June 20, 2024

South West News

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How to spot the signs of alcohol poisoning and what to do next – Bristol-based Priory expert issues pre-Christmas advice

  • Dangerous levels of drinking become normalised during festive season, with increased risk of fatal alcohol poisoning
  • Addiction and substance misuse expert issues guidance ahead of Christmas season
  • Excessive drinking over time can lead to alcohol use disorder (AUD) – more than a third of enquiries about Priory’s alcohol addiction programme in the South West last year were from Bristol area


A leading Bristol-based addiction expert from Priory – the UK’s leading independent provider of mental health and addiction rehabilitation services – has issued guidance about the signs of alcohol poisoning ahead of the forthcoming festive season, when excessive alcohol consumption is often normalised.

Dr Radu Iosub, a consultant psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Bristol, who specializes in substance misuse, says: “Christmas is a time when many of us like to gather and celebrate with family, friends and work colleagues. As a result, at this time more than at any other, excessive alcohol consumption is more prevalent and even normalised, despite the fact it can in some cases lead to devasting consequences.”


Research[i] shows cases of alcohol poisoning increase at this time of year and correlate with an increase in the sales of alcohol. Worryingly, every 1% increase in sales of spirits, correlates to a 0.4% increase in the cases of fatal alcohol poisoning. Yet many people remain unaware of the severity of the condition or the signs and symptoms to look out for.


Dr Iosub is keen to highlight how alcohol poisoning can exhibit a range of symptoms that will typically progress in severity and encourages us all to be vigilant when celebrating over the Christmas period. These can include:


  1. Confusion and Disorientation: Initially, a person might display confusion, slurred speech, and impaired coordination.
  2. Vomiting: Nausea and vomiting are common.
  3. Hypothermia or Hyperventilation: The body temperature may drop (hypothermia) or breathing may become rapid and shallow (hyperventilation).
  4. Loss of Consciousness: As alcohol levels rise, the person might become unconscious or unresponsive.
  5. Seizures: In severe cases, seizures may occur due to the impact of alcohol on the brain.
  6. Slow or Irregular Breathing: Breathing can become slow, irregular, or even stop, leading to life-threatening situations.


While symptoms of alcohol poisoning can vary from person to person, the severity of symptoms correlates with the blood alcohol concentration and that is generally a measure of the amount of alcohol consumed. Severe symptoms such as  loss of consciousness, unresponsiveness, seizures or breathing difficulties can occur suddenly and, importantly, without warning. In such cases, urgent medical attention is required.


Dr Iosub adds: “Alongside the direct physical health risks associated with alcohol poisoning, there is an increased risk of misadventure, accidents and harm caused by incoordination and a risk of impulsive and erratic behaviours.

“Ultimately, I would strongly advise people to take steps to avoid alcohol consumption if they’re at risk of excessive drinking. Don’t drink to excess just because others around you are doing so. Everyone has their own limits. It is much better to remove yourself from dangerous situations than regret the consequences later,” adds Dr Iosub.


Furthermore, Dr Iosub highlights how a pattern of problematic drinking over a longer period of time is likely to progress to an alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Last year, 38% of people who enquired about Priory’s alcohol addiction treatment programme in the South West region were from Bristol[ii].


AUD can have significant repercussions on health, relationships, and day-to-day life. Research[iii] outlines criteria to identify problematic drinking patterns and, according to Dr Iosub, recognizing these signs is crucial to addressing potential issues related to alcohol consumption:


  1. Losing control over your drinking: This could mean finding it hard to stop after a few drinks, frequently drinking more than intended, unsuccessful attempts to cut down, or spending a lot of time obtaining or recovering from alcohol’s effects.

Example: Going out intending to have just one drink but ending up having several more, or regularly planning to drink less but consistently exceeding the intended limit.


  1. Alcohol takes priority: This might involve neglecting responsibilities, hobbies, or relationships due to drinking, or continuing to drink despite knowing it causes problems.


  1. Physiological Changes: This includes needing more alcohol to feel its effects, experiencing withdrawal symptoms, or alcohol becoming necessary for normal functioning.


Dr Iosub concludes: “Whether you’ve been experiencing disabling hangovers, alcohol poisoning or if you or people around you are worried about your level of alcohol consumption, it may be time to consider your relationship with alcohol. Addiction is insidious, it creeps up on you. The sooner you take steps to address this, the easier it will be in the long term.”


People suffering from alcohol poisoning require urgent medical treatment. If you are supporting someone with alcohol poisoning call 999 immediately. For people wanting to address harmful drinking habits, GPs can offer advice on appropriate treatment, while Priory offers free addiction assessment consultations and outpatient therapy services at Priory Hospital Bristol and Priory Wellbeing Centre Bristol.


[i] Poikolainen, Kari et al. 2002

[ii]  Findings based on enquiries where clients were willing to share their location in line with GDPR

[iii] The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5)