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Alcohol Poisoning

by James Heller 25. March 2009 12:06
April, 2009 marks the 22nd year of Alcohol Awareness Month.  

Tarzana Treatment Centers is participating with a series of articles meant to inform and educate the general public about alcohol abuse, dependence and treatment.  Considering that over 21 million Americans meet the criteria for alcohol abuse and over 53 million admit to past-month binge drinking, not to mention the many loved ones affected by each, our efforts are worthwhile.

Somewhere between social drinking and alcohol dependence lies alcohol poisoning.  It usually occurs at times of high stress or celebration with binge drinkers and those who fall into the category of alcohol abusers.   

A social drinker would usually stop or slow drinking when the tipsy feeling hits.  Those who can control their drinking are unlikely to use alcohol to ease stress, and find it a hindrance to celebrating.  

Someone who is alcohol dependent experiences a more complicated set of issues.  Emotional numbness is inherent with alcohol dependence.  Also, the drinking pattern is steady and tolerance to alcohol has built in the body, so alcohol poisoning tends to be accidental with this group.

Only a small percentage of social drinkers and alcohol dependent drinkers get alcohol poisoning.  

The excerpts below from the Mayo Clinic website explain why this is so.  This is critical information for anyone who drinks, even on occasion, or knows someone who does.  When it comes to alcohol’s effects on the body, knowledge can truly save a life.


Definition


Alcohol poisoning is a serious — and sometimes deadly — consequence of consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. Drinking too much too quickly can affect your breathing, heart rate and gag reflex and potentially lead to coma and death.

Binge drinking — rapidly downing 5 or more drinks in a row — is the main cause of alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol poisoning can also occur when you accidentally ingest household products that contain alcohol. A person with alcohol poisoning needs immediate medical attention. If you suspect someone has alcohol poisoning, call 911 or your local poison control center right away.

Symptoms


If you drink, have friends who drink or have children of any age, know the signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning:
  • Confusion, stupor
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing (less than eight breaths a minute)
  • Irregular breathing
  • Blue-tinged skin or pale skin
  • Low body temperature (hypothermia)
  • Unconsciousness ("passing out")

It's not necessary for all of these symptoms to be present before you seek help. A person who is unconscious or can't be roused is at risk of dying.

When to see a doctor
If you suspect that someone has alcohol poisoning — even if you don't see the classic signs and symptoms — seek immediate medical care. In an emergency, follow these suggestions:

  • If the person is unconscious, breathing less than eight times a minute or has repeated, uncontrolled vomiting, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Keep in mind that even when someone is unconscious or has stopped drinking, alcohol continues to be released into the bloodstream and the level of alcohol in the body continues to rise. Never assume that a person will "sleep off" alcohol poisoning.
  • If the person is conscious, call 800-222-1222, and you'll automatically be routed to your local poison control center. The staff at the poison control center or emergency call center can instruct you as to whether you should take the person directly to a hospital. All calls to poison control centers are confidential.
  • Be prepared to provide information. If you know, be sure to tell hospital or emergency personnel the kind and amount of alcohol the person ingested, and when.
  • Don't leave an unconscious person alone. While waiting for help, don't try to make the person vomit. People who have alcohol poisoning have an impaired gag reflex and may choke on their own vomit or accidentally inhale (aspirate) vomit into their lungs, which could cause a fatal lung injury.

Causes


Although alcohol poisoning can occur when you accidentally — or even intentionally — consume household products containing alcohol, most alcohol poisoning results from drinking too many alcoholic beverages, especially in a short period of time.

How much is too much?
Unlike food, which can take hours to digest, alcohol is absorbed quickly by your body — long before most other nutrients. If you drink on an empty stomach, about 20 percent of the alcohol is absorbed directly from your stomach and can reach your brain in less than a minute.
Most alcohol, though, is processed by your liver. It takes about one hour for your liver to process (metabolize) the alcohol in one drink — defined as 12 ounces (355 milliliters) of beer, 4 to 5 ounces (118 to 148 milliliters) of wine or 1.5 ounce (44 milliliters) of 80-proof distilled spirits. Mixed drinks often contain more than one serving of alcohol and take even longer to metabolize.
The rate at which alcohol is processed can vary considerably from person to person and depends on a number of factors. In general, though, drinking more than one drink an hour gives your liver more than it can handle. Binge drinking — usually defined as rapidly downing five drinks or more in a row — is especially dangerous. Drinking large quantities of alcohol so quickly means that you can consume a lethal dose before you pass out.

What happens to your body when you drink?
Alcohol depresses the nerves that control involuntary actions such as breathing, heartbeat and your gag reflex, which keeps you from choking. Excessive alcohol intake can slow and, in some cases, shut down these functions. Your body temperature can also drop (hypothermia), leading to cardiac arrest. And your blood sugar level can fall low enough to cause seizures.

Complications


Alcohol is a stomach irritant and may cause vomiting. It also impairs your gag reflex. This increases the risk of choking on vomit if you've passed out from excessive drinking. There's also a risk of accidentally inhaling vomit into your lungs, which can lead to a dangerous or fatal interruption of breathing (asphyxiation). Excessive vomiting can also result in severe dehydration.
Severe alcohol poisoning can be fatal. People who survive may have irreversible brain damage.


Tarzana Treatment Centers in Los Angeles makes a daily effort to find treatment news articles that we can share with our readers in the alcohol and drug treatment community.  The article above was found at http://www.mayoclinic.com/print/alcohol-poisoning/DS00861/DSECTION=all&METHOD=print among others of equal informational and educational quality.