For many, consuming alcohol is a way to socialize and celebrate. It is the social lubricant of choice in most parties and sports events, among many other celebrations. For adolescents, drinking alcohol can be a sign of ‘maturity.’ For college students, it’s a way to have more fun. For adults, alcohol can help them forget their problems at home or work.
Unfortunately, drinking too much and too quickly – and continuing to do despite obvious signs of impairment – can lead to alcohol poisoning.
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What is Alcohol Poisoning?
Also known as alcohol overdose, it occurs when the bloodstream is flooded with too much alcohol. This usually stems from binge drinking, where one drinks excessive amounts of alcohol in a short span of time.
The brain, overwhelmed by alcohol, is no longer able to govern vital functions. As such, the following symptoms occur:
- Inability to stay awake
- Lack of gag reflex (leads to choking)
- Breathing difficulties (less than 8 breaths per minute, or an interval of more than 10 seconds per breath)
- Slow heart rate
- Low body temperature
- Bluish, clammy skin
Why Alcohol Poisoning Happens
The liver can only process a limited amount of alcohol. According to the National Health Services, the said organ can only metabolize one unit of alcohol per hour – and that’s equivalent to a 25 ml shot of 40% alcohol. To wit, a bottle of 5% beer is equivalent to 1.7 units, while a large glass of wine (12% alcohol) corresponds to 3 units.
As such, if you drink an excessive amount in a short period, your body is left unable to process al the alcohol in the circulation. The alcohol then lingers in the system, leading to the symptoms mentioned above.
The Risks of Alcohol Poisoning
According to a US News Report, as much as 2,200 Americans die from alcohol poisoning every year. Three of four overdose-related deaths are that of adults aged 35 to 64, with the most coming from the 45 to 54 age bracket. Men comprise 76% of the total deaths, with 70% of these casualties being non-Hispanic whites. Unfortunately, alcohol dependence is a major factor in 30% of these deaths.
Apart from being highly fatal, the act of alcohol poisoning can lead to other health risks as well. Since the drinker is out of his wits, he is most likely to lose his personal possessions along the way.
Because of alcohol’s ability to lower one’s inhibitions, it can make the person violent and antisocial. More often than not, this can result in fights and whatnot.
A drunk person might also engage in unsafe sex, which can lead to a sexually transmitted infection. After all, a study has found that ‘intoxicated’ people are less likely to use condoms and other protective methods.
For females, the risk is definitely higher. After all, a night of drinking might result in an unplanned pregnancy. While alcohol contributes to only 10% of the cases, it reflects the fact stated above – that drunk people often fail to use protective methods during sex.
A heavily intoxicated person might also insist on driving. By doing so, he might get in an accident. More than suffering from disfiguring injuries, this incident may lead to death as well. After all, as much as 29 people die from alcohol-related driving accidents every day. According to the Centers for Disease Control, this amounts to 1 death every 50 minutes.
What Happens When You Get Alcohol Poisoning?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, a person admitted for alcohol poisoning might receive any (if not all) of the following treatments:
- IV line insertion. This will serve as access for the needed fluids containing vitamins and glucose.
- Oxygen therapy via cannula or face mask. In worse cases, a breathing tube may be inserted directly into the windpipe to help the person breathe.
- Stomach flushing. A tube will be inserted via the nose to help remove toxins from the system.
- Hemodialysis. In severe cases, a patient might have to undergo dialysis to remove the alcohol from the body.
Gastric Suction or Stomach Pumping
In life-threatening cases, the doctors might resort to performing gastric suction – also known as stomach pumping. This procedure allows the physician to get rid of the excessive amounts of alcohol in the patient’s stomach.
The procedure starts with the application of a numbing agent (anesthesia) on the throat. This will prevent the patient from gagging. Once the medication kicks in, the health care professional will insert a tube through the nose or stomach. This is further advanced to the food pipe (esophagus) until it reaches the stomach.
The alcohol in the stomach is then eliminated through suction. It can also be removed through lavage, where water is instilled through the tube. It is then ‘drained’ right thereafter.
While stomach pumping is technically safe, the procedure comes with certain risks:
- Aspiration, where you end up ‘breathing’ stomach contents
- Spasm of the vocal cords
- Accidental perforation (hole) in the esophagus
- Insertion of the tube in the windpipe instead of the food pipe (esophagus)
- The pushing of stomach contents deeper into the bowels
- Some bleeding
When to Seek Medical Help
Alcohol overdose, if left untreated, can be fatal. As such, you better call 911 if you see a family member or friend showing the signs of alcohol poisoning.
While waiting for the first responders, you can help the intoxicated individual by doing the following:
- Don’t attempt to ‘sober up’ the person. Avoid giving him coffee or a cold shower.
- Help the person sit up.
- Keep him awake!
- Keep the person warm.
- Give him water, as long as he can drink it.
- Stay with the person. Don’t leave him unattended!
Alcohol poisoning occurs when a person consumes too much liquor in a short span of time. This can affect the brain processes, thereby resulting in life-threatening symptoms. In the event of alcohol overdose, the patient might receive oxygen and intravenous fluids. He might also his stomach flushed, if not pumped. In severe cases, he might undergo dialysis to remove the excessive amounts of alcohol in the bloodstream. With that being said, it’s best to call for medical help at the first sight of alcohol poisoning symptoms.
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