The Six Stages of Alcohol Intoxication: How Dangerous Is Too Much?

March 22, 2021

What is alcohol intoxication?

The state of intoxication from alcohol is commonly known as being drunk. It is a temporary condition that comes with both physical and behavioral changes. It results from the consumption of an excessive amount of alcohol within a relatively brief time. When one consumes alcohol at a faster rate than their body can metabolize it, they become intoxicated.  


What are the symptoms of alcohol intoxication?

When a person is intoxicated, they may exhibit both physical and behavioral symptoms.


The way people are affected by alcohol varies. We base differences on several things, like genetics, body weight, frequency of intoxication, overall general health, and more. Of course, the severity of a person’s symptoms will depend on how much they have had to drink.


Milder symptoms associated with lower amounts of alcohol consumed include the effects people usually find to be more pleasant, such as relaxation and euphoria.


As people drink more, they begin to have more pronounced impairment in their balance, coordination, speech, and attention. Their memory may also start to become hazy as they drink more. When a person has had quite a bit to drink, they may experience lapses in judgment or heightened emotional intensity.


As intoxication becomes severe, all of these symptoms heighten, and a person experiencing them may vomit, black out (lose their memories of the evening), and eventually lose consciousness.


What are the stages of intoxication?

Although different resources will vary, most will tell us that there are six to seven stages of intoxication experienced by most people. These stages progress based on Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), so people progress through them as they have more to drink.


Stage 0: Sobriety/Minimal Intoxication

This stage is usually not counted as there is too little alcohol in the system to have noticeable effects. 


Stage 1: Euphoria

If someone has about 2 drinks in under an hour, they may enter this stage. People might describe them as “buzzed” or “tipsy,” and they could become more talkative and less focused. Their inhibitions start to go down, and they may turn red. Their reactions and fine motor movements begin to dull. They might have a BAC of around 0.03-0.12%.

 In the United States, people caught driving with a BAC of 0.08% or higher are arrested for driving under the influence.


Stage 2: Excitement

Deficiencies in motor function and coordination become more pronounced in this stage. The senses are also noticeably impaired at this point. People may start behaving with less restraint, and judgment may now be askew. Some people also get drowsy, have trouble seeing well, or even experience some minor memory lapses.

 This stage is what people usually mean when they use the word “drunk.”


Stage 3: Confusion

When someone has had quite a few drinks, the symptoms of the excitement stage become intensified. People may have exaggerated emotional episodes, and their balance may be all but gone. They have a hard time walking, and their speech slurs. They may have feelings of numbness and become unaware of their surroundings.

 This stage is when people experience blackouts. They do not know what is going on and cannot remember what happens, making it very dangerous.


Stage 4: Stupor

A person in this stage has become unresponsive. They can no longer stand, let alone walk, and may also be throwing up. They might just pass out at this point, and they must be cared for because it is also possible that their gag reflex will be affected. Choking on one’s vomit would be disastrous and may even be fatal, so we have to monitor people reaching this stage closely.


Stage 5: Coma

This stage demands emergency medical intervention. Entirely unconscious, a person’s body temperature will drop, breathing will become shallow, circulation will slow, motor functions will no longer present, and their gag reflex will be gone. At this point, their life is in genuine danger.


Stage 6: Death

Alcohol poisoning can cause death by respiratory arrest, which becomes very probable at a BAC level of 0.45% or higher. It is important to pace oneself while drinking because the effects of alcohol are not instant. People that have multiple drinks in a short amount of time are in danger of having too much before they even realize it.


How much alcohol does it take to be intoxicated?

In terms of amount, it doesn’t take much to begin feeling the effects of intoxication. Our body breaks ethanol down at a rate of around 15 mg/dL per hour. Our bodies can metabolize roughly one (1) drink per hour on average while maintaining low levels of intoxication, to put things simply.


Even with these averages, however, there will always be variations in different experiences and individuals. Some may not feel anything until after their third drink, while others are already slightly intoxicated after half a drink. Keeping a reasonable pace is vital so that one does not become too drunk.


We can avoid alcohol poisoning by drinking in moderation and drinking a fair amount of water between drinks. Having alcohol on an empty stomach is also not recommended.


What happens when a person is intoxicated?

Several things happen when a person is intoxicated. Aside from all the previously mentioned symptoms, becoming intoxicated puts you at risk for multiple types of dangerous situations.


Two important neurological events occur when we become intoxicated: (1) judgment is impaired, and (2) inhibition lowers. These events happen due to the decrease in the activity of the prefrontal cortex of the brain. What these things mean is that you are more likely to make poor decisions when drunk.


For some, it can be something as benign as sending a message to an ex. For others, however, it can be something as dangerous as a decision to drive home. This decision, coupled with a decrease in motor function, coordination, and reaction time, leads to many car crashes. Around 30 people per day die from drunk-driving accidents in the United States.


Intoxication can also lead to choking due to vomit, extreme dehydration, circulatory issues, seizures, and even brain damage. Alcohol poisoning also causes thousands of deaths per year.


What are the six critical signs of alcohol poisoning?

The following are some signs that an individual may be experiencing critical alcohol poisoning and need immediate medical attention.


  1. Extreme confusion
  2. Hypothermia (drastic drop in body temperature), pale skin
  3. Unresponsiveness (stupor)
  4. Unconsciousness (coma)
  5. Very slow breathing
  6. Vomiting


Not all of these need to be present to seek medical attention, but if you suspect that someone’s intoxication has reached the point of alcohol poisoning, do not hesitate to bring them to the emergency room immediately. You may be helping them avoid any permanent damage by doing so.


What Can You Do If You Have an Alcohol Problem?

Alcohol addiction is one of the most common forms of addiction many adults experience. When left unchecked, this addiction can lead to ruined relationships, careers, and health.

Thankfully, there is no such thing as a lost cause. With the right people and mindset, people can overcome any addiction. That’s why if any of your loved ones have this problem, you can check out our substance and alcohol abuse rehabilitation programs on our website at

Together with our caring professionals, you can help your loved ones turn their life around and make their old addiction their new success story.