Even if you avoid getting into a fight, falling down or getting into a car crash, one night of getting wasted — in itself — can kill you.
The process of becoming super drunk — happiness, sleepiness and then sickness — is a slow depressing of the brain. Receptors become so inhibited they can no longer instruct the rest of the body to do basic bodily functions, like breathing, or coughing when choking.
When we drink, alcohol is absorbed in the intestines and transferred to the liver, where it is processed and cleared from our system. If our drinking outpaces the rate at which our liver can process it, we start to feel the effects of alcohol, which enters the bloodstream and, in turn, messes with our brains.
Dr. Venkatesh Bellamkonda, an emergency physician and director of curriculum at the Mayo Clinic's Quality Academy, provides a blueprint of what an unchecked night of drinking brings.
Put simply, all people more-or-less follow the same process when getting drunk. It just depends on your tolerance, which could be guided by how much you drink, your gender, weight and genetics.
For agreement's sake, Bellamkonda walked us through what a night of getting wasted is like for someone who doesn't drink routinely or is a first-timer. Regular drinkers — not alcoholics — will experience the same effects, it just requires more alcohol.
.02 to .04 blood-alcohol level (BAL)
How many drinks: Generally, one drink — the equivalent to a beer or a shot — will get a 100-pound person to this level. For a 200-pound person, it takes two drinks.
At this point, happiness and relaxation set in and people start to feel disinhibited. As a person drinks more, these feelings only increase.
.06 to .1 BAL
How many drinks: About two (100 pounds) or three to five (200 pounds).
This is when a person begins to feel a loss of balance and coordination.
The type of drunk you are — sleepy or amped up — is also more pronounced at this level. Alcohol triggers the brain's GABA receptors which destimulate the brain, making someone fatigued and tired. It also inhibits glutamate receptors, which wakes up the brain.
.13 to .16 BAL
How many drinks: Four (100 pounds) or six to eight (200 pounds).
Happiness goes away and becomes sadness or anger. Walking becomes more difficult and people start to feel sick.
.16 to .25 BAL
How many drinks: Between five and six (100 pounds) or nine to 12 (200 pounds).
Here come nausea and vomit. A person is confused, or less aware, at this point. This is the range in which people black out.
Before someone gets to an unconscious state, there are various other things facing an intoxicated person. Behavior changes which can cause fights, leading to injury. An intoxicated person also becomes unable to protect themselves, such as not putting their arms out to break a fall.
The liver creates proteins and other blood-clotting components. When someone is drinking, the ability for blood to clot reduces, making injuries more difficult to manage.
.25 to .4 BAL
How many drinks: Seven to 10 (100 pounds) or 13 to 20 (200 pounds).
This is when people begin to lose consciousness.
Above .4 BAL
How many drinks: More than 10 (100 pounds) and 20 or more (200 pounds).
This is the stage when alcohol can kill you.
The alcohol has affected the brain's receptors so much it fails to process all of the actions it normally triggers, such as turning to the side to vomit or coughing when vomit goes into the lungs, which can be fatal. Also, breathing can slow so much that a person dies.
If a person has a pulse, they're savable
Bellamkonda said if a person has a pulse, they're able to be saved from a night of heavy drinking.
Time is key in getting someone from drunk to sober. The liver needs time to process all the alcohol and, as a result, a person needs to keep breathing or not choke on their vomit in the meantime.
At a hospital, a person can be given a breathing tube and injected with IV fluids to keep them stable during this process.
The best defense: someone sober
More than water or food, the best plan of attack against drinking is to have a sober friend look over you, Bellamkonda said. That, and refrain from overdoing it.
Follow Sean Rossman on Twitter: @SeanRossman