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When people get intoxicated with alcohol (as in: they had way too much), they sometimes feel very bad, and while they are awake, they stop being responsive and cannot communicate.

In that state, vomiting may bring back a certain alertness: after vomiting, they can respond and talk again and also seem to feel better, albeit both effects only last very briefly. This may happen several times in a row with falling back to unresponsiveness in between.

How does vomiting help become responsive, and why does the effect only last a short time? Vomiting does not immediately reduce the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream, so how else does it work?

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Vomiting does not restore alertness. It might rouse them from their stupor because of the physical activity it involves, but it does nothing specific to increase their level of consciousness. If vomiting accomplishes this temporary feat, vigorous efforts to rouse them would probably accomplish the same. Trust me, people can and do choke to death on their own vomit while unconscious due to alcohol. By no means is vomiting guaranteed to wake them.

What vomiting does do is remove alcohol still in the stomach, which means it reduces the intoxication level that is yet to come. If someone is drunk enough to be unconscious and has a stomach full of alcohol that hasn't been absorbed yet, vomiting might very well save their life. What most people who drink to the level of stupor don't understand is just how close to death they are at that stage. Respiratory depression and death are the next stages.

General info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcohol_intoxication

  • Could vomiting have a positive psychological effect which results in temporary relief? Or could vomiting lead to increased levels of endorphins which achieve this? The reason I believe there's a connection is that in that state, the effect of vomiting seems to be very different from other physical activity. – Philipp Sep 1 '17 at 5:03
  • @Philipp Yes, it's possible. And as anyone who's ever experienced nausea knows, vomiting will usually make you feel better almost immediately. That could also be a factor. – Carey Gregory Sep 1 '17 at 14:56

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