Binge drinking is most often linked to college campus fraternity parties, dorm escapades and athletic event celebrations. Walking down the street on the campus of the University of Wisconsin on our way to Camp Randall Stadium for a football game, we see the young men hanging out dorm rooms, frat houses and apartment buildings, guzzling beer and ten sheets to the wind at 11:00 in the morning. Call it a right of passage, or just something young men in college do, but it has potential for being very deadly. Beyond drunk is alcohol poisoning and the party is over.
Simply put, alcohol poisoning is the body absorbing too much alcohol over a short period of time. The college campus binge drinking is a good example, but it happens just about anywhere, any time. It can also be caused by drinking ethyl alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, or methyl alcohol (wood alcohol). Home made alcohol such as moonshine or white lightning can be potentially very dangerous. The body can only take so much. Because alcohol depresses the central nervous system, massive amounts of alcohol, or the wrong kind of alcohol in heavy amounts, not only can cause a person to pass out, but stop breathing as well.
The slowing of breathing is just one sign of trouble. Before they pass out, a person might have vomiting, be confused or in a kind of drunken stupor, their temperature might drop and their skin might have a "blue" tinge to it. They may experience seizures. Even if all of these symptoms are not present, alcohol poisoning might still be happening. If someone has had way too much and passes out, they may be at risk of dying.
Binge drinking at parties is intentional, but alcohol poisoning can occur quite unintentionally. Take for example the child who drinks a household product like mouthwash, or an over-the-counter medication. Their little system may not handle the ethanol content in those. Other products like rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol), or hand sanitizers, or other cleaning products are dangerous. Kids have been known to drink antifreeze.
Most alcohol poisoning cases are, however, from drinking too much alcoholic beverage. Your body can probably handle a 12-ounce beer and eliminate the alcohol from your body in about an hour, if you don't have another beer. But what if you have three or four beers in an hour, which is not at all uncommon? What if you have a few beers each our over several hours? Your blood alcohol content is going to go up. Take this simple fact and accelerate it, as in the case of binge drinking, and you can see the potential for trouble. The body just can't keep up. Even after you stop drinking, your blood alcohol level can go up because the stomach passes the beer into your colon.
So often at college parties where the beer is flowing, maybe people are doing shots, there's always that one person who passes out drunk. "Oh, there's Hal, he's passed out. Let him sleep." His friends don't necessarily think he's in trouble. Maybe he's not, but alcohol poisoning is serious business. One thing to do if you suspect your friend is in trouble is to call 911, or call 800-222-1222, which will connect you to a local poison control center. Just letting him sleep is not a good idea. The help on the phone will guide you through the process and instruct you on what to do. They will probably ask you what he has been drinking, so offer that information. One thing not to do is let your friend vomit. Remember that his central nervous system is depressed and his gag reflex might be impaired. He might choke to death.
Alcohol poisoning requires medical intervention and some of the treatments include oxygen treatment, airway precautions to prevent him from choking and help him breathe, intravenous fluids (alcohol causes dehydration) and even dialysis to rid the blood of alcohol and toxins. If a person has really consumed a lot of alcohol, the first 24 hours of this treatment can be touchy.
The way to prevent alcohol poisoning is moderation. But sometimes "moderation" is a meaningless word. What is moderation? As a guideline, it's one drink a day for women and two drinks for men. It's a 12-ounce beer, or 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor. For an alcoholic, moderation means nothing. People with the disease can't stop drinking and, therefore, are at risk of alcohol poisoning.
The guy passed out at a frat party, or the alcohol abuser who's had a very bad day, or the alcoholic who craves a drink when they get up in the morning, are not in a position to help themselves necessarily, and so it becomes necessary for friends, family and co-workers to assist. They may look like they're peacefully sleeping it off when they're passed out on the couch, but it's only when they don't get up when we realize something was wrong.