Preventing alcohol poisoning 

Alcohol passes quickly into your bloodstream. The physical and mental effects can occur very suddenly.

To avoid getting drunk and risking alcohol poisoning, it helps to be aware of how much you're drinking and the effect this could have on your body.

The effects of alcohol

Around 1-2 units

  • your heart rate will speed up and your blood vessels will expand
  • you get the warm, sociable feeling associated with moderate drinking

Around 4-6 units

  • your decision making and judgement will start to be affected, making you lose your inhibitions and become more reckless
  • the cells in your nervous system will start to be affected, making you feel lightheaded
  • your co-ordination will be affected and your reaction time may be slower

Around 8-9 units

  • your reaction times will be much slower
  • your speech will be slurred
  • your vision will begin to lose focus
  • your liver won't be able to remove all of the alcohol overnight, so it's likely you'll wake up with a hangover

At this stage you should seriously consider not drinking any more alcohol.

If you do:

Around 10-12 units

  • your co-ordination will be seriously impaired, placing you at high risk of having an accident
  • you may stagger around or feel unstable on your feet
  • you'll feel drowsy or dizzy
  • the amount of alcohol in your body will begin to reach toxic (poisonous) levels
  • you may need to go to the toilet more often as your body attempts to quickly pass the alcohol out of your body in your urine
  • you'll be dehydrated in the morning, and probably have a severe headache
  • the excess alcohol in your system may upset your digestive system, leading to nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea or indigestion

More than 12 units

  • you're at high risk of developing alcohol poisoning, particularly if you're drinking lots of units in a short space of time
  • the alcohol can begin to interfere with the automatic functions of your body, such as your breathing, heart rate and gag reflex
  • you're at risk of losing consciousness

Tips for drinking less

Below is some advice about how to drink less alcohol and avoid getting alcohol poisoning.

  • Replace some of your drinks with non-alcoholic or low-alcohol drinks.
  • If you drink mainly when you go out, try going out later or having your first drink later.
  • If you drink mainly at home, buy non-alcoholic or low-alcohol alternatives.
  • Buy smaller glasses and be careful about how much you pour.
  • If you drink pints in the pub or cans of beer, remember lower-strength lagers and beers are available.
  • If you use alcohol to 'wind down' after a hard day, find alternatives, such as exercise classes or relaxation techniques.
  • Avoid drinking on an empty stomach.
  • Don't mix different alcoholic drinks, such as beer with wine, or spirits with beer.

Keeping a drink diary

If you're not sure how much you're drinking on a daily basis, try keeping a drink diary. Every day make a note of:

This should give you a good idea of how much you're drinking, the situations in which you drink and where you could start to cut down.

Tips on cutting down on alcohol

Practical tips on how you can reduce your alcohol intake and the associated health benefits

Page last reviewed: 23/06/2014

Next review due: 23/06/2016