Identifying Alcohol Poisoning

For simplicity, think of your brain as having 3 layers.

  • The outside layer, the cerebrum, is the area for higher thinking. It controls things like vision, speech, fine movement, emotions and reasoning.
  • The middle layer is the cerebellum. It is the area that coordinates movement and balance.
  • Finally the deepest layer is the medulla. It controls basic survival functions, such as your gag reflex, breathing and heart rate.

When you start drinking, alcohol affects the outside layer first. People notice changes, such as blurry vision, slurred speech and heightened emotions. As your blood alcohol level rises, the effects move inward to the middle layer. Here the individual starts to lose balance and coordination. Finally, if the blood alcohol level continues to rise, the deepest layer is affected. Your gag reflex is impaired so you may choke if you vomit. Your heart rate slows and breathing becomes slow and irregular. These effects can lead to coma and even death.

To assess someone who has been drinking:

Levels of Alertness

  • 3 Person is alert and knows time, date, and location
  • 2 Person will answer questions when asked, but will not initiate speech
  • 1 Person will respond to pain such as rubbing the breastbone or pinching the earlobe by wincing, pulling away, or other nonverbal responses
  • 0 Unconscious/Unresponsive

If a person is at level 2, they need to be monitored continuously for worsening symptoms. Call Public Safety at (619) 260-2222 or locate an RA for assistance.

If a person is at level 1, they likely need to be transported to a hospital. Call Public Safety at (619) 260-2222 or 911.

If a person is at level 0, call 911 immediately. This person needs emergency medical attention.

It is dangerous to assume the person will be fine by sleeping it off. Even after a person stops drinking, alcohol in the stomach and intestines continues to enter the bloodstream and can cause a life-threatening situation.