Alcohol has the potential to depress the central nervous system and in particular the brain. It has the potential when taken in excessive quantities to severely impair all physical and mental functions and a casualty can slip into a deep level of unconsciousness. Sadly many people die as a result of misdiagnosis; however a first aider can play a pivotal role in preventing this.

It is a priority to be able to spot the symptoms of alcohol poisoning, as this could ultimately prove the difference between life and death. Look out for any of the following symptoms.

  • Smell of of alcohol
  • Evidence of alcohol bottles / cans
  • Semi unconsciousness - may only respond when heavily shaken
  • Noisier than usual breathing
  • Bounding pulse

Not all of these symptoms will necessarily be present, and some may be milder than others.

There is a risk of death in the latter stages of alcohol poisoning and it can help to look out for any of the following symptoms during this phase:

  • Weak breathing
  • Dilated pupils
  • Dry and bloated face
  • Weakening pulse

It is essential to dial 999 in these circumstances at the earliest possible opportunity, stating your location and the circumstances.

The next step after diagnosis is to try and treat the casualty. There are 3 main aims during this process:

  1. To maintain an open airway
  2. Treat any underlying conditions
  3. Seek help of the emergency services (if required)

When conscious (responsive) a casualty should be kept warm and their vital signs (responsiveness, pulse, breathing rate) should be monitored. The head to toe survey should be performed to ascertain if they have any injuries. Pay particular attention to the head as they may have fallen as a result of the condition. Do not leave them until they recover, or until they are handed to someone who can check on them regularly.

Life saved after first aid course

When unconscious it is essential to open the airway and to regularly check on the casualty’s breathing. The recovery position is very useful in these circumstances as it will ensue that the airway remains open; however apply caution when the casualty has an associated head or spinal injury. Be prepare to administer life saving cardiopulmonary resuscitation(CPR) at any point when the casualty stops breathing, and of course always ensure to contact the emergency services.