Handling the Emergency: What to Do in Case of Alcohol Poisoning

Usually, booze is the norm in parties, celebrations, get-togethers and holidays in the American culture. Happy occasions mean more alcohol, sometimes to such an extent that it can become life-threatening. When someone binge drinks, his blood alcohol concentration (BAC) rises to such a level that it becomes toxic and results in alcohol poisoning. Christopher Tedeschi, […]

Handling the Emergency: What to Do in Case of Alcohol Poisoning

Usually, booze is the norm in parties, celebrations, get-togethers and holidays in the American culture. Happy occasions mean more alcohol, sometimes to such an extent that it can become life-threatening. When someone binge drinks, his blood alcohol concentration (BAC) rises to such a level that it becomes toxic and results in alcohol poisoning.

Christopher Tedeschi, M.D., a professor of emergency medicine at the Columbia University Medical Center, describes alcohol poisoning as just another way to say “very, very drunk.” He added, “It means that our mental status is altered, our respiration is depressed, and we may not even be able to protect our airway.”

As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Very high levels of alcohol in the body can lead to stopping critical areas in the brain that control breathing, heart rate, and body temperature, resulting in death.” Alcohol poisoning is not uncommon these days. According to the CDC, an average of six people die of alcohol poisoning every day in the United States.

Understanding alcohol poisoning

Once alcohol enters the body, it is carried by the blood stream to various body parts, and the liver filters out the alcohol, a toxin, from the blood. Alcohol is absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream than food. However, the liver can process only a limited amount of alcohol. In fact, it can process only one unit of alcohol in an hour. Whenever an individual consumes more than one unit within an hour, an extra unit is left in the bloodstream. The faster one drinks, the higher is the BAC in the body and the higher is the rate of alcohol poisoning.

A spike in the BAC may affect breathing, heart rate and gag reflex that can trigger unconsciousness and eventually cause death.

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), some of the symptoms are:

  • mental confusion, stupor, coma, or inability to wake up
  • vomiting
  • seizures
  • slow breathing (fewer than 8 breaths per minute)
  • irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)
  • hypothermia (low body temperature), bluish skin color, paleness
  • clammy skin
  • dulled responses, such as no gag reflex

The NIAAA says that BAC can continue to increase even if a person becomes unconscious due to alcohol poisoning. Alcohol present in the stomach and intestines continues to flow in the bloodstream and spread in the body.

Ways to help a victim of alcohol poisoning

If someone suffers an alcohol poisoning, an ambulance must be called immediately. Alcohol poisoning is serious and a little delay can result in death or a death-like situation. It is risky to assume that an unconscious person will get well by “sleeping it off”; in fact, it will only worsen the situation. Few steps that can be taken to tackle such a situation are:

  • try to keep the individual awake
  • try to put him in a sitting position; if the individual is unconscious, make him lie on his side, which is a recovery position, and make sure he does not choke
  • give him water and NOT coffee as it will worsen the dehydration
  • do not make him walk as he might fall and get hurt
  • don’t give him any more alcoholic drinks

Once the patient reaches the hospital, medical practitioners will start the treatment depending on his/her condition.

Road to an alcohol addiction-free life

If binge drinking becomes a routine, one should seek alcohol treatment immediately.

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