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Alcohol poisoning, sadly a New Year’s Eve tradition for some

The most exciting evening of the year is coming and we start celebrating hours, even days before.  Champagne, beer, vodka, rum…you won’t find a venue without it.  Unfortunately the pace at which alcohol is consumed can be just as deadly as the quantity.  What you read below may be difficult to swallow, but its necessary to know to stay healthy.

What is acute alcohol intoxication?

Simply put, its alcohol poisoning.  Alcohol consumed in high quantities and at too fast a pace will disrupt metabolic processes in the body.  A healthy human body will break down alcohol at a rate of 1 oz per hour.  So if the average shot glass contains 0.6 – 1.5 oz of alcohol and someone does 4 shots in one sitting, math dictates that the body will not be able to keep up.  Whatever the liver does not metabolize continues to circulate in the body.  As a defense mechanism, your gut may try to throw it up, which is why vomiting is a red flag of acute alcohol intoxication.  Alcohol is additionally a sedative so respiratory rate can drop, to the point of causing the drinker to become unconscious.  Slow respiration, and high alcohol blood content will cause drinkers to have impaired brain function (loss of memory, acting confused) and dilation of blood vessels.  This can hypoperfuse certain organs as your body tries to preserve blood flow to the heart and brain, thus giving a the drinker a pale, clammy look.

How much alcohol is safe to drink?

The CDC website states the following:

A standard drink is equal to 14.0 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol. Generally, this amount of pure alcohol is found in

  • 12-ounces of beer (5% alcohol content).
  • 8-ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content).
  • 5-ounces of wine (12% alcohol content).
  • 1.5-ounces or a “shot” of 80-proof (40% alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, whiskey).

  Women metabolize alcohol differently from men, so they are encouraged to drink less.

According to the National Institute on alcohol abuse and alcoholism, a man should drink no more than 2 standard drinks a day and for women, no more than 1.

Binge Drinking” is defined as 4 or more drinks (woman) or 5 or more drinks (man) in a 2 hour period.


What if I’m taking medication? Can I still drink?

There is no official list of what medications can be swigged with alcohol.  Many sources will say “Tylenol” however one’s liver may not agree as both acetaminophen (its key ingredient) and alcohol may cause liver disease.  We suggest to speak with your medical provider first before drinking.

The National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism provides this list of medications that could produce serious side effects when mixed with alcohol (even during the same night).  For example NSAIDS ( non steroidal antiinflammatories, such as ibuprofen, could increase risk of GI Bleed.

How much alcohol is toxic to the body?

Any amount of alcohol can be toxic to the body depending on their baseline health and how their body metabolizes alcohol.  One drink has even been linked to cancer of the throat and/or GI tract.  So we don’t have an official “safe level” of alcohol to consistently promote.  How we determine ranges of toxicity depends on one’s Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) which can be measured.

The following tables come from the University of Notre Dame, Student Well-Being McDonald Center…….

BAC-Specific Effects

BAC Level Generalized Dose Specific Effects
0.020-0.039% No loss of coordination, slight euphoria, and loss of shyness. Relaxation, but depressant effects are not apparent.
0.040-0.059% Feeling of well-being, relaxation, lower inhibitions, and sensation of warmth. Euphoria. Some minor impairment of judgment and memory, lowering of caution.
0.06-0.099% Slight impairment of balance, speech, vision, reaction time, and hearing. Euphoria. Reduced judgment and self-control. Impaired reasoning and memory.
0.100-0.129% Significant impairment of motor coordination and loss of good judgment. Speech may be slurred; balance, peripheral vision, reaction time, and hearing will be impaired.
0.130-0.159% Gross motor impairment and lack of physical control. Blurred vision and major loss of balance. Euphoria is reducing and beginning dysphoria (a state of feeling unwell)
0.160-0.199% Dysphoria predominates, nausea may appear. The drinker has the appearance of a sloppy drunk.
0.200-0.249% Needs assistance in walking; total mental confusion. Dysphoria with nausea and vomiting; possible blackout.
0.250-0.399% Alcohol poisoning. Loss of consciousness.
0.40% + Onset of coma, possible death due to respiratory arrest.

Estimating Blood Alcohol Level (Based on Weight) – Males

Weight 1 drink 2 drinks 3 drinks 4 drinks 5 drinks 6 drinks 7 drinks 8 drinks 9 drinks 10 drinks
100 lbs .043 .087 .130 .174 .217 .261 .304 .348 .391 .435
125 lbs .034 .069 .103 .139 .173 .209 .242 .278 .312 .346
150 lbs .029 .058 .087 .116 .145 .174 .203 .232 .261 .290
175 lbs .025 .050 .075 .100 .125 .150 .175 .200 .225 .250
200 lbs .022 .043 .065 .087 .108 .130 .152 .174 .195 .217
225 lbs .019 .039 .058 .078 .097 .117 .136 .156 .175 .195
250 lbs .017 .035 .052 .070 .087 .105 .122 .139 .156 .173

Estimating Blood Alcohol Level (Based on Weight) – Females

Weight 1 drink 2 drinks 3 drinks 4 drinks 5 drinks 6 drinks 7 drinks 8 drinks 9 drinks 10 drinks
100 lbs .050 .101 .152 .203 .253 .304 .355 .406 .456 .507
125 lbs .040 .080 .120 .162 .202 .244 .282 .324 .364 .404
150 lbs .034 .068 .101 .135 .169 .203 .237 .271 .304 .338
175 lbs .029 .058 .087 .117 .146 .175 .204 .233 .262 .292
200 lbs .026 .050 .076 .101 .126 .152 .177 .203 .227 .253
225 lbs .022 .045 .068 .091 .113 .136 .159 .182 .204 .227
250 lbs .020 .041 .061 .082 .101 .122 .142 .162 .182 .202

Time Factor Table

Time is the only factor to lower one’s Blood Alcohol Content. Coffee, cold showers, etc… are all myths.

Hours since first drink 1 2 3 4 5 6
Subtract from blood alcohol level .015 .030 .045 .060 .075 .090


A Happy New Year should also be a Healthy New Year.  So be warm, dry, safe and have fun!!

Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network and Board Certified Family Physician



Nationally Syndicated Radio Host, Board Certified Family Medicine Physician, Assistant Professor Touro University Nevada

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