Acute Alcohol Intoxication Stages, Symptoms & Causes

Alcohol detox can be dangerous, especially if it is done without the help of a professional. Delirium Tremens and other withdrawal symptoms that may afflict the patient that is detoxing are dangerous and may even be fatal. It is advisable to detox in a rehab center where you have access to experienced professionals who can manage any complications of alcohol detox and withdrawal

Acute Alcohol Intoxication Causes

Acute alcohol intoxication is a medical emergency due to the risk of death from respiratory depression or aspiration of vomit if vomiting occurs while the person is unresponsive. Emergency treatment strives to stabilize and maintain an open airway and sufficient breathing while waiting for the alcohol to metabolize. This can be done by removal of any vomit or if the person is unconscious or has impaired gag reflex, intubation of the trachea.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an average number of alcohol poisoning deaths account for six cases each day in the US. Almost 76% of the deaths are adults ages 35 to 64, with nearly 76% of those who die being men.

Acute alcohol intoxication can occur quickly over a short amount of time due to heavy drinking or alcoholism. When a person is consuming alcohol, they might notice different symptoms. These symptoms are associated with different levels, or stages, of intoxication.

How does alcohol cause intoxication?

Alcohol Poisoning BAC

The stages of intoxication differ from person to person because they’re based on age, sex, weight, and other factors. But generally, the seven stages of alcohol intoxication and their symptoms [1] include the following:

Acute Alcohol Intoxication
Acute alcohol intoxication is when there’s too much alcohol in your blood, and it causes parts of your brain to shut down.

1. Sobriety or Low-Level Intoxication

If a person has consumed one or fewer drinks per hour, they’re considered to be sober, or low-level intoxicated.

At this stage of intoxication, the person’s behavior will be normal with no visible signs of intoxication, such as slurred speech or delayed reaction time. Their blood alcohol content (BAC), which measures how much alcohol is in the bloodstream, will be very low at 0.01 to 0.05 percent.

2. Euphoria

If a person has generally consumed two to three drinks as a man or one to two drinks as a woman in an hour, they’ll enter the euphoric stage of intoxication.

Some symptoms include:

  • An increase in chattiness and confidence
  • A delayed reaction time
  • Decreased inhibitions

Most people call this stage of intoxication being “tipsy.” A person’s BAC at this stage might range from 0.03 to 0.12 percent. Note that a BAC of 0.08 percent is the legal limit of intoxication in the United States. A person can be arrested for driving with a BAC above this limit.

3. Excitement

At this stage, a man might have consumed three to five drinks in an hour, or two to four drinks for a woman. At this time, a person will begin to experience emotional instability and a significant loss of coordination.

Other symptoms include:

  • A loss of judgment and memory
  • Vision problems
  • Loss of balance
  • Drowsiness

A person will appear visibly “drunk” at this stage. They’ll have a BAC of 0.09 to 0.25 percent.

Acute Alcohol Intoxication
Call for help immediately if you or a loved one starts to experience alcohol poisoning symptoms.

4. Confusion

If a man consumes more than five drinks or a woman more than 4 drinks in an hour, they’ll enter the next stage of intoxication: confusion. This stage of intoxication is marked by emotional outbursts and a major loss of coordination. The person may not be able to stand up, may stagger when walking, and will likely be extremely confused about what’s going on.

People in this stage of intoxication are very likely to forget things happening around or to them. They might experience alcohol blackout without actually losing consciousness and may not be able to feel pain. This makes them at risk of injury. At this stage, a person’s BAC is very high. It’ll range from 0.18 to 0.30 percent.

5. Stupor

At this stage, a person no longer responds to the things happening around or to them. A person won’t be able to stand or walk. They may completely pass out or lose control over their bodily functions, becoming incontinent or vomiting uncontrollably.

They may also experience seizures or have blue-tinged or pale skin. Their breathing and gag reflexes will likely be impaired. This stage can be very dangerous and even fatal if a person chokes on their vomit or becomes critically injured.

Any of these symptoms are signs that immediate medical attention is necessary. At this stage, a person’s BAC will range from 0.25 to 0.4 percent.

6. Coma

This stage is extremely dangerous. A person’s breathing and blood circulation will be extremely slowed. Their motor responses and gag reflexes are nonfunctional, and their body temperature drops. A person at this stage is at risk of death. Their BAC will measure 0.35 to 0.45 percent. Emergency medical attention is necessary at this point to avoid death and severe health problems.

7. Death

At a BAC of 0.45 percent or above, a person is likely to die from alcohol intoxication. It may seem like a person has to drink a lot to get to this stage. But if a person drinks very quickly, they can get to this stage before long.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates excessive alcohol use causes approximately 88,000 deaths annually in the United States. [2]

Acute Alcohol Intoxication Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Semiconsciousness
    • Arouses to verbal stimuli with a groan or mutter
    • Responds only to pain stimuli
  • Slow respirations of eight or less per minute or lapses in respiration of more than 10 seconds
  • Cold, clammy, pale or bluish skin (person not getting enough oxygen)
  • Unconsciousness
    • Unresponsive to any stimuli

In the event of acute alcohol intoxication, these signs and symptoms will most likely be accompanied by an odor of alcohol on the breath.

Acute Alcohol Intoxication Risk Factors

The standard drink in the United States contains 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. This amount of alcohol is generally found in:

  • 12 ounces of beer with a 5 percent alcohol content
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor at a 7 percent alcohol content
  • 5 ounces of wine at a 12 percent alcohol content
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor (such as rum, vodka, or whiskey) at a 40 percent alcohol content
Acute Alcohol Intoxication
Medically assisted treatment is the safest and best treatment for acute alcohol intoxication. Treating on your own might make the complications more severe without proper guidance.

Alcohol in the form of ethanol (ethyl alcohol) is found in:

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Some household products like mouthwash and cooking extracts
  • Medications

Alcohol intoxication occurs from drinking too much alcohol in a short period of time.

Some people are more at risk of alcohol intoxication than others. Factors affecting your risk of alcohol intoxication include:

  • Your body type and weight: Larger people absorb alcohol more slowly than smaller people.
  • Your health status: Having certain health issues can put you at greater risk of acute alcohol intoxication.
  • Whether or not you’ve eaten: Having food in your stomach before drinking can slow your body’s absorption of alcohol.
  • Whether you’ve combined alcohol with other drugs: Consuming certain drugs before drinking can increase your risk of acute alcohol intoxication.
  • The percentage of alcohol in your drinks: Drinks with a higher percentage of alcohol will raise your BAC more quickly than drinks with a lower percentage of alcohol.
  • Your rate and amount of alcohol consumption: Drinking many drinks quickly puts you at risk of alcohol poisoning.
  • Your level of alcohol tolerance: People who regularly drink are better able to tolerate alcohol than people who are only occasional drinkers.

Alcoholism Treatment

After an episode of acute alcohol intoxication, it takes time to recover. The person will be hospitalized until their vital signs return to normal. This may take days, up to weeks.

During the recovery period, a person may experience a depressed mood and appetite, discomfort, and memory problems. Even after a person is released from hospital care, it can take up to a month for them to feel normal again.

The good news is that it’s possible to survive alcohol intoxication if appropriate medical alcoholism treatment is given promptly.

How To Treat Alcohol Poisoning At Home

A person with acute alcohol intoxication needs immediate medical attention. If you suspect someone has alcohol poisoning, call for emergency medical help right away. It is not advisable to treat at home without medical care as alcohol poisoning can be lethal.

To help save someone from an alcohol poisoning episode, make sure you follow these steps:

  1. Call 911 or your local authorities
  2. Try your best to keep them awake
  3. Try to keep them in a sitting position
  4. If they can drink something, give them some water to prevent dehydration
  5. If they’re unconscious, put them in the recovery position or on their side
  6. Please do not give them coffee or any caffeinated beverages like sodas
  7. Do not lie them on their back
  8. Please do not give them more alcohol
  9. Do not make them walk
  10. Please do not make them throw up
Acute Alcohol Intoxication
The hand under the blanket extends to the alarm clock in the morning, with light orange.

Those suffering from addiction for long periods of time at high rates of use usually experience more severe withdrawal symptoms after acute alcohol intoxication, making the process more difficult for them. The symptoms may seem to get worse through the detox process. They need constant care and attention to help manage the symptoms. Delirium Tremens may lead to death if they are not managed well and in time.

Alcohol detox can be dangerous, especially if it is done without the help of a professional. Delirium Tremens and other withdrawal symptoms that may afflict the patient that is detoxing are dangerous and may even be fatal. It is advisable to detox in a rehab center where you have access to experienced professionals who can manage any complications of alcohol detox and withdrawal. The medically supervised detox processes allow the body to process the alcohol that is still in the system and gently wean the body off its dependence. It is the first stage of alcohol treatment and one you should seek before your addiction gets worse.

If you, your friend, or your family need help with alcoholism, contact us today here at We Level Up FL.


[1] – Stages of Acute Alcoholic Influence/Intoxication
[2-3] Alcohol Use and Your Health – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
[4] We Level Up » Addiction » Alcohol Poisoning