Talking About Alcohol Poisoning With Your Teen / Young Adult
Posted Dec 08 2009 4:56pm
by Lisa Frederiksen
It seems at least once a week I read a story about a young person’s death due to alcohol poisoning – often with friends in the vicinity. Talking about what it is, what it looks like, what to do with your teen or young adult child can save a life. Talking about it also offers another opportunity to talk with your teen or young adult child about their own drinking (or reinforce their decision not to drink). Here are some facts you can share with your teen as a basis for this conversation. They are prepared by National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Task Force on College Drinking. For a pdf, print version copy, click here.
What Happens to Your Body When You Get Alcohol Poisoning?
Alcohol depresses nerves that control involuntary actions such as breathing and the gag reflex (which prevents choking). A fatal dose of alcohol will eventually stop these functions.
It is common for someone who drank excessive alcohol to vomit since alcohol is an irritant to the stomach. There is then the danger of choking on vomit, which could cause death by asphyxiation in a person who is not conscious because of intoxication.
You should also know that a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) can continue to rise even while he or she is passed out. Even after a person stops drinking, alcohol in the stomach and intestine continues to enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body. It is dangerous to assume the person will be fine by sleeping it off.
Critical Signs for Alcohol Poisoning
Mental confusion, stupor, coma, or person cannot be roused.
Slow breathing (fewer than eight breaths per minute).
Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths).
Hypothermia (low body temperature), bluish skin color, paleness.
What Should I Do If I Suspect Someone Has Alcohol Poisoning?
Know the danger signals.
Do not wait for all symptoms to be present.
Be aware that a person who has passed out may die.
If there is any suspicion of an alcohol overdose, call 911 for help. Don’t try to guess the level of drunkenness.
What Can Happen to Someone With Alcohol Poisoning That Goes Untreated?
Victim chokes on his or her own vomit.
Breathing slows, becomes irregular, or stops.
Heart beats irregularly or stops.
Hypothermia (low body temperature).
Hypoglycemia (too little blood sugar) leads to seizures.
Untreated severe dehydration from vomiting can cause seizures, permanent brain damage, or death.
Even if the victim lives, an alcohol overdose can lead to irreversible brain damage. Rapid binge drinking (which often happens on a bet or a dare) is especially dangerous because the victim can ingest a fatal dose before becoming unconscious.
Don’t be afraid to seek medical help for a friend who has had too much to drink. Don’t worry that your friend may become angry or embarrassed-remember, you cared enough to help. Always be safe, not sorry.