Amy Winehouse: How Alcohol Poisoning Can Kill

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Experts say a surplus of alcohol — not a lack of it– killed British singer Amy Winehouse in July.

The news overturns the idea that alcohol withdrawal led to the pop star's death. Instead, pathology reports point to alcohol poisoning as the culprit.

So what's alcohol poisoning, and how's it different from alcoholism?

Alcohol poisoning occurs from drinking large amounts within a short period of time, most likely from binge drinking. In some cases, poisoning stems from extensive exposure to lotions, paints and cleaning products, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Poisoning calls for immediate medical attention. Depending on the situation, emergency rooms can help flush alcohol out of a person's system. Other cases might be too severe and can kill a person.

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Most events involve people abusing alcoholic beverages. Drinking too fast, or consuming more alcohol than the liver can metabolize in a given period of time, causes a person's blood alcohol level to spike.

High levels limit involuntary functions, including regular heart beating and breathing. A person's gag reflex, which can help expel the alcohol (through vomiting), can be suppressed as well.

Alcohol poisoning varies by person, but drinking more than one drink per hour increases the risk. Winehouse's blood alcohol level measured at 416 milligrams per 1,000 milliliters of blood. Usually, 350 milligrams is enough to kill, according to one CNN article

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Alcoholism, on the other hand, reflects an addiction to alcohol — not a single experience with it. Though people with alcohol addiction can experience poisoning from drinking too much, it's not a necessary condition for it. Anyone, regardless of their previous experiences with drinking, can fall ill with alcohol poisoning.

People with alcoholism crave alcoholic drinks and tend to need more of them to feel intoxicated.

In the United States, nearly 79,000 deaths are attributed to alcohol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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