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Alcohol Poisoning

What is Alcohol Poisoning
When a person has alcohol poisoning they have consumed a toxic amount of alcohol, usually over a short period of time. The blood alcohol is so high it is considered poisonous.  The person can become extremely confused, unresponsive, disoriented, have shallow breathing and can pass out or go into a coma. 

When a person consumes an alcohol drink, their liver has to filter out the alcohol from their blood.  Alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream quicker than food.  However, the liver can only process a limited amount of alcohol; approximately one standard drink every hour. 
If a person drinks 2 standard drinks in one hour, there will be an extra unit of alcohol in their bloodstream.  If during the next hour you drink another two standard drinks, you will have two units of alcohol floating around in your bloodstream at the end of two hours after your drinking session.  The faster you drink, the higher your BAC (blood alcohol concentration) becomes.  If you drink too fast, your BAC can spike dangerously high.
Common myths about sobering up include drinking black coffee, taking a cold bath or shower, sleeping it off or walking it off.  The only thing that reverses the effects of alcohol is time-something you may not have if you are suffering from alcohol poisoning. 

If you suspect someone has alcohol poisoning, what should you do?

If they are conscious and responsive:

  • Stay with them. Check often to make sure they are still conscious and responsive.
  • Make certain that they stay on their side, not their back.  See the Bacchus Maneuver
  • Before you touch them, tell them exactly what you are going to do.  Be aware of any signs of aggression.  Do not ridicule, judge, threaten or try to counsel them.
  • Remain calm and be firm.  Avoid communicating feelings of anxiety or anger.
  • Keep them quiet and comfortable.  If they are in the sun, try to move them to the shade.  If cold, try to move them to a warm place and offer a blanket.
  • Do not give them food, drink or medication of any kind.
  • Remember that only time will sober up a drunk person.  Walking, showering or drinking coffee will not help and may cause harm.

If the person is unconscious, semi-conscious or unresponsive, check for these symptoms of alcohol overdose:

  • Cannot be aroused and are unresponsive to your voice, shaking or pinching their skin.
  • Skin is cold, clammy, pale, bluish, and/or blotchy.
  • Breathing is slow - eight or fewer breaths per minute.
  • Experience lapses in breathing - more than 10 seconds between breaths.
  • Exhibit mental confusion, stupor or coma.
  • Have seizures, convulsions or rigid spasms.
  • Vomiting while asleep or unconscious and do not awaken.

If any of the above symptoms exist, call 911 immediately, and while waiting for emergency personnel:

  • Gently turn them onto their side and into the Bacchus Maneuver
  • Don't leave them alone at any time.
  • It is always better to be safe than sorry.
  • Focus on your friend's health, not keeping out of trouble.

Blood Alcohol Charts

Binge Drinking
Binge drinking used to mean drinking heavily over several days.  Now, however, the term refers to the heavy consumption of alcohol over a short period of time.

Today the generally accepted definition of binge drinking in the United States is the consumption of five or more drinks in a row by men or four or more drinks in a row by women within a short period of time.  Heavy binge drinking includes three or more such episodes in 2 weeks.

Many people don't think about the negative side of drinking.  Although they think about the possibility of getting drunk, they may not give much consideration to being hung-over or throwing up.

You may know from experience that excessive drinking can lead to difficulty concentrating, memory lapses, mood changes, and other problems that affect your day-to-day life.  But binge drinking carries more serious and longer lasting risks as well.

Personal Consequences

  • Missing class or work due to drinking
  • Performing poorly on a test or important project
  • Poor athletic performance due to hangover
  • Physical effects, including hangovers, nausea or vomiting, and memory loss
  • Being sexually harassed or assaulted while drunk, or harassing or assaulting others
  • Getting into arguments and fights, or being embarrassed by your own behavior while drunk
  • Damaging property
  • Getting hurt or injured while or after drinking
  • Driving a car under the influence of alcohol or being arrested for DUI
  • Generally getting into trouble with the police or University authorities
  • Alcohol abuse dependence
  • Death

As the number of binge drinking episodes increases, the personal consequences become more frequent and more severe.  Equally important is that students' drinking behavior has a negative impact on their friends, roommates and other students around them, who may lose sleep or class time caring for drunk or ill students, or may bear the brunt of their dangerous, argumentative or violent behavior.

Alcohol and Sex
Alcohol has a negative effect on sexuality as it dulls sensation and makes it more difficult for men to have an erection and women to reach orgasm.  Alcohol impairs judgment slowing down nervous and muscular activity often lending to increased risk taking.  There is a strong relationship between use of drugs and alcohol, and having multiple sex partners.  Alcohol impairment makes it difficult to set sexual limits.  As a result, there is risk of increased unplanned pregnancy, sexual assault and sexually transmitted infections (STI's).

Please visit the Sexual and Reproductive portion of our web site for more information concerning sexual health, practices and STI's.

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