Does Alcohol Poisoning Go Away? How Long It Lasts

Written by Heather Lomax

& Medically Reviewed by Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN

Medically Reviewed

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Last Updated - 12/14/2023

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Updated 12/14/2023

Alcohol poisoning, or alcohol overdose, can be deadly, so it’s important to know the signs. According to the Centers for Disease Control, an average of 6 people die every day because of drinking too much in the United States. About 76% of those who die from drinking are adults aged 35–64, and 76% are men. In about 30% of these cases, the person who died struggled with alcohol use before their death. Alcohol poisoning will go away as your body metabolizes alcohol, typically within 24 hours. However, it will often be fatal before it goes away.

Key Takeaways

  • Alcohol poisoning will last about 24 hours but can have fatal effects before it resolves.
  • People’s risk of alcohol poisoning varies based on individual factors.
  • Anyone with alcohol poisoning needs immediate medical attention and will need to be hospitalized.
  • Treatment for alcohol poisoning involves treating symptoms and maintaining life until the body metabolizes alcohol. 
  • Someone who has experienced alcohol poisoning may go through withdrawal after recovery.

Does Alcohol Poisoning Go Away?

Alcohol poisoning will go away but can create lasting effects that do not. For example, if alcohol poisoning leads to low oxygen levels, these can cause permanent brain damage that lasts long after alcohol poisoning is gone. Alcohol poisoning will go away as your body metabolizes the high levels of alcohol in your blood. Until it goes away, life-saving measures may be necessary.

How Do You Get Rid of Alcohol Poisoning?

You cannot get rid of alcohol poisoning by yourself. Someone who is experiencing alcohol poisoning will need to be hospitalized to treat the symptoms it causes until your body rids itself of alcohol. For example, alcohol poisoning can make you stop breathing. A hospital can treat this by placing you on a machine that will breathe for you, but they will not be able to treat it by removing the alcohol from your blood. Your body will do that naturally over time.

Risk Factors

Some risk factors can make it more likely someone will experience alcohol poisoning. These include height and weight, general health and the amount of food consumed before drinking. A person who is smaller and weighs less than average for their gender may be more likely to get alcohol poisoning after drinking less than a larger person. If someone has a meal before drinking, it can help reduce the risk of alcohol poisoning, compared to drinking heavily on an empty stomach.

If someone combines alcohol with other drugs, they may be at a higher risk of alcohol poisoning. Additionally, alcohol tolerance levels impact the likelihood that someone will experience alcohol poisoning.

Stages & Progression of Symptoms

Alcohol poisoning signs often reflect the blood alcohol level (BAC). As the blood alcohol level rises, the signs of alcohol poisoning can increase. The BAC can continue to rise for up to 40 minutes after the last drink. 

In the early stages, alcohol poisoning signs may be hard to distinguish from signs of being drunk. However, as more alcohol gets into the bloodstream, the signs can become more serious.

Not all people will have all symptoms at each stage of increasing blood alcohol levels. Even so, more serious outcomes, like death, can occur at the lower end of the BAC range if someone isn’t used to drinking. Symptoms progress with a higher BAC:

BACSeverity of Alcohol OverdoseSymptoms
0 to 0.05%MildRelaxationSleepinessMild speech problemsMild memory and attention issuesMild coordination and balance problems
0.06 to 0.15%IncreasedAggressionVery impaired drivingIncreased risk of injuryModerate speech problemsModerate memory and attention issuesModerate coordination and balance problems
0.16 to 0.30%SevereDangerously impaired drivingDangerously impaired decision-makingBlackoutsVomitingPossible loss of consciousnessSeverely delayed reaction timeSevere speech problemsSevere memory and attention issuesSevere coordination and balance problems
0.31 to 0.45%Life-threateningLoss of consciousnessProblems maintaining vital bodily functions, such as body temperature or irregular breathing and/or heart rateHigh risk of death

Severe or Life-Threatening Alcohol Poisoning

Severe cases of alcohol poisoning require emergency medical attention. The person’s body can start to shut down, which can be deadly without treatment. When in doubt, call 911 or the National Capital Poison Center at 1-866-475-0812. While awaiting emergency assistance, there are several steps you can take to ensure safety, including:

  • Trying to keep the person awake
  • Trying to keep the person sitting up
  • Giving the person water to drink
  • Lying the person on their side if they have passed out
  • Keeping the person warm
  • Staying by the person until help arrives
  • Give CPR if their heart stops or they stop breathing

Recovering From Alcohol Poisoning

Recovering from alcohol poisoning usually takes place in the hospital. Doctors will be able to monitor the person to make sure they stay safe. Because drinking too much can make a person stop breathing, doctors may put a breathing tube in someone who is unconscious and attach them to a breathing machine. The person will also likely get an intravenous line for fluids to stay hydrated. The fluids also may contain substances to keep the person healthy during the detox process. These substances include:

  • Dextrose
  • Magnesium
  • Folate
  • Thiamine
  • Multivitamins

Other symptoms linked to alcohol overdose may also be treated. For example, if the person is vomiting, they can get anti-nausea drugs. If they are severely agitated, they can be given a sedative. Doctors will also observe the person to manage any complications of alcohol overdose that occur, like:

  • Low blood sugar
  • Blood that is too acidic
  • Low potassium
  • Low magnesium
  • Low blood protein
  • Low calcium
  • Low phosphate
  • Fluid problems
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Vein problems
  • Low body temperature
  • Low blood pressure
  • Irregular heart rhythm

Factors Affecting Recovery Time

Different factors can affect how long it takes to recover from alcohol poisoning. These include:

  • Amount used: The more someone drinks, the higher their BAC may be. It may take longer for someone with a high BAC to get rid of the alcohol than for someone with a lower BAC.
  • Frequency of use: Someone who does not drink often does not tolerate a high BAC as well as someone more used to drinking.
  • Age: Older people may have medical conditions that can make detox take longer.
  • Overall health: Someone with a healthy liver may be able to get the alcohol out of their body faster than someone with an unhealthy liver.
  • Other substances: If someone took drugs along with alcohol, it may take longer to clear both from the body.

Recovery From Alcohol Poisoning

If someone survives for 24 hours after alcohol poisoning, they will typically recover. However, the person may develop alcohol withdrawal syndrome or AWS if they stop using alcohol after the incident. To monitor for signs of withdrawal, doctors may keep the person in the hospital for 72 hours after their BAC has gone down to zero.

When someone is in the hospital for drinking too much, doctors will likely ask them questions from the CAGE questionnaire or the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, or AUDIT. These tests help the doctor figure out how much the person struggles with drinking.

Frequently Asked Questions on Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition that arises from consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short period. There are many misconceptions, however, about alcohol poisoning. It is important to fully understand the risks it includes and how it affects you.

How many hours does it take for alcohol poisoning to go away?

The duration for alcohol poisoning to subside varies significantly from person to person, depending on factors like the amount of alcohol consumed, the individual’s body weight, gender and overall health. Generally, the body metabolizes alcohol at a rate of about one standard drink per hour and a half. Alcohol poisoning will typically take up to 24 hours as your body slowly eliminates alcohol from your bloodstream.

How long do alcohol poisoning symptoms last?

Alcohol poisoning symptoms can last for several hours or even longer, depending on the severity of the intoxication. Common symptoms include confusion, vomiting, seizures, slow breathing, irregular heartbeat and hypothermia. The duration of these symptoms is influenced by the same factors that affect the overall duration of alcohol poisoning. It is important to keep in mind that alcohol poisoning can cause complications that can kill you or last your entire life.x

Can you pass away from alcohol poisoning?

Yes, alcohol poisoning can be deadly. The more alcohol you consume and the faster you drink it, the higher the risk of death. Excessive amounts of alcohol in your bloodstream can lead to serious complications such as respiratory arrest, choking, severe dehydration, hypothermia, an irregular heartbeat and coma. The danger is higher if you are unconscious or do not receive medical attention, as you may choke on your own vomit or suffer from a lack of oxygen due to depressed breathing. Prompt medical treatment is crucial to prevent fatal outcomes.

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