Drunkenness, which is officially known as intoxication, occurs when someone has consumed alcohol excessively. The process of being drunk consists of several stages, with an initial buzz being felt all the way to potentially dangerous levels of unconsciousness in the worst-case scenario.

Being aware of these stages of drunkenness, as well as how alcohol affects you individually is essential for those who drink alcohol to do it responsibly.

What’s more, it’s also important to be aware of the stages of drunkenness if you are regularly around people who drink to ensure that they are safe. Here, we explore everything you need to know as well as how to recognise when an alcohol intervention is needed and what you can do.

The Physiology of Alcohol

When an individual consumes alcohol, also known as ethanol, it is absorbed into the body’s bloodstream from the stomach and small intestine. Once in the bloodstream, it then travels around the body – causing several effects. The liver will try to metabolise it but not all of the alcohol can be metabolised and there is also a limit on how much the liver can process every hour. When the amount of alcohol in the body exceeds how much and how fast the liver can metabolise, this is when the rate of blood alcohol consumption (BAC) will begin to rise.

Alcohol is also classed as a depressant which means it affects the central nervous system, slowing down brain function and impacting processes including thinking, judgement and motor skills to name a few. This is why some people find that their speech and reactions are slower after drinking alcohol.

The 5 Stages of Drunkenness

It is important to remember that alcohol affects everyone differently and can affect people differently, even when they think they know how well they can tolerate alcohol. What’s more, the amount drank, the type of alcohol being consumed and a series of other factors can vary in drunkness that is experienced. Below we’ve rounded up the most common types of reactions to alcohol consumption, based on the rate that BAC levels rise:

  • BAC 0.03% – 0.12% – At first, once someone has drunk alcohol, they may feel like their mood has improved, more confident, and with a short attention span. They may also have a flushed appearance. During this initial stage of alcohol consumption, inhibitions can be lowered and judgement can begin to be impaired.
  • BAC 0.09% – 0.25% – At this stage of alcohol consumption, individuals can suffer from emotional mood swings, slurred speech, drowsiness and impaired vision and coordination. All of these side effects of drinking alcohol can mean injury or accident are at risk. Some people may also experience emotional or aggressive reactions as a result of their rational thinking being impaired.
  • BAC 0.18% – 0.30% – As BAC levels rise, emotions and feelings can become exaggerated including both happiness and sadness and individuals may feel dizzy. An inability to feel pain and also blurred vision can occur. This means that the risk of accident or injury is even greater, including alcohol blackouts.
  • BAC 0.25% – 0.40% – Individuals with BAC levels between this range are usually unable to stand or walk, can be unresponsive and are likely to be vomiting. These symptoms of alcohol consumption are hugely risky and include aspiration on vomit, and respiratory failure and they can even be life-threatening.
  • BAC 0.35% – 0.45% – The most dangerous level of BAC in the body can cause unconsciousness, a slower heart rate, respiratory failure, respiratory arrest and even death.

How to Avoid Getting Drunk

If you are concerned about getting drunk, or you’re worried about a friend or family member, there are steps you can take or advise them to take that will ensure a more responsible drinking experience. This includes:

  • Know your limits: While this will be different for everyone, it’s important to understand how many drinks you can tolerate and put steps in place to not suppress that.
  • Pace yourself: You should try not to have more than one drink per hour. Skipping rounds and also having a soft drink between alcoholic beverages can help.
  • Stay hydrated: Another reason to drink water between alcoholic drinks is that it helps to reduce the side effects of alcohol, and prevents dehydration the next day.
  • Eat before drinking: Like water, food slows down the absorption of alcohol which again doesn’t only just reduce the effect of alcohol but will help you to recover.
  • Avoid binge drinking: We know that consuming a large amount of alcohol over a short period of time can quickly increase the BAC levels in someone’s body, and the higher the BAC levels the more dangerous the symptoms are. Therefore, remember to pace yourself to prevent the potential dangers of binge drinking from happening.

How to Help Someone Who is Heavily Intoxicated

If you are looking after a friend or family member who is heavily intoxicated, it is your priority to make sure that they are safe. If you are worried about them, it is important to get them emergency help. In the first instance though, try these tips:

  • Stay calm: Stay with the person and let them know you’re here to help them, speaking in a calm voice and having a calm demeanour.
  • Keep them awake: It’s important to keep them alert so talk to them and keep waking them up if they’re slurring and drowsy.
  • Prevent further drinking: Take away any alcoholic beverages from their reach and offer them water. While it’s important to keep them hydrated, be sure that they’re in a position where they won’t choke such as lying on their side or sitting up.
  • Ensure safety: Be sure that they are safe and keep them away from potential dangers like water, the road, and driving.

If someone is unconscious, is showing signs of difficulty breathing or you are concerned about their welfare, it’s important to call emergency services immediately.

When to Seek Help

Knowing the signs and symptoms of alcohol consumption is essential for responsible drinking but also so that you can help a friend or family member if they are ever in need. What’s more, spotting the signs of alcoholism is also important. This includes drinking excessive amounts of alcohol regularly, having an increased tolerance of alcohol, neglecting responsibilities for alcohol, struggling to stop drinking alcohol and experiencing withdrawal symptoms without it. If you or someone you know is suffering from these alcohol addiction signs, getting help is essential.

At Addiction Advocates that’s exactly where our team comes in. Offering guidance, treatment options, and essential resources and support, we help individuals and their families to get their life back on track after addiction while navigating the path to recovery at one of our alcohol rehab centres. If you have any questions or want to know how we help you, our friendly team would be delighted to help – call today on 0800 012 6088.