What Is Acute Alcoholism?

What Is Acute Alcoholism?

A lot of people get confused about what alcoholism really is. Usually, acute alcoholism is referred to as a more severe form or an extreme type of alcohol dependency where drinking has turned into a disease that can be regarded as really life-threatening.

This article attempts to understand and provide information about acute alcoholism with the hope that it will help those who are suffering from this condition to understand it better and improve their health status or deal with it if they are already undergoing treatment in an appropriate way.

If you are on this page, chances are that you are looking for more information about alcoholism. You may have seen information about problematic signs of drinking or the stages of alcoholism. The term “Acute Alcoholism” could lead us to make a quick judgement about what it means.

Acute alcoholism is a bit different than the stages of alcoholism. Acute alcoholism is talking about the level of intoxication that happens from drinking a large amount of alcohol.

For example, acute alcoholism could be referring to a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) after an episode of binge drinking.

Having an understanding of acute alcoholism can help you better understand different regulations and laws related to a person’s BAC, such as driving or operating a motor vehicle.

There is a common set of physical consequences to heavy drinking which can be noticeable to the person intoxicated and those around them.

Other information that can be informative is the differences between how men’s and women’s bodies process alcohol differently. This can lead to differences between levels of intoxication and their level of impairment.

An overall recommendation for those who do drink, is to drink in moderation. Drinking in moderation would decrease a person’s risk for acute alcoholism and other concerns associated with a higher BAC level.

What Is a Safe Amount of Alcohol?

As many people know, there is no safe level of alcohol consumption. Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy and the number itself depends on a large range of factors.

Everyone processes alcohol differently so one person may be impaired at .02% while another may not show any signs until they reach .12%.


When someone is struggling with drinking or has a loved one that they are concerned about it is normal to do some research. Learning as much as you can be helpful in recognizing behaviors that are concerning.

One thing that may become obvious when doing research into alcoholism, is the variety of terms used to describe the different stages of alcoholism. Acute alcoholism could be a confusing term to come across as the word “acute” is not commonly associated with Alcoholism.

Acute alcoholism is a term used to refer to the intoxication that occurs from drinking a significant amount of alcohol. It refers to the short-term effects of drinking, rather than the long-term physical and mental effects of drinking.

Alcohol consumption, especially during periods of binge drinking, has significant short-term physical effects on both teens and adults. The acute effects of alcohol include interference with digestion in the small intestine that may cause diarrhea.

Heavy drinking can cause swelling and closure of the pyloric valve, which is the opening between the stomach and the small intestine, and this causes vomiting.

Other symptoms of acute alcoholism include the conglomeration of unpleasant symptoms that comprise a hangover:

  • headaches, 
  • nausea, 
  • dry mouth and dizziness. 

Hangovers are actually a form of alcohol withdrawal caused by, among other things, a water imbalance in the body.

The body organ most affected by alcohol is the brain. Alcohol is a depressant and suppresses the production of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.

This works to slow down the functions of the brain and the nervous system. Among the noted effects are “blackouts” or loss of memory, as well as decreased mental sharpness and impaired judgment.

The changes alcohol enacts on the brain can be greatly multiplied if consumption is combined with medicines or other drugs.

Here is a quick and simple Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test.

Blood Alcohol Concentration

As explained by the McDonald Center for Student Well-Being at the University of Notre Dame, blood alcohol concentration is the amount of alcohol in the blood stream. Blood alcohol concentration can also be measured with a breathalyzer.

Acute Alcoholism

As a drinker’s blood alcohol level increases, so do the effects of the alcohol, as detailed below. In many states, a person is considered legally drunk, and therefore not permitted to drive, with a blood alcohol concentration of .08.

However, the effects of alcohol can vary from person to person, based on numerous factors, and one can be quite impaired even with a lower blood alcohol concentration.

The typical impact of alcohol based on blood alcohol concentration:

.01 to .04 – Decrease in inhibitions and a sense of elation or relaxation.

.05 to .07 – Alertness is diminished and feelings of anxiety and depression may be increased. Hand-eye coordination and reaction time can also be affected. May have difficulty driving safely, even if below the legal limit for intoxication.

.08 to .1 – Signs of intoxication include clumsiness, loss of balance and slurred speech. Legally drunk in most states, meaning it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle. Definitely not safe to drive.

.15 to .2 – Emotions such as fear, anger and joy may become uncontrollable. Persons may insist they are not drunk, explode in a rage and not remember anything later.

.2 to .25 – Needs help walking, seems very confused, nausea and vomiting often occur, may blackout.

.25 to .4 – Alcohol poisoning results. Persons may lose consciousness. Anyone experiencing this level of intoxication and alcohol poisoning needs medical attention as soon as possible to prevent serious brain injury or even death.

.4 and above – Onset of coma may occur. Areas of the brain that control the heart and lungs fail to function properly, which may result in death.


Although death by alcohol poisoning is relatively rare, acute alcoholism causes impairment of the brain and its functions that can lead to many problems ranging from minimal to severe, even fatal in some instances. Alcohol poisoning can also cause permanent brain injury or other lasting health problems.

Note that these are only the short-term, or acute, effects of drinking alcohol. Long-term alcohol use, especially heavy alcohol use, can lead to additional health problems, many of them chronic and quite serious, such as ulcers, liver disease and nutritional deficiencies.

How Many Drinks Does It Take?

It’s important to remember that the number of drinks it takes before someone becomes impaired by the effects of acute alcoholism or legally intoxicated can vary widely and depends on many different factors, including gender, age, weight, whether or not you’ve eaten recently, and any medical problems you may have.

According to the McDonald Center for Student Well-Being,

  • a woman weighing 125 pounds might reach a blood alcohol level of .08 after just two drinks, while
  • a man weighing 150 pounds might reach a blood alcohol level of .08 after only three drinks.

These are only estimates, however, and it is possible for someone to become impaired after drinking less than these amounts.

To be safe, drink alcohol only in moderation, if at all, and never drive when you’ve been drinking. We live in an age of technology, which can be used to our advantage for this. Drunk Calc is a free resource that can offer you an estimate for what your BAC is after drinking.

If you have questions about how much alcohol you can safely consume or concerns about whether you might be drinking too much, talk to your doctor or another qualified healthcare professional.

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