Excessive drinking can be hazardous to everyone's health! It can be particularly stressful
if you are the sober one taking care of your drunk roommate, who is vomiting while
you are trying to study for an exam.
Some people laugh at the behavior of others who are drunk. Some think it's even funnier
when they pass out. But there is nothing funny about the aspiration of vomit leading
to asphyxiation or the poisoning of the respiratory center in the brain, both of which
can result in death.
Do you know about the dangers of alcohol poisoning? When should you seek professional
help for a friend? Sadly enough, too many college students say they wish they would
have sought medical treatment for a friend. Many end up feeling responsible for alcohol-related
tragedies that could have easily been prevented.
Common myths about sobering up include drinking black coffee, taking a cold bath or
shower, sleeping it off, or walking it off. But these are just myths, and they don't
work. The only thing that reverses the effects of alcohol is time-something you may
not have if you are suffering from alcohol poisoning. And many different factors affect
the level of intoxication of an individual, so it's difficult to gauge exactly how
much is too much.
What Happens to Your Body When You Get Alcohol Poisoning?
Alcohol depresses nerves that control involuntary actions such as breathing and the
gag reflex (which prevents choking). A fatal dose of alcohol will eventually stop
It is common for someone who drank excessive alcohol to vomit since alcohol is an
irritant to the stomach. There is then the danger of choking on vomit, which could
cause death by asphyxiation in a person who is not conscious because of intoxication.
You should also know that a person's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) can continue
to rise even while he or she is passed out. Even after a person stops drinking, alcohol
in the stomach and intestine continues to enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout
the body. It is dangerous to assume the person will be fine by sleeping it off.
- Lack of awareness of surroundings
- Impaired coordination
- Rambling, losing train of thought
- Unable to track simple conversation
- Slurred Speech
- Loss of balance
- Impaired memory
- Eyes – glassy or unfocused
Critical Signs for Alcohol Poisoning:
- Mntal confusion, stupor, coma, or person cannot be awakened (or it’s very difficult)
- Vomiting (especially while sleeping or passed out)
- Doesn’t wake up after vomiting
- Slow breathing (fewer than eight breaths per minute)
- Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)
- Hypothermia (low body temperature): cold, clammy, pale or bluish skin
- Injury and intoxication, especially head injury
- Under the influence of other drugs along with alcohol
What Should I Do If I Suspect Someone Has Alcohol Poisoning?
- Know the danger signals
- Do not 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
What Can Happen to Someone With Alcohol Poisoning That Goes Untreated?
- Victim chokes on his or her own vomit (and drown on own stomach contents)
- Breathing slows, becomes irregular, or stops
- Heart beats irregularly or stops
- Hypothermia (low body temperature)
- Hypoglycemia (too little blood sugar) leads to seizures
- Untreated severe dehydration from vomiting can cause seizures, permanent brain damage,
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 ingest a fatal dose before becoming unconscious.
Don't be afraid to seek medical help for a friend who has had too much to drink. Don't
worry that your friend may become angry or embarrassed-remember, you cared enough
to help. Always be safe, not sorry.
How to Handle an Intoxicated Person
When you are dealing with someone who is overly intoxicated, you are dealing with
a potentially life - threatening situation.
Here Are a Few Guidelines That May Help:
- Do not try to handle the situation by yourself. Enlist some sober help
- Only time will eliminate the effects of alcohol. The body metabolizes approximately
½ ounce of alcohol an hour. Unfortunately, you get drunk faster than you get sober.
Nothing will significantly increase this rate of metabolism - not coffee or other
stimulants - nothing except time.
If You Are Dealing With a Person Who is Unconscious:
- Try to wake the person, if they will not awaken, call for medical help immediately.
- If a person can be awakened and is coherent, lay the person on their side with knees
bent and one arm extended. Check on this person regularly.
- If you have any doubts about the person’s safety or functioning, call for medical
If You Are Dealing With a Person Who is Conscious:
- Stay calm. Don't communicate anxiety or aggression
- Consider that you are dealing with a person who is "drug-effected" (exaggerated emotions,
impaired thinking, and increased aggressive)
- Before you approach or touch the person, explain what you intend to do in a clear,
firm, and reassuring manner.
- Try to keep the person still. Do not allow this person to drive or walk anywhere
- Do no administer any food, drink, or medication.
Things to Remember in an Emergency Situation:
- It doesn't mean there isn't an emergency! Sometimes others can be resistant to calling
for help. An alcohol overdose is a medical emergency - no matter what the person
or their friends say. If someone says "He/She always does this" or "You'll ruin the
party", it doesn't mean there isn't and emergency.
- Get help. Don't handle this alone.
- Stay calm and keep your head. Keep control of the situation; remember, they are the
ones with the impaired thinking. Do what you think is necessary. If they are violent
or out of control, call the 911. When in doubt, it is always best to call 911 and
have the paramedics check your friend to be sure they will be safe.
- Wait for help to come to you! Whenever possible, do not transport your friend to the
hospital alone or even with others in a private vehicle. They may require help only
medical personnel can provide while you are transporting them (seizure, cardiac or
respiratory arrest, choking), you may get stuck in traffic, or they may become violent
or out of control while in the vehicle.
- Demonstrate concerns for the person's well-being, talk in a calm, non-judgmental voice
in order to reassure him or her.
- Encourage the person to lie down(on their side to prevent accidental death by choking
should they vomit). Stay with your friend; do not leave them alone or with other
- Know your resources and use them. There are services to help you with what can be
a very scary situation.
- Remember to take care of yourself. This is a high stress situation. Afterward, you
can debrief the situation by calling and making an appointment to sort out what happened,
how you feel or to discuss your concerns about the drinking habits of a friend.
- Follow up; do talk to the person after they are sober to express your concern about
There is no way to sober up quickly. It takes time for a person to metabolize the
alcohol in the bloodstream. A cold shower, black coffee, oxygen, or exercise will
have little effect. A general rule of thumb is that it takes as many hours to sober
up as the number of drinks that have been ingested.
If a person has had "one too many" and passes out, monitor his or her breathing to
make sure it's normal. If breathing is irregular and/or the person appears to be
in a coma, or has a purplish skin tone, try to wake him or her by shaking or gently
poking. If there is no response, call for medical attention immediately. Be aware
that if you do not seek medical attention when the situation necessitates it, you
could be held legally liable. If you have any doubt, call for help!
To prevent choking on vomit by someone who is intoxicated, make sure the person is
on his or her side.
Much care must be executed with the aggressive drunk who wants to fight everyone.
- Approach him or her through the use of reason.
- Attempt to get the person to leave and go home with someone he knows.
- If the person continues to be combative and is hurting others, call the police to
avoid further damage and to protect the individual as well.