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October 23, 1972

Respiratory Effects of Ethyl Alcohol Intoxication

JAMA. 1972;222(4):486. doi:10.1001/jama.1972.03210040054017

To the Editor.—  Death from acute alcohol intoxication is thought by many to be due to respiratory failure. Yet in recent laboratory studies, moderately intoxicating doses of ethyl alcohol (120 mg/100 ml) had no consistent effect on respiratory rate or minute volume and sometimes increased ventilation. We therefore studied ten severely intoxicated adults brought to the Cincinnati General Hospital emergency unit. Very high blood concentrations of ethyl alcohol (BEC) in these patients caused only moderate respiratory depression.The patients were chronic alcoholics without clinical evidence of cardiopulmonary disease. Screening of blood samples by means of gas chromatography excluded the presence of other drugs in addition to ethyl alcohol. Of the ten patients, two were unconscious and eight were conscious but lethargic, with slurred speech and incoordination. Arterial blood for pH and gas analysis was drawn while the patients breathed room air. Venous BEC were determined by gas chromatography.Arterial blood