Children Can Get Alcohol Poisoning From Leftover Drinks

Leftover drinks and even the alcohol in perfumes are causing more and more poisonings of children, according to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Excessive alcohol consumption isn’t safe regardless of age, but for children, the dangers are multiplied.

The increase in poisonings seen by the hospital is a warning to parents who may not think that harm can come from leaving small amounts of alcohol in glasses around the home. Alcohol poisoning is potentially fatal, so it’s not worth leaving children open to the risk. Finding out about the increase in alcohol poisoning and why children are particularly in danger helps parents understand the importance of keeping alcoholic beverages out of their reach.

Poisoning From Drinking Alcohol and Perfume

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital operates the Drug and Poison Information Center, which provides information about poisoning risks to the community. It has reported an increase in calls regarding child alcohol poisoning. This peaks during the holidays because partially consumed drinks are often left around after parties. As well as ethyl (drinking) alcohol, alcohols used in perfumes have also been the source of child poisonings. This issue is understandably worrying to parents, and they are being advised to make sure any alcoholic drinks are put away before they go to bed at night. A child getting up early in the morning could come across a potentially dangerous quantity of alcohol before adults are even awake.

Blood-Alcohol Content and Alcohol Poisoning

The effects of alcohol are largely dependent on the individual’s blood-alcohol content (BAC). This is a measure of the percentage of alcohol by volume in the individual’s blood. This ranges from less than 0.05 percent—where the individual feels relaxed but has slightly impaired speech, memory, balance and coordination—to severe impairment between 0.16 percent and 0.30 percent—where the individual will experience the same impairments more severely. At these levels, a person would be extremely dangerous behind the wheel and may vomit or lose consciousness. When the blood-alcohol level tops 0.30 percent, loss of consciousness, coma and death are possibilities.

There are several factors with the potential to impact blood-alcohol level, but the most relevant are how quickly the drinks are consumed and how much the individual consuming them weighs. In short, bigger people have more blood, and therefore the same amount of alcohol will produce a lower concentration of blood alcohol. This understandably puts children at increased risk, given their lower weight and unfamiliarity with the effects of alcohol and the relevance of speed of consumption.

Health Risks of Alcohol Poisoning

There are many ways alcohol poisoning can lead to severe harm or even death, and these are related to alcohol’s impact on the brain. The brain’s impaired ability to regulate breathing can lead to slowing the breath to dangerous levels, where breathing becomes irregular or even stops. The same effects can occur with heart rate. In addition, alcohol impacts the brain’s signaling for vital physiological responses like the gag reflex, although the substance’s impact on the stomach can still cause vomiting, leading to a danger of the drinker choking on his or her vomit while asleep. Hypothermia (very low body temperature) can occur, and a deficiency of blood sugar or even dehydration may lead to seizures, brain damage and death. The consequences of alcohol poisoning are extremely severe, so it’s important to look out for symptoms such as stupor, coma, vomiting or seizures. If this or any other symptoms occur—such as hypothermia and irregular breathing— seek medical attention immediately. Walks, cold showers, coffee and other folk remedies designed for severely drunk people either won’t work or could make things worse.

Protecting Children from Accidental Exposure

This drives home the importance of protecting children from accidental alcohol exposure. As unappealing as it may seem at the time, clearing up the aftermath of parties—at least disposing of half-finished drinks and putting bottles in an out-of-reach location—is vital. No matter how well you’ve explained the dangers to your child, it’s not worth leaving the possibility open. Rinse any partially full glasses, dispose of cans or bottles and leave any remaining open or unopened bottles of liquor in an inaccessible place. Although it might not seem necessary, you should also ensure children can’t access bottles of perfume, which are often high in alcohol content and could lead to poisoning when consumed.


Children are especially at risk from the dangers of alcohol poisoning, and the potential consequences are extremely severe. Taking steps to remove the possibility of exposure is vital to protect the health of your child and avoid a potentially fatal disaster.