Alcohol poisoning sends thousands of people to emergency rooms annually, most of them under the age of 24. Some succumb to the severity of the alcohol poisoning. Others may survive, but face irreversible brain damage or other unintended consequences.
Alcohol poisoning affects a disproportionate number of young people each year, especially college students and young professionals, where a social acceptance of binge drinking is prevalent. Drinking in moderation is key to preventing alcohol poisoning; however, knowing the signs of alcohol poisoning can help save the life of someone you know who has consumed too much alcohol.
How Does Someone Get Alcohol Poisoning?
How does someone get alcohol poisoning? The short answer is excessive drinking. However, a myriad of factors can contribute to whether someone is more or less susceptible to the effects of alcohol. Genetic factors, gender, and age play a huge role in how quickly someone is able to metabolize alcohol.
When someone consumes alcohol, the drug is carried through the digestive system to the small intestine, where it is absorbed into the bloodstream and carried to be oxidized by special enzymes within the liver. The number of enzymes available for oxidation is dependent on genetic variables, and the body’s ability to metabolize alcohol varies greatly between genders and with age.
For someone with a genetic variance resulting in fewer enzymes to expedite the oxidization process, toxicity from excess alcohol builds faster than for someone who is able to metabolize alcohol faster. Men tend to metabolize alcohol faster than women, and young people faster than older populations.
Typically, the body is able to metabolize the equivalent of one 12 oz regular beer per hour. Anything in excess of this raises the body’s concentration of alcohol, or blood alcohol content (BAC) to potentially dangerous levels. Blood alcohol content exceeding 0.16 percent is an indicator for alcohol poisoning.
Alcohol poisoning begins at the point where consumption of alcohol exceeds the rate of metabolization. The resulting symptoms of alcohol poisoning include confusion, unconsciousness, slowed breathing (down to eight breaths per minute), vomiting, blue or cold skin, and coma. Alcohol continues to be metabolized after the person takes their last drink, so someone who stops drinking may still experience the warning signs of alcohol poisoning up two hours past their last drink.
Warning Signs of Alcohol Poisoning
- Inability to wake up
- Slow or irregular breathing
- Skin takes on bluish hue
- Cold skin
Alcohol poisoning is a dangerous side effect of excess drinking. If one or more of symptoms of alcohol poisoning are present, seek medical help immediately. Leaving the person to “sleep it off” can result in their death. Someone who is unconscious with alcohol poisoning may begin vomiting, which can block their airway. To prevent someone from choking on their own vomit, turn them on their side. Alcohol acts as a central nervous system depressant, affecting involuntary reflexes like breathing. Someone should remain with the affected individual to monitor breathing until help arrives.
Populations Most At Increased Risk For Alcohol Poisoning
College-aged young adults are at high risk of alcohol poisoning due to the drinking culture prevalent across college and university campuses nationwide. Those who engage in binge drinking, or excessive drinking exceeding four or five beverages in a two-hour period are at high risk of alcohol poisoning. Drinking games are a common culprit, encouraging people to drink excessively. Deaths related to alcohol poisoning increase on weekends and after finals.
Young professionals under 34 years of age are also at greater risk, as they are more likely to engage in binge drinking on weekends or during social events. Other populations at risk for alcohol poisoning are those 65 and older who also tend to engage in higher rates of binge drinking, and whose age may result in a slower metabolism rate for alcohol.
Short And Long-term Health Effects Of Excessive Drinking
Someone suffering from alcohol poisoning is at risk for depression of breathing function, as well as aspiration, when they vomit while unconscious. Brain damage may result from reduced oxygen to the brain. Those who engage in excessive drinking on a regular basis are at higher risk for alcohol dependency.
Someone who has passed out due to alcohol poisoning, is also more vulnerable to sexual assault, sexually transmitted diseases, and for women, unintended pregnancy.
Long-term effects of excessive drinking include mood disorders, heart disease, liver damage, Pancreatitis, high blood pressure, sexual dysfunction, obesity, and certain cancers.
Treatment For Alcohol Poisoning
Treatment of alcohol poisoning involves medical monitoring, establishment of airway, oxygen therapy, fluids to prevent dehydration, and vitamins and glucose to prevent complications like seizures from dangerously low blood sugar. Sometimes hemodialysis is implemented to expedite removal of alcohol from the system.
Help For Alcohol Addiction
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