Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention and Educational Services

Life Threatening Situations

Life-threatening signs of alcohol poisoning: 
  • Unconsciousness (passed out) 
  • Slow, shallow, or irregular breathing 
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature), bluish or pale skin color, cold or clammy 
  • Increased, decreased, or irregular pulse. Severe circulatory problems are indicated by an irregular pulse or a pulse above 100 or below 60 beats per minute
  • Vomiting while semiconscious or unconscious
  • Seizures 
Source: National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism 


If a person appears to be unconscious, try to awaken the individual by gently shaking them and calling their name, if you know it. If the person does not respond, call 911.

Check to see if the person is breathing. If not, ask someone to 911. You should take these steps while waiting for the ambulance:

  • Check to see if their airway is open.
  • If the airway is blocked, establish an airway. If breathing does not resume immediately, give artificial ventilation.
  • When paramedics arrive, share what care has been provided, the person’s condition, and the amount of alcohol consumed.
  • Don't give food or drink 
  • Don't induce vomiting
  • Don't leave the person alone
  • Place the person on their side in the recovery position to prevent choking.

Passing Out Vs. Blacking Out 
When a person loses consciousness due to consuming too much alcohol this is also referred to as "passing out." This person may appear to be sleeping, but if they can't be awakened, they are at risk of dying of alcohol poisoning if they do not obtain immediate medical help. 
Blackouts are a period of time in which an intoxicated person is not able to remember details of an entire event (complete blackout) or parts of an event (partial blackout). Blackouts occur due to alcohol interrupting the activity of the hippocampus (part of the brain that is key in forming new autobiographical memories).  Someone is more likely to blackout and experience memory impairment when they consume large amounts of alcohol at a rapid pace.