Do you think it's safe for your best friend to "sleep it off" after drinking too much too fast? How about black coffee to help sober her up? Would a cold shower do the trick? If you answered "Yes" to any of these questions, you were wrong. None of these methods work. These "remedies" can't prevent or stop your friend's blood alcohol concentration (BAC)1 from continuing to rise to potentially dangerous levels within her body, even after she has stopped drinking.If your friend passes out from binge drinking and you are unable to rouse him, it's time to get help. (Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks in a row for boys and four or more in a row for girls.2 Other critical signs of alcohol poisoning include the following:
- Mental confusion, stupor, or coma
- Slow breathing (fewer than eight breaths per minute)
- Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)
- Hypothermia (low body temperature), bluish skin color, paleness.3
What happens in alcohol poisoning? Alcohol depresses the nerves that control involuntary actions such as breathing, heart beat, and the gag reflex (prevents choking). A fatal dose of alcohol will eventually stop these functions. After the victim stops drinking, the heart keeps beating, and alcohol in the stomach continues to enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body. If untreated, the following could happen:
- Victim chokes on his own vomit.
- Breathing slows, becomes irregular, or stops.
- Heart beats irregularly or stops.
- Victim slips into 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.4
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 drink a fatal dose of alcohol before passing out. Here's what to do if you think your friend has overdosed on alcohol:
- Know the danger signals.
- Don't 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.5
So if you suspect a friend is in danger from alcohol poisoning, don't take a chance. Get medical help. Although your friend might be embarrassed or even angry at the attention, it's better to be safe than sorry in seeking help.
1Prevention Primer. "Blood Alcohol Concentration," last referenced 3/10/2003.
2National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 1998. College Students and Drinking, Alcohol Alert No. 29, Bethesda, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, last referenced 3/31/2003.
3Students Examining the Culture of Drinking. "Risky Business: Alcohol Poisoning," last referenced 3/10/2003.
4Safe & Sober. "Alcohol Poisoning," last referenced 3/10/2003.
5Students Examining the Culture of Drinking. "Risky Business: Alcohol Poisoning," last referenced 3/10/2003.
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