Alcohol Poisoning – One Too Many Could Take You To The E.R.
“Let’s go out and get smashed, amigos!”
“C’mon girls, let’s go grab a margarita – or ten!”
“Hey, fellas! There’s a keg party at the frat house this Saturday night! Bring your cups!”
Think Twice Before You Head Out For Drinks With Friends For the Weekend
A night of serious drinking usually starts out with a spirit of innocence. No one heads out to a party, the club, or a bar with anything but the light-hearted intention of blowing off a little steam. It seems reasonable to throw back a few after a long work week or a some really intense midterm exams, right? Wrong. Power drinking can quickly blow south when a good time turns into a terrifying trip to the emergency room because of alcohol poisoning.
Did you know that almost 3,000 people die from alcohol poisoning every year? That’s six people a day. What this means is that if you and seven of your buddies go to the bar for a night of binge drinking, there’s a chance only one of you will make it home.
It’s a pretty sobering thought when you really stop and think about it.
What is Alcohol Poisoning? A Definition You Should Memorize
You’re smart. You’ve got an extensive vocabulary. But, if you were playing trivia on the famous New York television show Cash Cab, would you be able to correctly define alcohol poisoning? Do you really understand what it is?
Many people mistakenly believe alcohol poisoning only happens to little kids who accidentally drink mommy’s nail polish or a bottle of rubbing alcohol. This is just wrong. Most people who experience alcohol poisoning – and there are more than 50,000 reported cases in the United States every year – are young adults who went out for a night of fun and drank too much booze.
The dictionary definition of alcohol poisoning is “the ingestion of a lethal or potentially lethal amount of alcohol.” There’s your answer if you ever happen to be on Cash Cab, but let’s get more specific. Why? Because chances are you aren’t going to be on Cash Cab. But, you may end up in a real-world scenario where someone you care about has alcohol poisoning and you need to act fast.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “alcohol poisoning is a serious — and sometimes deadly — consequence of drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. Drinking too much too quickly can affect your breathing, heart rate, body temperature and gag reflex and potentially lead to a coma and death.”
When there is too much alcohol in the bloodstream, alcohol poisoning is the result. It’s important that you understand what alcohol poisoning is, so you can recognize it when you see it. You could save someone’s life.
Understanding The Difference Between Mild Alcohol Poisoning And a Severe Case That Requires Immediate Medical Attention
We mentioned that there are approximately 50,000 reported cases of alcohol poisoning a year. Experts know there are an infinite number of alcohol poisoning cases happening all the time – they just aren’t reported. This is because people usually mistake alcohol poisoning for drunkenness.
There are mild cases of alcohol poisoning and there are severe cases of alcohol poisoning. What most people fail to realize is that symptoms of drunkenness are actually signs of mild alcohol poisoning. Someone who has a mild case of alcohol poisoning usually throws up, passes out, and lives to fight another day. However; severe cases of alcohol poisoning can result in seizures, coma, and death. Someone with severe alcohol poisoning needs immediate medical care.
Let’s distinguish between mild alcohol poisoning and severe alcohol poisoning:
- Mental Confusion – We get it. Anyone who is drunk is confused. But, someone who is completely incoherent and unable to string together rational thought may have severe alcohol poisoning.
- Vomiting – Many people who drink too much throw up because alcohol is an irritant to the stomach. However; vomiting is usually an indication an alcohol poisoning. If someone is projectile vomiting or throwing up blood definitely has severe alcohol poisoning and needs immediate medical attention. Also, if someone is choking on their own vomit, they need help.
- Slurred speech – This is another symptom of alcohol poising. If the speech is severely slurred and incoherent, however; this could be a case of severe alcohol poisoning.
- Slow-breathing – This is cause for serious alarm. If someone is taking less than eight breaths a minute, you should get help right away. They could be slipping into a coma or dying.
- Blue-colored tint to the skin – If someone appears to be turning blue, call 9-1-1 immediately. This means their body is shutting down.
- Low body temperature – If someone is cold to the touch, they definitely have a severe case of alcohol poisoning. Get help immediately.
- Seizures – If someone is convulsing or shaking violently, they are having a seizure caused by alcohol poisoning. Roll the person on their side and call 9-1-1 right away. Do not wait. Every second counts.
- Unconsciousness – If someone has fallen onto the floor or passed out with all their clothes on, you should be extremely concerned. Make attempts to wake them up. If you cannot wake them from their sleep, you should call 9-1-1 for help.
Binge Drinking Is The Number One Cause Of Alcohol Poisoning
Although alcoholics in advanced stages of alcoholism do experience alcohol poisoning, alcohol poisoning usually happens because of binge drinking. Pretty much every single drinker at a nightclub, bar, or pub is guilty of this practice. It is very easy to do in this type of environment. Shots! Shots! Shots! Fifty cent beers – have another! Two-dollar margaritas! Why not? These types of settings do not promote safe, responsible drinking. They encourage binge drinking.
People do not associate a night on the town with friends and a lot of drinking with a binge. But it is. It’s an alcohol binge. People think of crack binges. Heroin binges. Meth binges. But, not alcohol binges! Why not? This has a lot to do with our societal perception of alcohol. We think of alcohol differently because alcohol is legal and served at the local tavern.
Nevertheless, we want you to understand that a binge-drinking episode happens when a large quantity of alcohol is consumed in a very short a period of time. This is an alcohol binge. The body metabolizes alcohol through the liver, which happens rather quickly. If too many alcoholic beverages are consumed too fast, alcohol poisoning can result.
What Constitutes A Night Of Binge Drinking?
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as “a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men—in about 2 hours.” Alcohol poisoning usually happens when blood alcohol levels reach .28 with half of all drinkers dying from alcohol poisoning when their blood alcohol level reaches .40.
Think about this for a minute and then think about the last time you went out for a night of drinking. It’s so easy to have to have four to five shots, beers, glass of wine, or mixed drinks in two hours. In fact, it’s almost impossible not to when you are with your pals, the drinks are cheap, and the music is bumping.
Keep in mind that the body can only process about one drink an hour.
One drink is defined as:
- 12 ounces of regular beer, which is about 5 percent alcohol
- 8 to 9 ounces of malt liquor, which is about 7 percent alcohol
- 5 ounces of wine, which is about 12 percent alcohol
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof hard liquor, which is about 40 percent alcohol
If you want to drink responsibly, you should only be drinking one alcoholic beverage an hour. No more. This may seem to stifle all the fun, but so does attending the funeral of a 22-year-old college student who drank too much on a Saturday night.
College Students Are At The Greatest Risk For Dangers Related To Binge Drinking
Although people of all ages are guilty of binge drinking, college students across America are at the highest risk for binge drinking episodes that result in alcohol poisoning. Most college-aged young adults believe that drinking mass quantities of alcohol is a rite of passage and should be considered part of the college experience. But this attitude can have deadly consequences.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, here are some shocking statistics about binge drinking and how it affects college students:
- About 2,000 students between ages 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related injuries every year, including car accidents.
- About 700,000 students between ages 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
- About 100,000 students between ages 18 and 24 report are victims of an alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape every year.
- About 1 in 4 college students report academic consequences from drinking, including missing class, falling behind in class, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall.
- About 20 percent of all college students meet the criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).
If you are in college, and you’ve been binge drinking, you are not exempt from falling victim to the dangers of excessive drinking. You could end up a statistic – if you already aren’t one. Stop the madness. If you’re going to drink (and we recommend that you don’t), be sure and drink responsibly.
Have a young son or daughter? Here are three signs they may be abusing alcohol.
What You Should And Shouldn’t Do For Someone With Alcohol Poisoning
Again, many people mistake alcohol poisoning for plain old drunkenness. This type of ignorance can be detrimental to someone’s safety. If you have even the tiniest bit of suspicion that someone has alcohol poisoning, you should err on the side of caution. It’s better to get a drunk friend to the hospital and have them wake up mad at you in the morning than for them to not wake up at all.
Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind if you think someone has alcohol poisoning:
- Don’t be afraid to call 9-1-1. Alcohol poisoning doesn’t just go away. It requires medical attention. You can’t handle this one on your own. Get help – even if the person is angry and belligerent. This could be a life or death decision. Choose life.
- If someone is throwing up, keep them upright. Alcohol poisoning effects the gag reflex. It is very easy for someone with alcohol poisoning to choke on their own vomit and die.
- Don’t let the person go to sleep. It is very easy for someone with alcohol poisoning to slip into a coma. Keep them awake and talking.
- Coffee is not a sobering agent. Many people mistakenly believe you can sober someone up by giving them coffee. This is not true. Not only that, coffee dehydrates the body and someone with alcohol poisoning is already severely dehydrated.
- You can’t sober someone up by putting them in a cold shower. Furthermore, this is dangerous. Putting someone in a cold shower can lower the body temperature of the person, which can be life-threatening. Do not make this mistake.
How Alcohol Poisoning is Treated
You may set out for a night of drinking with fun on the brain, but we can promise you that the consequences of alcohol poisoning are no fun at all.
Here are some typical treatments for alcohol poisoning:
- Stomach pumping. This is very common for someone who is experiencing alcohol poisoning. This involves sticking a long tube down someone’s esophagus to remove all the contents of the stomach. This prevents any more alcohol from being absorbed into the blood stream.
- Hydration. Someone who has alcohol poisoning is dangerously dehydrated. To bring their water level to a safe zone, they will be given fluids through an IV.
- Medications. Someone with alcohol poisoning could potentially be given a variety of medications intravenously to help them detox from the mass quantities of alcohol they have consumed throughout the course of the evening.
- Oxygen therapy. Too much alcohol causes shallow, depressed breathing. Someone with alcohol poisoning will have an oxygen mask put to their face to ensure they are getting enough O2.
- Vitamins and glucose. In addition to fluids, someone with alcohol poisoning will be given vitamins and glucose to bring their body back to a healthy place of proper functioning.
- Monitoring and evaluation. Usually, someone with alcohol poisoning will be kept at the hospital overnight to make sure they are safe to return home.
Do You Have a Problem With Alcohol?
If you have ever experienced alcohol poisoning, you may have a problem with alcohol. People who drink responsibly do not experience alcohol poisoning. If you think you might have a problem with drinking, help is available. Talk to your doctor or an addiction specialist and find out about getting treatment. Quit drinking now and your liver will thank you for it. If you don’t stop drinking, your next binge could be your last.