the mechanics of drinking yourself to death


You hear this sometimes “oh Jimmy? Yeah he drank himself to death after his wife died” But this actually possible? Does the body reach a point where it can’t process alcohol at a certain point?

In: 298

>You hear this sometimes “oh Jimmy? Yeah he drank himself to death after his wife died” But this actually possible? Does the body reach a point where it can’t process alcohol at a certain point?

Yeah, it’s called alcohol poisoning. It disrupts your breathing, heart rate, and can put you into a coma or kill you.

In addition to death from acute alcohol poisoning, “drinking yourself to death” can mean dying from a symptom of alcoholism, like cirrhosis of the liver.


This can be “acute” alcohol toxicity where massive ethanol poisoning simply disrupts your nervous system so severely that you stop breathing, or it can be “chronic” toxicity where you destroy your liver, guts, and brain with constant alcohol abuse until some secondary organ failure kills you.

One common issue that causes sudden death from heavy drinking is the liver gets so scarred that is cannot efficiently filter and acts as a huge blood vessel blockage this causes “upstream pressure” on the blood vessel walls and over time they weaken and burst causing serious internal bleeding which can lead to death.

The phrase could mean that he consumed alcohol for an extended period of several days or weeks. The liver has to work hard to remove alcohol from the body. It can regenerate over time, but can get overwhelmed, inflamed and permanently lose its detoxifying function.

Specifically, alcohol is a *GABA agonist*. What that means is that alcohol activates the same receptors that the neurotransmitter GABA activates.

GABA is an important neurotransmitter in your brain that turns neurons off and limits how active they can be. It’s essentially an *off* button for neurons. That is *super* important because without it the neurons would go out of control, causing seizures and other problems. That’s what happens if you drink too much too often and then suddenly stop. Your brain has stopped producing as much GABA, relying on the alcohol to do the job. When you suddenly stop drinking, there isn’t enough GABA to make up for the lack of alcohol and it causes problems.

The flip side is that too much alcohol at one time overwhelms the GABA receptors, limiting the neurons too much. Your brain can’t function and starts shutting down which then affects things like your breathing and heartbeat. This is acute alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol is also mildly toxic to all of your cells, so your liver breaks it down to protect your body. Too much alcohol can overwhelm your liver and damage cells throughout your body. It also thins your blood and damages your blood vessels. So, again, too much at one time will kill you that way.

Chronic overdrinking similarly damages your body, but in smaller bits that your body can’t quite fix, so it accumulates. In particular, alcohol interferes with your liver’s ability to remove scar tissue and regenerate itself. Over time, this causes a build up of scar tissue in your liver, limiting its ability to function to remove other toxins in your body. This is *cirrhosis*. Eventually, toxins start building up that damage your body and you die.

The alcohol is also weakening your blood vessels and damaging your heart, leading to heart disease. So you are also at risk of a heart attack or stroke. Just to make it even worse, alcohol is a mild carcinogen, so it increases your risk of cancer.

To be clear, drinking responsibly is not a significant health risk. Heavy binge drinking and over-drinking often are health problems.

In addition to what everyone else said, withdrawal from alcohol if you’re a heavy drinker can also cause seizures and death.

Too much ethanol at once can indeed lead to death from toxicity. Typically, a BRAC (breath alcohol content) of 0.20 or higher results in a trip to the hospital for monitoring if law enforcement has made an arrest – at least, that was policy where I worked. My personal best (arrest, that is) was 0.349, IIRC. I’ve seen some 0.4 and higher and heard of one guy a tad over 0.50.

Brain damage starts to occur with the higher levels, although functional alcoholics have a greater tolerance and often need a higher BA level just to function. For instance, I once dealt with a girl in her early 20’s that was such a person. She blew a 0.234 and I had no idea she’d even consumed anything. More to the point, neither did my partner and he was a court recognized expert on the matter.

My ex-fiance “drank himself to death” meaning he got acute pancreatitis from binge drinking, did not stop drinking to let his pancreas heal, and developed chronic alcoholic pancreatitis, which eventually sent him into multi-organ failure. Apparently (we were broken up and not in contact by this point) he spent the last few years of his life in and out of hospitals in severe pain (pancreatitis, acute or chronic, can be incredibly painful). He died at age 41.

A good friend, but sadly a chronic alcoholic, messed up his blood vessels so badly he bled out in the street one day. RIP Greg. What a waste of a funny, intelligent, talented life. We miss him, and it’s been years.

Alcohol can kill you in multiple ways. In the short term (I.e a binge):
– aspiration. Get drunk, vomit, aspirate and drown. Often involves other drugs
– do something stupid while drunk. Car accident, jump off a building, burn your house down, shoot yourself, etc..

Dying from chronic alcoholism (years and years)
– cirrhosis. Liver scars up and stops working, which causes a lot of issues including vomiting blood, ascites, nervous system issues, but this is usually a slower process. Also puts you at risk for acute liver failure from something like a tylenol over dose
– withdrawal seizures, can aspirate and die from these
– malnutrition. Most chronic alcoholics replace most other things they consume with alcohol, so they have serious vitamin deficiencies that exacerbate a lot of issues.
– congestive heart failure, suicide, not taking care of other health issues, etc…

Drinking kills your liver.
Drinking to excess kills it faster.
Drinking constantly doesn’t give it a chance to heal.

My father drank himself to death. It took very little time (less than a year) after he lost his job until he died.

Fuck him for thinking what was in the bottom of the glass was more important than my mom and his grandkids.

Yes you can drink so much in one session/day that it kills you. Alcohol is a nervous system depressant and can shut off your breathing if you drink enough at once.

But when someone says “drank himself to death after his wife died” that probably doesn’t mean he did it directly (eg drank a gallon of vodka the next day and died immediately). When someone says “drank himself to death” it usually means they started drinking too much and eventually died of one of alcohol’s chronic secondary effects (cirrhosis, diabetes, cancer etc) rather than from direct alcohol poisoning.

TLDR: yes you CAN directly drink yourself to death. A gallon of vodka at once WILL kill you. That’s just not how the phrase is used.

Liver disease takes a good long time to progress though, and often overlooked is cases of acute pancreatitis like I had from drinking at only 26. I drank a handle plus of vodka every day for several years (4-5) and one day basically started throwing up non-stop and could not stand up. A part of my pancreas essentially ruptured, starting digesting itself, and I eventually started developing multi-organ failure as a result of/concurrent with massive systemic inflammation. My lungs filled with fluid in acute respiratory distress, I had to be placed on a ventilator, ECMO (heart/lung bypass) and ICU stay for about 5 weeks. In the years since I’ve managed to avoid progression to chronic pancreatitis by not drinking but acute cases are no joke.

Can be harder on the brain (mind) than body. Quitting can and defiantly will kill you and it’s the most unpleasant feeling ever.

Thanks for the post OP!

I’ll be three years free from alcohol on June 16.

Good reminders why I quit and what I’m avoiding. Plus remembering what happened the night before!

I highly encourage anyone considering taking a break or stopping altogether to visit r/stopdrinking. It saved my marriage and probably my life.

Life still isn’t perfect. But at least I’m feeling life instead of anesthetizing myself every night.

Nicolas Cage won his Oscar for his performance in [Leaving Las Vegas (Trailer)](

The movie is about a suicidal alcoholic in Los Angeles who, having lost his family and been recently fired, has decided to move to Las Vegas and drink himself to death.

Alcohol will probably have a greater impact on gen x than even fentanyl. You can drink heavy from age 25 to 35 then stop and go straight edge for the next twenty years and by age 55 you get early onset dementia from the alcohol abuse twenty years prior.

My parents are in their 70’s. Mom had to be resuscitated when she was born, has always been a little dingy but she doesn’t drink and she’s aging gracefully. My dad gets a twinkle in his eyes when it is 4:30, martini time. He never shows signs of drunkenness and is super charming. My dads always been in his own world, slightly on the self important, narcissism scale but is super kind, generous and has plenty of charm to mask his faults. This last decade the mask has worn thin and he’s losing his wit to cover his temper. Nothing would convince him he’s in poor health. My worry is that even quitting drinking now won’t stop the slide into dementia land.

There are probably better worded answers but I personally know someone who did exactly this and from what I can recall, the depressant effects of alcohol slowed his breathing so much that eventually just stopped altogether. His brain was deprived of oxygen for quite a while and he died in the hospital a couple days later.

My father died from myopia of the heart as a direct result of drinking a 24 beers every day with a 40ozer of whiskey thrown in on the weekends. He checked out of life by checking into an alcohol fueled pity train that went straight to the grave. He knew he was sick. His addiction didn’t care.