Alcohol Poisoning Versus a Hangover – Is There a Difference?
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 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.
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
- 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
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 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, inability to wake up or coma
- Continuous vomiting
- Increased heart rate and lowered blood pressure
- Slow breathing or difficulty breathing
- Decreased body temperature and/or chills making it difficult to regulate temperature and get warm
- Hypothermia, causing paleness and bluish skin color
- Severe dehydration that can potentially cause seizures and brain damage
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.
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.
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.
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 can keep the holidays festive instead of tragic.
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