The Stages of Intoxication for Teens

The stages of intoxication are essential for a parent of a teenager to understand. Often, the teenage years are when young people begin experimenting with drinking alcohol and they do not know their limitations. It therefore can lead to a rise in binge drinking in teenagers. Since teenagers tend to abuse alcohol as a first substance of choice, giving your teen a better understanding of what blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is can be beneficial to avoiding dangerous levels of excessive alcohol consumption.

Such an understanding also provides an awareness of the physical signs of a high blood alcohol level. After all, the stages of intoxication are progressive, leading to more significant risks and showing more significant symptoms over time. Since teenagers can be careless when they experiment with alcohol, they tend to over-consume alcohol. Such binge drinking leads to extremely high blood alcohol levels and the threat of alcohol poisoning. Teaching your teen the warning signs of extreme intoxication can help prevent dangerous situations.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) and the Stages of Intoxication

The stages of intoxication of a drunk teenager reflect the teen’s high blood alcohol level. A high blood alcohol level is a reflection of blood alcohol concentration, or BAC. BAC refers to the percentage of alcohol (ethyl alcohol or ethanol) in the bloodstream.

Therefore, a BAC of .10% means that an individual’s blood supply contains one part of alcohol for every 1000 parts of blood. Nationwide, a person is legally intoxicated if they have a BAC of .08% or higher. Hence, a blood alcohol test that comes up .08% BAC or higher is legal evidence of intoxication.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “A blood alcohol test measures the level of alcohol in your blood. Most people are more familiar with the breathalyzer, a test often used by police officers on people suspected of drunk driving. While a breathalyzer gives fast results, it is not as accurate as measuring alcohol in the blood.”

Since blood travels through every organ in the body, the BAC reveals the amount of alcohol affecting a person’s brain. That alcohol coursing through the body needs to be processed by the body, which is the job of the liver.  Therefore, when someone drinks faster than their liver can process the alcohol adverse physical effects occur, implying advanced stages of intoxication.

Given the dangers of a high blood alcohol level, recognizing the stages of intoxication beyond being legally drunk is essential. In truth, the physical consequences of .08% BAC are only the beginning of the danger zone. The Stanford University Office of Alcohol Policy and Education has published a table of BAC values and their corresponding symptoms that illuminates the connection between blood alcohol concentration and the physical consequences of drinking.

The 6 Stages of Intoxication

Drinking alcohol can have varying effects on a person depending on a number of factors including the amount consumed and rate of consumption as well as personal characteristics such as gender, body weight, metabolism, and ethnicity. As a result, two individuals drinking the same quantity of drinks will not produce the exact same BAC in each person. Further, the full effects of alcohol consumption may take some time to become apparent. However, there are still six relatively predictable stages of intoxication that impact individual’s physical body, behaviors, and judgement as blood alcohol content increases. These are euphoria, excitement, confusion, stupor, coma, and death. Further, an individual can quickly move from the euphoria stage to alcohol poisoning, coma, or death.

1. Euphoria

The euphoria stage occurs when BAC is between 0.03 and 0.12 percent, which roughly equates to 1-4 drinks for women and 2-5 drinks for men. Individuals may feel a boost in self-confidence and may be more talkative and animated which is why some consider this stage to be the ‘positive phase of drinking.’ Here, attention spans become shorter and individuals begin to lose their inhibitions and exhibit poor judgement. Those in the euphoria stage may also have a flushed appearance.

2. Excitement

The Excitement stage of intoxication is when a person has a BAC between 0.09 and 0.25 percent. At this stage, alcohol impairment becomes more visible. Individuals may have impaired memory, emotional instability, and trouble understanding things. Physical signs of intoxication include blurred vision, loss of balance, slow reaction time, slurred speech, sleepiness, and nausea or vomiting.

3. Confusion

The confusion stage of intoxication occurs when BAC levels are between 0.18 to 0.30 percent. Mentally, individuals may not know where they are and may become highly emotional whether meaning affectionate or aggressive. Physical signs of alcohol impairment include indifference to pain and dizziness and staggering along with the symptoms from the previous excitement stage of intoxication. Those in the confusion stage can experience “Blacking out” meaning that they may lose memory of the chain of events that took place while intoxicated.

4. Stupor

An alcohol induced stupor can occur when BAC levels are between 0.25 and 0.40 percent. At this stage, the signs of intoxication are dangerous, as an individual may be unable to stand, experience nausea or vomiting, and be unresponsive to stimuli. An individual at this stage should receive medical assistance as they are at great risk of alcohol poisoning or even death.

5. Coma

With a BAC of between 0.35 and 0.50 percent, an individual is at significant risk of experiencing a coma including depressed respiration and circulation, low body temperature, and slow heart rate. A person at this stage of intoxication is at severe risk of death.

6. Death

At a BAC of over 0.50 percent, an individual may be unable to sustain vital life functioning due to respiratory or liver failure and may die from alcohol poisoning.

The Stages of Intoxication & Teenage Drinking

Most adults have experienced in their lifetimes, either firsthand or secondhand, the stages of intoxication. Yet many adults might not know the signs of alcohol impairment or the long term physical and mental consequences of high blood alcohol level.

Thus, for teenagers who are not experienced in drinking alcohol do not yet understand its effect on others and themselves. Binge drinking in teenagers can be particularly dangerous, especially given the fact that teens are often subject to bullying and peer pressure which could make ‘saying no’ difficult. Further, teens may take part in risky behavior due in part because the adolescent brain isn’t fully developed until the mid-20s, thus teens may lack the ability to make informed, impulse-free decisions.

As a result, it is critical for parents to speak to their teens about alcohol and what devastating short term and long-term effects it could have. Parents should educate themselves with resources and information to learn the tools available to prevent teenage drinking and recognize the signs of danger. It is important to take proactive steps to address teenage drinking early to avoid greater adverse consequences later.

If you are concerned that your teenager is experimenting with alcohol, please reach out to Teen Rehab and we can help you get the help your family needs.