Causes of alcohol poisoning
After the alcohol has been absorbed orally, a good 20% of it is absorbed in the stomach, the remaining 80% only in the following small intestine. Alcohol is the colloquial term for ethanol. There are many different alcohols, which can always be recognized by the compound -OH in the molecular formula.
However, only ethanol is the classic “drinking alcohol”. Methanol, for example, is also an alcohol, but excessive consumption leads to blindness. The drinking alcohol “ethanol” is absorbed through the mucous membranes of the stomach and small intestine and thus enters the bloodstream.
Fatty food before drinking alcohol makes absorption more difficult, but does not prevent it. This means that there is only a delayed, slower absorption. On the other hand, carbonic acid, as in Prosecco, accelerates the absorption of alcohol, as the blood circulation of the digestive tract is stimulated and accelerated.
Once the alcohol has entered the bloodstream, it is metabolized in the liver. The liver – anatomically speaking – is located upstream of the heart within the bloodstream and filters foreign matter from the blood. It uses various enzymes for this purpose: alcohol is first broken down by alcohol dehydrogenase to form Ehtanal.
Ethanal is converted to acetic acid by another enzyme. Acetic acid is then distributed throughout the body to produce energy. The cause of the typical “hangover symptoms” such as nausea and vomiting is ethanal, which must first be broken down slowly.
The breakdown is inhibited by sugar, by the way, so that sugary drinks such as mulled wine or cocktails cause a particularly strong hangover. Here more about the topic: Hangover after alcohol – What to do? Ethanol causes a wide range of harmful physical effects.
Almost all organs and compartments of the body are affected. The cause of fatal alcohol poisoning is usually a combination of paralysis of the respiratory muscles and the respiratory centre in the brain, as well as paralysis of the heart muscles. As alcohol dilates the blood vessels, a sensation of warmth is felt in advanced stages.
Peripheral blood vessels are also dilated, so that the body core temperature falls. If the body temperature falls below 32 degrees, a so-called cold diastotic occurs, in which the patient continues to undress due to a subjective sensation of warmth. Sometimes the greatest danger of alcohol poisoning is therefore hypothermia.
Furthermore, in the stage of unconsciousness, suffocation by vomiting can occur. When the swallowing muscles slacken, vomit can flow from the oesophagus via the throat into the windpipe. There it obstructs the airways and the patient suffocates.
It is therefore important to place unconscious persons in a stable lateral position. In principle, the aim is to bring the stomach, from its position, higher than the mouth. To put it in extreme terms: you could also hang an unconscious person upside down from a tree by his feet, the danger of aspiration would be zero. However, this would probably not contribute to the patient’s cooperation when he or she wakes up again.