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Alcohol is the most used and abused substance in the United States and one of the most used and abused substances worldwide. Alcohol is consumed in the form of ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, and is legal for adults in most countries in the world.
The effects of alcohol intoxication can differ from person to person and largely depend on the level of blood alcohol concentration, also known as blood alcohol content, or collectively abbreviated as BAC. This determines the effect that alcohol typically has on the CNS (central nervous system). Typically, a BAC of more than 0.03 constitutes the beginning of intoxication. However, those with a built-up tolerance can have a higher concentration without feeling any effects.
Depending on your BAC, you can experience various side effects that range from minor complications to more severe ones.
Here’s a breakdown of different BAC percentages along with their symptoms:
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There are several levels of drunkenness, which can be categorized into seven main types outlined below:
In the initial stage of intoxication, this level is reached when the amount of alcohol consumed is minimal, and the individual does not appear to be drunk. This stage usually occurs at a blood BAC below .01% to .04%. Typically, it takes less than one drink per hour to reach subclinical intoxication.
Euphoria is described as a heightened sense of wellbeing or an increased sense of happiness. It can be felt naturally while celebrating life achievements or due to the effects of certain mental illnesses, and it can be induced by taking other substances besides alcohol. The euphoric effects of alcohol typically occur with a BAC of around 0.5% to .07%, though it can differ based on the individual and the number of drinks consumed to reach that point.
Following a state of euphoria, the third level of drunkenness is a state of excitement. This usually occurs between .08% to .12% BAC, though it can happen much sooner or even much later for some people. It is similar to a state of euphoria, except it is typically accompanied by restlessness and excitability. At this level, an individual will almost certainly be over the legal limit allowed to operate a motor vehicle.
A state of confusion is the fourth level of drunkenness. It is usually brought on by a BAC of around 0.12% to 0.15%, which is considered the beginning stages of severe intoxication. In this state, an individual might experience general confusion, disorientation, paranoia, mood swings, and even hallucinations.
The term ‘stupor’ is often used to describe a severely intoxicated state. When an individual enters the fifth level of drunkenness, they are nearing a state of unconsciousness. At this point, speech is typically slurred or incoherent, with a near-total loss of motor abilities or control over movements, including standing or walking. A stupor is usually reached when a person has a BAC of between 0.15% to 0.30%, though this number can vary. Many people will experience near-unconsciousness at 0.20% or lower.
The sixth level of drunkenness is referred to as a coma. Any individual who enters this state has lost consciousness and could be at risk of further complications, including death. It is essential to distinguish falling asleep after drinking from entering an alcohol-induced coma. The former is common, as alcohol causes drowsiness, while the latter is serious and requires immediate medical attention. Typically, a BAC of 0.30% to 0.40% will cause an alcohol-induced coma. Few people can withstand a BAC above 0.45% without resulting in death, and the average person is unable to withstand significantly less without dying.
The seventh and final level of drunkenness is death. This results from alcohol poisoning and the body’s inability to process its effects fast enough to keep pace with the level of intoxication. Generally, BAC over 0.40% will possibly lead to death, with anything over 0.45% typically resulting in death as the body begins to shut down.
Several risk factors dictate the likelihood of alcohol intoxication, including:
Symptoms of alcohol intoxication are serious and can be life-threatening. They include:
There are several important things to know when it comes to death caused by high BAC levels. These include:
Treatment for alcohol abuse is available regardless of how severe or benign the addiction is perceived to be. There are several treatment options for alcohol addiction, which include:
If you or a loved one needs help with alcohol use, contact Addiction Group or another healthcare professional for medical advice on how to find treatment options.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC). CDC https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/pdf/bac-a.pdf
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Effects of Blood Alcohol Concentration. NHTSA. https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/drunk-driving#:~:text=At%20a%20BAC%20of%20.,08%20or%20higher.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help. NIAAA. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/treatment-alcohol-problems-finding-and-getting-help.