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Weekend Sip Tip: poison vs overdose

Have you ever wondered...

Why is it called alcohol poisoning rather than an alcohol overdose?   CHEW investigates!

WebMD says:

Overdoses of drugs or chemicals can be either accidental or intentional. Drug overdoses occur when a person takes more than the medically recommended dose. However, some people may be more sensitive to certain medications so that the high end of the therapeutic range of a drug may be toxic for them.

Illicit drugs, used to get high, may be taken in overdose amounts when a person's metabolism cannot detoxify the drug fast enough to avoid unintended side effects.

Exposure to chemicals, plants, and other toxic substances that can cause harm are called poisonings. The higher the dose or the longer the exposure, the worse the poisoning. Two examples are carbon monoxide poisoning and mushroom poisoning.

Any idea where alcohol falls in the definition above?

The Mayo Clinic says:

Alcohol poisoning is a serious — and sometimes deadly — consequence of drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. Drinking too much too quickly can affect your breathing, heart rate and gag reflex and potentially lead to coma and death.

Binge drinking — rapidly downing five or more drinks in a row — is a main cause of alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning can also occur when you accidentally or intentionally drink household products that contain alcohol.

NIH says:
In a recent study, the NIH uses the term "alcohol and drug overdose" when speaking of hospitalizations of college students for this issue.  NIH saw a dramatic increase in hospitalizations for these issues, either alone or combined, between 1998-2008.  They had this to say: "Alcohol overdoses alone caused 29,000 hospitalizations, combined alcohol and other drug overdoses caused 29,000, and drug overdoses alone caused another 114,000. The cost of these hospitalizations now exceeds $1.2 billion per year just for 18-24-year-olds. "

And when we compare the symptoms, here's what we see:

Overdose Symptoms
  • Problems with vital signs (temperature, pulse rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure) are possible and can be life threatening. Vital sign values can be increased, decreased, or completely absent.
  • Sleepiness, confusion, and coma are common and can be dangerous if the person breathes vomit into the lungs (aspirated).
  • Skin can be cool and sweaty, or hot and dry.
  • Chest pain is possible and can be caused by heart or lung damage. Shortness of breath may occur. Breathing may get rapid, slow, deep, or shallow.
  • Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are possible. Vomiting blood, or blood in bowel movements, can be life threatening.
  • Specific drugs can damage specific organs, depending on the drug.
Alcohol Poisoning Symptoms
  • Confusion, stupor
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing (less than eight breaths a minute)
  • Irregular breathing (a gap of more than 10 seconds between breaths)
  • Blue-tinged skin or pale skin
  • Low body temperature (hypothermia)
  • Unconsciousness ("passing out"), and can't be roused
*The corresponding colors indicate matching symptoms.*

To answer our question, it seems to depend on who's dong the talking/writing.  Mostly, we've found "alcohol poisoning" to be the most commonly used phrase for drinking too the point of death or near death.  Yet, we're still not sure if there's a legitimate difference to why it's called poisoning instead of an overdose based on what we've seen defined and explained in the symptoms.  What do you think it should be called and why?

And no matter what it's called, if you ever see someone exhibiting the symptoms above, call for help and use this maneuver to try to keep them safe.

Information taken from WebMD, Mayo Clinic, and NIH websites