What Every College Student Needs to Know about Alcohol Poisoning
In the United States, an estimated 50,000 cases of alcohol poisoning are reported each year, and approximately once every week, someone dies from this preventable condition.
Excessive or binge drinking is the most common cause of alcohol poisoning, and it is one of the most dangerous activities a college student can do. Binge drinking is defined as drinking five or more drinks in a row. Drinking too much too quickly can affect your heart rate, your breathing pattern and your mental and physical coordination.
Whether it’s you who has consumed too much or your roommate, here is what you need to know about alcohol poisoning.
What happens to your body
When you drink alcohol, a host of complex physiological processes take place. Whether it is one beer or 16 beers, your body immediately starts to absorb alcohol. Drinking on an empty stomach allows for as much as 20 percent of the alcohol to be absorbed in your stomach and the alcohol reaches your brain in less than one minute. Given alcohol’s fast effects in the body, it’s easy (and scary) to realize just how dangerous it is to consume large quantities of alcohol in a short amount of time.
According to the medical experts at the Mayo Clinic, alcohol depresses the nerves that control involuntary actions such as breathing, heartbeat and your gag reflex, which keeps you from choking. Excessive alcohol intake can slow and, in some cases, shut down these functions. Your body temperature can also drop (hypothermia), leading to cardiac arrest. And your blood sugar level can fall low enough to cause seizures.
Here are the symptoms of alcohol poisoning:
- Confusion, stupor
- Slow breathing
- Irregular breathing
- Blue-tinged skin or pale skin
- Low body temperature
- Passing out or unconsciousness
What to do
If you suspect alcohol overdose, seek medical attention immediately. Don’t wait until all the symptoms are present to get help. And never leave a person alone if he or she is unconscious.
- Call 911 for help.
- Take the individual to the closest hospital emergency room.
- Call your local poison control center or 1-800-222-1222 for the American Association of Poison Control Centers
- Provide as much information as you possibly can to the medical team. Number of drinks consumed, kinds of drinks, and the time in which the alcohol was imbibed are very important to relay.
What not to do
- Don’t let the person sleep it off. The alcohol is still circulating within the person’s bloodstream, and because the gag reflex has been depressed, it can be very easy for a person to choke on their vomit and die.
- Don’t ignore the person. Leaving the person unattended, especially if he or she is unconscious, is extremely dangerous and life-threatening.
- Don’t postpone seeking medical help. Alcohol poisoning that is left untreated can result in a host of dangerous and potentially fatal consequences such as dehydration, brain damage, seizures, and hypothermia.
Often times, students who are drinking underage will avoid seeking medical help for a sick friend for fear of the legal repercussions that may follow. Do not do this. The repercussions of doing nothing and harming your friend, or worse letting them die, will be far more complicated.
To prevent alcohol poisoning, drink moderately and when you do drink, drink slowly. If you feel that you or a friend has a drinking problem, it is important to create a safe environment for open communication. Many schools offer wonderful counseling support for students that can help them address their drinking and the underlying issues of their problem. There are also several resources at CollegeDrinkingPrevention.gov.