Jeremy Laurance: Inhibitions are reduced – then it poisons you

Alcohol is a depressant. First, it reduces inhibitions, a familiar characteristic of inebriation. Then, as the level of alcohol in the blood rises, it becomes a poison.

At five times the legal limit for driving, Amy Winehouse had drunk more than enough alcohol to kill her. At such levels it interferes with the heartbeat, breathing and gag reflex (that prevents choking).

About 500 people are admitted to hospital each week with alcohol poisoning and there are around 150 deaths a year.

People die from heart attacks, because they stop breathing or because they inhale vomit into their lungs. Alcohol causes vomiting, which can be life threatening if the gag reflex is not working.

There is no minimum dose for alcohol poisoning. It depends on age, sex, weight, speed of drinking and whether alcohol was taken with or without food.

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