she is intoxicated.
Stage 4: Confusion
An individual with a BAC level of 0.18-0.30 is a stage of drunkenness that is also marked by confusion, severe emotional instability, and disorientation. Coordination may be dramatically impaired, to the extent that the person may stagger and stumble when walking, may not even be able to stand upright on their own, and may encounter dizziness.
Those who reach this stage of intoxication are likely to experience a partial or complete loss of memory. This effect is also known as “blacking out” and occurs because alcohol impairs short-term memory. During a blackout, the individual is essentially a walking, talking zombie operating on autopilot, but is not quite to the point of passing out entirely. He or she may also have an increased pain threshold, meaning they could incur injuries and not feel the full extent of their effects until much later.
Stage 5: Stupor
Stupor or unresponsiveness can occur at a BAC between 0.25-0.40. A person in this stage of drunkenness is exceptionally intoxicated and in risky territory, as he or she may be close to experiencing life-threatening alcohol poisoning, coma, and death. Unless the individual has an extremely high tolerance, he or she will have lost most, if not all, of their motor control, and will not react appropriately to stimuli. Also, the person may be:
- Unable to stand or walk
- Eerily unresponsive
- Unable to voluntarily control bodily functions
Someone in this stage frequently required emergency medical help to ensure survival. A person who is left to merely “sleep it off” may end up experiencing perilously depressed breathing or respiratory arrest, or they may choke and asphyxiate on their own vomit. Other potential risks include hypothermia, irregular heart rate, and seizures.
Stage 6: Coma
A person who reaches a 0.35-0.45 BAC is at high risk of coma. Respiration and circulation are depressed to life-threatening levels, motor responses and reflexes are minimally present or absent, and the person’s body temperature is dangerously low. An individual who is experiencing this stage will most likely experience lethal complications without medical intervention.
Stage 7: Death
At 0.45 BAC or above, many people are unable to sustain vital life functions, and the incurrence of respiratory arrest and death is almost inevitable. Some people who have an exceptionally high tolerance to alcohol have been known to survive BAC levels well over this, but they are rare.
According to government statistics, around 2,200 individuals die in the U.S. each year due to complications related to alcohol poisoning. Although this is a relatively low number compared to those who die from overdoses related to other drugs, such as opioids, the scary fact is that someone who is in danger of this has consumed an extremely high amount of alcohol in a short period.
What to Do in Case of Alcohol Poisoning
If you believe that someone you know is experiencing alcohol poisoning, call 911 or take them to the nearest emergency department immediately. If you are waiting for medical personnel to arrive, there are several do’s and don’t’s in which individuals should adhere to help the person suffering:
- DO NOT offer them coffee, as this could lead to further hydration.
- DO NOT leave them alone to sleep it off. The individual’s BAC could continue to rise, increasing the risk that he or she will experience life-threatening complications.
- DO NOT place them in a cold shower, as this increases the risk of hypothermia.
- DO NOT offer them food. The person’s gag reflex may be impaired, and they could choke.
Instead, stay close to the person’s side, try to keep them comfortable and as safe as possible, and make sure they do not choke on their own vomit. Closely follow the instructions of the 911 operator, if applicable.
Understand the Risks and Get Help
It’s crucial to understand that because the amount of alcohol required to reach various stages of drunkenness can vary depending on the individual, what might be a fatal amount for one person may not be for another. Regardless, excessive alcohol use comes with a wide array of risks and the potential for life-threatening effects and permanent damage, even if one survives.
If you find yourself drinking heavily and frequently and reaching the later stages of intoxication mentioned above, you likely need professional help. Just Believe Recovery is a specialized addiction treatment center that offers evidence-based treatment that provides individuals with the necessary tools, education, and support that they need to achieve abstinence and sustain long-term sobriety.
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcoholism, contact us today and find out how we can help!