Alcohol poisoning can happen to anyone; danger signs to watch for

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PHOENIX -- Since the coroner determined that singer Amy Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning -- her blood-alcohol limit was five times the legal limit to drive -- the spotlight has been on the potential dangers of alcohol.

Winehouse's father said he fought to help her get clean, but her ongoing struggle with drug and alcohol addiction was well-known. When the coroner concluded late last month that the singer "died as unintended consequence of drinking too much alcohol," few were surprised, but alcohol poisoning does not affect only alcoholics.

As Dr. Art Mollen explained to Kaley O'Kelley Tuesday morning, alcohol poisoning can happen to anyone. It occurs when somebody drinks a lot of alcohol in a short period of time -- too much too fast.

The body can only process so much at once. Alcohol is absorbed much faster than food, but it takes considerably longer for your body to get rid of it. It takes a healthy liver about an hour to metabolize the alcohol in a single drink -- 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, of 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits. Keeping that in mind, mixed drinks or "a glass" of beer or wine might be more than one serving of alcohol.

According to the Mayo Clinic, drinking too much too fast can affect your body in several ways, including your breathing, your heart rate and your gag reflex. It can even lead to coma and death.

Binge drinking, pounding five or more drinks in a row, is a common cause of alcohol poisoning, according to the Mayo Clinic. Ingesting alcohol from medications and mouthwash can also lead to alcohol poisoning, especially when combined with alcoholic beverages.

Many people don't realize that alcohol continues to be released into the bloodstream for several hours after a person stops drinking. That means his or her blood-alcohol level continues to rise, possibly to dangerous levels.

Although it generally takes the liver about an hour to deal with one drink, everybody metabolizes alcohol differently. Factors in how your body handles it include age, gender, size and weight, overall health, food consumption, drug use, type of alcohol, tolerance level and the rate at which you're drinking.

Alcohol poisoning is a serious condition that requires emergency medical treatment, including oxygen therapy and IV fluids and nutrients both for rehydration and to help head off potential complications.

Not only is serious alcohol poisoning fatal, less severe cases can cause irreversible brain damage.

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include confusion, vomiting, seizures, slow and/or irregular breathing, pale skin, low body temperature and unconsciousness.

If you suspects somebody has alcohol poisoning, call 911, especially if the person is unconscious. You cannot "sleep off" alcohol poisoning. If the person is conscious, do not induce vomiting. Because alcohol affects the gag reflex, the person could choke of inhale vomit into the lungs, which can be deadly.

Mollen's practice is located at 16100 N. 71st St. in Scottsdale. For more information call 480-656-0016 or log onto www.drartmollen.com.

Coming up this weekend ...

Join Dr. Art Mollen and members of the 3TV family for a unique road race through the heart of the city to benefit a cause close to our hearts -- wiping out childhood obesity.

The 3TV Phoenix 10K has grown in popularity since it humble beginnings 36 years ago.

>>> Learn more about the 3TV Phoenix 10K