Story at a glance

  • On average, six people died every day from alcohol poisoning in the U.S. from 2010 to 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • A study of death certificates suggests that alcohol‐related mortality has increased in the United States between 1999 and 2017.
  • The findings of a new study offer a potential treatment to prevent deaths if administered by a medical professional.

Have you ever been drinking when something shocks you into feeling completely sober? Well, you’re not sober, but a new study suggests that hyperventilating could actually help clear your body of alcohol faster. 


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"I used to be an emergency doc and I know they have big issues with patients who — on top of everything else — are also alcohol-intoxicated," lead researcher Joseph Fisher told the Canadian Press. "Many of them, you don't know what's wrong with them. They're coming in unconscious and highly alcohol-intoxicated so they're hard to examine. And there's nothing you can do. You have to wait until their livers metabolize it."  

Here’s how the science works: When you breathe, you let out carbon dioxide and — if you've been drinking — alcohol that has evaporated from the blood into the lungs, Fisher explained to the Canadian Press. But there’s a catch: Hyperventilating, or breathing at an above normal rate, can put a lot of stress on your body and lead you to feel light-headed, lose feeling or even faint. The action actually puts some carbon dioxide back in your body to maintain healthy levels in your blood. 


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Citing an increase in alcohol-related deaths in the United States, Canadian researchers at the University of Toronto developed a "ClearMate," a self-inflating bag with a CO2 attachment, on five drunk men (don't worry, they followed protocol and obtained permission) with no history of alcohol abuse or medications. They found it "tedious," according to the study, but "not uncomfortable or requiring great effort" and sobered up three times faster than if they had relied on their livers alone.

The study was a proof of concept, which means that the idea could work, but further study is necessary. So, no, you probably aren’t going to be able to use one on your intoxicated friend who’s belligerent but technically healthy. Still, the findings are encouraging for Fisher and others who have seen the darker consequences of alcohol poisoning.


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Published on Nov 13, 2020