Alcohol Poisoning: What to Do If a Friend Has Had Too Much to Drink

More than 2,200 people die from alcohol poisoning each year in the United States—an average of six deaths each day. Alcohol poisoning is a result of consuming large quantities of alcohol in a short period of time. This results in extreme levels of alcohol in the body, which sedate critical areas of the brain responsible for controlling vital functions such as breathing, heart rate, and body temperature—resulting in death. If you are concerned a friend has had too much to drink, it is imperative you act immediately and get them medical care quickly. 

What Does Alcohol Poisoning Look Like?

Warning signs of an alcohol overdose include:

  • Mental confusion, stupor
  • Difficulty remaining conscious, or inability to wake up
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing (fewer than 8 breaths per minute)
  • Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)
  • Slow heart rate
  • Clammy skin
  • Dulled responses, such as no gag reflex (which prevents choking)
  • Extremely low body temperature, bluish skin color, or paleness

The Gordie Center at the University of Virginia advocates for the acronym PUBS.

Puking while passed out
Unresponsive to pinching or shaking
Breathing is slow, shallow, or has stopped
Skin is blue, cold, or clammy

If you see even one symptom of alcohol overdose, call 911.

Learn more about alcohol poisoning here.

What You Need to Do If You See Someone with Alcohol Poisoning

Seek help.

Call 911 or take your friend to a medical facility if you see signs of alcohol poisoning.

Stay with them.

Don’t drop off a friend and leave. Stay with the person to make sure they get the help they need.

Be watchful.

Make sure your friend doesn’t lay on their back. Keep them on their side with airways open. If your friend passes out, use the BACCHUS Maneuver (see the video below).

Be honest.

Provide medical and emergency personnel with honest answers to any questions.

Unfortunately, some students do not seek medical care for friends because they fear legal trouble for themselves or their friends. Many universities have instituted a student amnesty policy for alcohol and drug-related emergencies. This means that students can avoid university disciplinary action or having a formal disciplinary record when seeking help for an alcohol- or drug-related medical emergency. These policies cover possession and consumption of alcohol or drugs by a minor, unauthorized use of alcohol or other drugs on campus, and intoxication resulting from use of alcohol. These policies grant amnesty to the student in need of medical care, as well as the student(s) seeking care for their friend. 

Read more about Medical Amnesty and Good Samaritan Policies.

It is very important that you do not hesitate or neglect to get help because you are afraid of the consequences. The consequences of doing nothing can be much more severe for both you and your friend.