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Alcohol poisoning is the serious and, in some cases, deadly result of drinking excessive amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. Drinking too much too quickly can affect heart rate, breathing, body temperature, consciousness and gag reflex — potentially resulting in a coma or death.

"It's common for someone to vomit after consuming excessive amounts of alcohol because alcohol is an irritant to your stomach. This is particularly troublesome for an individual with alcohol poisoning," Saul F. Rigau, DO, Emergency Department Medical Director at Geisinger Community Medical Center, Scranton said. "Alcohol depresses the nerves that control involuntary actions like gag reflex and breathing, which prevent choking."

If someone drinks an incredibly excessive amount of alcohol, it will eventually stop these functions, which means if someone begins vomiting, their body cannot prevent itself from choking on the vomit. This can cause someone to die by asphyxiation if they're so intoxicated they're not conscious.

However, if you can recognize the signs and symptoms that someone drank so much they're at risk of alcohol poisoning, you can prevent a potential fatality.

"Common signs that someone has alcohol poisoning include confusion, slow or irregular breathing, vomiting, pale or blue-tinged skin, a low body temperature, and unconsciousness they can't be awakened from," Dr. Rigau said.

If someone passes out from drinking too much, don't confuse it with "sleeping it off" — a person's blood alcohol concentration can continue to rise even if they pass out.

"Alcohol in the stomach and intestines continue to enter the bloodstream and circulate through the body even after a person stops drinking — this is why it's so dangerous to assume someone will be fine by sleeping it off," Dr. Rigau said.

If someone with alcohol poisoning doesn't receive medical treatment, they're not only at risk of choking and asphyxiating on their vomit, but their breathing can stop, their heartbeat can become irregular or stop, and they could suffer seizures.

"The combination of excessive amounts of alcohol and vomiting can lead to severe dehydration, which can also cause seizures, brain damage or death in someone with alcohol poisoning," Dr. Rigau cautioned.

Since untreated alcohol poisoning can lead to death, it's important to seek medical help immediately even if someone doesn't exhibit all of the signs and symptoms.

"Even if alcohol poisoning doesn't lead to death, an alcohol overdose can lead to irreversible brain damage," Dr. Rigau said.

If you suspect someone has overdosed on alcohol, call 911 right away. When you call 911, you may be asked what kind or amount of alcohol the person drank and when.

"Before, during and after calling 911 and while you're waiting for emergency personnel to arrive, do not leave the person alone," Dr. Rigau said. "If they're still conscious, try to keep them awake and keep them sitting up. If they must lie down, make sure their head is turned to the side — this will help prevent choking if they start vomiting."

It can be difficult to decide if you think someone is drunk enough to seek out medical intervention, but it's best to err on the side of caution. Don't worry about getting you or your friend in trouble, even if you're underage — the consequences of not getting help in time are far more serious.