CausesBy Mayo Clinic staff
Alcohol comes in several forms, including:
- Isopropyl alcohol, which is found in rubbing alcohol, lotions and some cleaning products
- Methanol, a common ingredient in antifreeze, paints and solvents
- Ethanol, which is found in alcoholic beverages, mouthwash and some medications
Although alcohol poisoning can occur when you accidentally — or even intentionally — drink household products containing alcohol, alcohol poisoning generally results from drinking too many alcoholic beverages, especially in a short period of time.
How much is too much?
Unlike food, which can take hours to digest, alcohol is absorbed quickly by your body — long before most other nutrients. But, it takes a lot more time for your body to get rid of the alcohol you've consumed.
Most alcohol is processed by your liver, and it takes about one hour for your liver to process (metabolize) the alcohol in one drink. One drink is defined as 12 ounces (355 milliliters) of beer, 5 ounces (148 milliliters) of wine or 1.5 ounce (44 milliliters) of 80-proof distilled spirits. Mixed drinks may contain more than one serving of alcohol and take even longer to metabolize.
The rate at which alcohol is processed can vary considerably from person to person and depends on a number of factors. In general, though, drinking more than one drink an hour gives your liver more than it can handle. Binge drinking — usually defined as rapidly downing five drinks or more in a row — is especially dangerous. Drinking large quantities of alcohol so quickly means that you can consume a lethal dose before you pass out.
What happens to your body when you drink?
Alcohol depresses the nerves that control involuntary actions such as breathing, heartbeat and your gag reflex, which keeps you from choking. Drinking too much alcohol can slow and, in some cases, shut down these functions. Your body temperature can also drop (hypothermia), leading to cardiac arrest. And your blood sugar level can fall low enough to cause seizures.
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