Acute alcohol intoxication: a clinical overview

Clin Ter. 2022 May 25;173(3):280-291. doi: 10.7417/CT.2022.2432.


Alcohol is a legal and yet detrimental psychoactive substance, capable of establishing addiction and impacting the physical, mental, social, and economic health of people. Alcohol intake causes a large variety of tissue damages severely impacting the nervous system, digestive and cardiovascular systems and causing oral cavity, oropharyngeal, hypopharyngeal, esophageal, colon-rectal, laryngeal, liver and intrahepatic bile duct, and breast cancers. Alcohol can also play a role in the pathogenesis of diabetes mellitus, cardiomyopathy and hemorrhagic strokes. When drunk during pregnancy it is proved to be responsible for serious damage to fetuses causing a wide range of pathological conditions from miscarriage to Fetal Alcoholic Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Acute ethanol intoxication happens when the amount of alcohol consumed is greater than the disposal capacity of the liver, causing an accumulation of its metabolites displayed by initial dysphoria and disinhibition. Nausea, vomiting, memory loss could happen. Although, it can lead to more serious conditions like impaired speaking, impaired coordination, unstable gait, nystagmus, stupor, or coma. Respiratory depression and death could also happen in such cases. Unfortunately, diagnosis of acute alcohol intoxication is difficult because most of the drinkers deny or minimize their assumption. It is dramatically important to assess when the last intake happened to avoid withdrawal syndrome. Alcohol acute intoxication can be considered a serious harm to health and a relevant issue for healthcare provid-ers working in emergency rooms. Differential diagnosis is crucial to avoid serious outcomes. There is no consensus about therapies for acute intoxication, but supportive and symptomatic treatments were proved effective. The repercussions of alcohol misuse over drinkers' social, familiar, economical and working life enhance the importance of a multidisciplinary approach in such cases.

Keywords: AUD; Fetal Alcoholic Spectrum Disorder; addiction; binge; toxicity; withdrawal.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Alcoholic Intoxication* / complications
  • Alcoholic Intoxication* / diagnosis
  • Alcoholic Intoxication* / therapy
  • Alcoholism*
  • Ethanol
  • Humans
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome*


  • Ethanol