Do you feel particularly awful after a night of heavy drinking? That’s not entirely surprising, as alcohol is a toxin that harms our physical and mental health when ingested in large quantities. But sometimes, it might be more than just a horrible hangover. Some people suffer from a condition known as alcoholic ketoacidosis. If you’re a frequent heavy drinker, it can be helpful to know what alcoholic ketoacidosis is so you can watch out for the warning signs.

What Is Alcoholic Ketoacidosis?

Alcoholic ketoacidosis, also known as alcoholic ketosis or metabolic acidosis, is a group of symptoms that occur due to alcohol abuse and typically present themselves after a binge drinking episode. This condition is most commonly seen in people with an alcohol abuse disorder.

People with alcoholic ketoacidosis often:

  • Just finished a binge-drinking episode
  • Are dehydrated
  • Stopped eating for 1 to 3 days
  • May have co-occurring liver disease or liver damage

An alcoholic ketoacidosis episode causes the body to produce ketones in response to the lack of nutrition it’s receiving. Ketones are acidic chemicals the body produces and uses as an energy source when there’s a lack of glucose. Alcohol prevents the body from making glucose; therefore, drinking increases the natural production of ketones. When you combine this increased level of ketones with not eating for a few days (and not getting glucose), the body is flooded with ketones.

Someone who frequently drinks heavily already has an excessive buildup of ketones in the body. This can quickly become a problem because ketones are highly acidic, and an oversupply makes the body too acidic. And these high levels of acidity can lead to several other serious health issues.

What Causes Alcoholic Ketoacidosis?

Alcoholic ketoacidosis seems to occur mostly in people who are heavy drinkers, who then become dehydrated and malnourished. This can occur due to dehydration from drinking, low glucose levels from not eating and throwing up after binge drinking and a buildup of ketones in the body from frequent drinking.

It’s not guaranteed that every person who drinks will experience alcoholic ketoacidosis, and there are no exact figures on the condition’s prevalence. Still, individuals who drink heavily are more at risk for alcoholic ketoacidosis. The illness doesn’t discriminate and happens across all genders and races. It’s most common in people aged 20-60.

The Symptoms of Alcoholic Ketoacidosis

The main symptoms of the condition are:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Confusion and an altered mental state
  • Agitation
  • Fatigue
  • Labored breathing
  • Low blood pressure
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lightheadedness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • In rare cases, some people may slip into a coma
  • Cardiac arrhythmias as a result of an electrolyte imbalance, which can be life-threatening

An individual may experience just one or several of these symptoms as alcoholic ketoacidosis sets in. Without treatment, the severity of the symptoms may continue to develop.

Many symptoms associated with alcoholic ketoacidosis are also common side effects of other medical conditions. Conditions that may present similarly to alcoholic ketoacidosis or in conjunction with it are:

  • Pancreatitis
  • Alcohol withdrawal
  • Peptic ulcer disease
  • Inflammation of the gallbladder
  • Acute mesenteric ischemia

If you or someone you love displays these symptoms, you should consult a medical professional as quickly as possible. You can’t be sure what the underlying cause is, and you may require immediate medical attention.

Is Alcoholic Ketoacidosis Dangerous?

Yes, if alcoholic ketoacidosis isn’t treated immediately, it can progress and lead to life-threatening symptoms. Potential complications include:

  • Hypovolemic shock
  • Heart complications, including irregular heartbeat and heart attack
  • Seizures
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as shaking, shivering, sweating and confusion
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Kidney failure
  • Death

If someone with alcoholic ketoacidosis receives treatment early on, it’s likely they won’t have long-term side effects. The health risks associated with alcoholic ketoacidosis mainly come from continued heavy drinking and the potential conditions that can come from that, such as pancreatitis, cancers and organ damage.

Treatment Options for Alcoholic Ketoacidosis

When treating alcoholic ketoacidosis, two forms of care are required: short-term and long-term. The short-term focus is on dealing with the immediate symptoms so the person isn’t in immediate danger. This may include giving IV fluids to treat dehydration and vitamin supplements, such as thiamine, to treat malnutrition.

Ultimately, though, the long-term solution is that the individual suffering from alcoholic ketoacidosis needs to address their drinking problem. A national 2019 study found that almost 15 million Americans have an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Alcoholism is a serious, prevalent problem that can have severe consequences. If someone continues to drink, they only increase the risk of having an alcoholic ketoacidosis episode.

Individuals can treat their drinking problem with medication, therapy or a combination of both of these, as well as other treatment methodologies. Ultimately, therapy is the best tool for the majority of people because it can help you understand why you drink, what your triggers are and how you can avoid future temptation.

Alcoholic Ketoacidosis Prevention

If you’re concerned you might be prone to alcoholic ketoacidosis, you should reduce or eliminate your drinking as soon as possible. And if the idea of cutting down on drinking seems impossible to you, it’s probably time to search for help. Remember that addiction is a medical condition, and there’s no shame in seeking professional help. You don’t need to put yourself at risk for illnesses like alcoholic ketoacidosis and all the problems that come with them.

Alcohol Disorder Treatment at Sunlight Recovery

You no longer have to live in fear of developing conditions like alcoholic ketoacidosis. Sunlight Recovery is a top detox and residential substance abuse treatment provider in Florida. If you’re ready to combat your drinking and take back control of your life, let our center help you. Contact us today to find out which of our programs fits your needs best.