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What’s the Difference Between Alcohol Poisoning Symptoms & a Hangover?

Last Updated on June 30, 2020 by Inspire Malibu

For anyone who overindulges with alcohol, it’s important to know the difference between mild alcohol poisoning symptoms and a hangover the next day.

One of these conditions is extremely dangerous and can even be fatal, while the other makes for a lousy next day after drinking alcohol.

Knowing the signs and symptoms of each, and how to treat them can help save a life, or make it possible to crawl into work and make it through the day.

What’s the Difference Between Alcohol Poisoning and a Hangover?

Most adults that imbibe socially, people who have the occasional drink with family and friends, or sometimes throw a few back with coworkers at the office party, are familiar with the next day, morning-after hangover.

Individuals struggling with alcohol dependence or alcoholism know the condition all too well.

Alcohol poisoning, however, is a much more serious issue that carries potentially deadly consequences.

During the holiday season, or any time of the year when booze-fueled gatherings fill out the schedule, it’s important to not only monitor one’s alcohol intake, but also know the difference between a hangover and alcohol poisoning symptoms.

While a hangover is not life threatening, it’s certainly no fun. A result of too much alcohol, the body essentially goes into a state of mild withdrawal.

In most cases, ibuprofen, a lot of water and, depending on the severity of the hangover, a day in bed, can resolve the problem.

What Are the Symptoms of a Hangover?

The symptoms of a hangover induced by alcohol usually include at least a few of the following:

  • A headache that’s typically caused by dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it flushes the body’s water supply
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Weakness or tiredness
  • Decrease of attention span, ability to concentrate or irritability

The severity of hangovers vary based on a number of factors:

  • How much and how often a person drinks
  • A person’s alcohol tolerance
  • Their bodyweight
  • Whether or not they had food in their stomach before drinking

Hangover Fever

A frequent question people ask is, can a hangover cause a fever? Having a hangover fever is not something that is actually happening and might signify other health issues.

Alcohol intoxication can cause hypothermia, or a low body temperature below 95 degrees Farenheit, depending on the alcohol level. This in turn can make the body feel warm inside and cause shivering because the actual temperature decreases, giving the illusion of having a fever.

Alcohol poisoning can cause difficulties regulating body temperature and some people report feeling like they had a fever, but this would usually not be the case with a hangover. If it is, those feelings will pass the next day.

What are the Best Ways to Treat a Hangover?

The symptoms of a hangover generally only last for one day after drinking and by the second day most people feel better. There’s not much that can be done to speed things up other than riding it out. With that said, there are a few things to make most people a little more comfortable.

The best way to treat a hangover is to wait it out and try some of the following:

  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids
  • Eat healthy foods with carbs, or whole fruits and vegetables or juices
  • Go back to sleep or take naps throughout the day
  • Caffeine from tea or coffee might help reduce the grogginess
  • Pain medications like ibuprofen are recommended but avoid Tylenol or acetaminophen

On the other hand, Alcohol poisoning or, as the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism refers to it, alcohol overdose should not be mistaken for a hangover, and requires immediate medical attention.

Unlike a hangover, which typically presents the next day after a night of sleep, alcohol poisoning can occur while a person is still drinking.

What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning?

The symptoms of alcohol poisoning (alcohol overdose) usually include at least some of the following:

  • Extreme confusion, stupor
  • Completely passed out or in a coma with an inability to wake up
  • Continuous vomiting
  • Increased heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slow breathing or difficulty breathing
  • Decrease in body temperature or chills making it difficult to regulate temperature and get warm
  • Hypothermia, causing pale and bluish-colored skin
  • Severe dehydration that can potentially cause brain damage
  • Seizures

According to the Mayo Clinic, alcohol poisoning can occur even if all of the above symptoms aren’t present.

Even without the presence of seizures, for example, a comatose person in alcohol overdose has no gag reflex and can suffocate on their own vomit if they are not monitored. Never leave someone suspected of alcohol poisoning alone and call 911 immediately.

Alcohol Poisoning Symptoms

What are the Best Ways to Treat Alcohol Poisoning?

Because alcohol poisoning is a dangerous condition, it often requires medical attention instead of waiting for the symptoms to pass like a hangover.

Follow these guidelines for alcohol poisoning treatment:

  • Call an ambulance at the first sign of alcohol poisoning or take the person to a hospital immediately
  • Provide plenty of water to rehydrate the victim and continue giving them water until medical help is available, even if they vomit
  • Ensure they are not lying on their back in case they vomit
  • Never leave an alcohol poisoning victim alone or unsupervised

Giving a person plenty of water is crucial because it will reduce the chances they become completely dehydrated.

Many people think a cold shower will revive the person and help counteract the symptoms but this is false. Do NOT give a person with alcohol poisoning a cold shower because it can increase chills and further drop their body temperature.

It is best to cover them in a warm blanket or clothing until medical help arrives or they can be transported to a hospital.

Alcohol Poisoning vs a Hangover

Binge Drinking is Dangerous

Drinking to such dangerous extremes is also sometimes a product of binge drinking, which is consuming more than five drinks in one sitting for men and four for women.

Teens and young adults are especially prone to hangovers or alcohol overdose because they have a higher tendency to binge drink alcohol and they have not developed any tolerance to drinking.

Young and inexperienced drinkers should go slow, drink a glass of water between every alcoholic beverage and make sure to eat before heading out for a night of partying.

This advice holds true for drinkers of any age and moderation is important for everyone.

Of course the best way to avoid any negative consequences of a hangover or alcohol poisoning is to abstain from drinking alcohol at all. In lieu of sobriety, a little bit of caution and vigilance will ensure that a night out with friends is enjoyable instead of tragic.


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