Alcohol Poisoning in Children

Alcohol poisoning is a serious and life-threatening condition that results from consuming too much ethanol, the type of alcohol found in drinks and other household products. The danger of alcohol poisoning probably calls to mind young people doing too many shots for their 21st birthdays, but the truth is that it can happen to anyone at any age, including children. Because they are smaller than adults, children can become seriously ill with much smaller quantities of alcohol. Know how to keep alcohol out of children’s hands, understand the signs of alcohol poisoning and be prepared to get help.

What Is Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning is very serious and results from drinking too much alcohol in a period of time that is too short to allow the body to metabolize it. Ethanol, also known as ethyl alcohol, is the culprit when it comes to alcohol poisoning. The body absorbs ethanol quickly, but it takes a long time to metabolize, or eliminate it. The liver is the main processing organ for alcohol and it takes one hour to metabolize one drink’s worth of ethanol. For adults, one drink is one 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor. When a child consumes that much alcohol, the impacts on the body are greater and alcohol poisoning can occur more rapidly.

How Are Children Vulnerable to Alcohol Poisoning?

There are several ways children can accidentally poison themselves with alcohol. Kids may try beverages that adults leave sitting around, for instance. The greatest risk of this occurrence is at parties when kids may have access to multiple half-empty cocktails or glasses of wine. Poison centers and emergency rooms see these types of accidental poisonings on a regular basis.

It’s not just alcoholic drinks, however, that pose a risk to kids. There are many household products that contain ethanol. You may not think much of them, but children sometimes try to drink these products and may end up with alcohol poisoning as a result. Because of its palatable flavor, mouthwash is particularly dangerous. Other products to watch out for include hand sanitizer, cold medicine, extracts used in cooking, perfumes and colognes and certain cleaning products. 

What Are the Signs of Alcohol Poisoning?

If you suspect your child has ingested alcohol in any amount, call a poison center right away. If he is showing any signs of alcohol poisoning, get him to an emergency room or call 911 immediately. Children can die from this condition. Signs of alcohol poisoning include the appearance of drunkenness, labored and slow breathing, confusion, vomiting, seizures, blue skin, a low body temperature and loss of consciousness. Never leave an unconscious child alone. He may vomit while unconscious and choke. This can hinder breathing and cause death. 

How to Prevent Child Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning in a child is a terrifying prospect; fortunately, preventing it requires just a little effort on your part. Make sure that alcoholic drinks are always out of reach. Keep them in a locked cabinet to be absolutely sure your child cannot get to them. When having a drink yourself, or when you’re at a party, be aware of your child and ask adult guests to be careful with their drinks. Pour out any unfinished and abandoned drinks.

Also, keep household products that contain alcohol, like mouthwash, out of reach. Finally, talk to your kids about the dangers of drinking alcohol and products that are not designed to be used as drinks. The more you educate your child, the lower the risk that he will experiment with dangerous substances.