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Alcohol Poisoning

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.

Alcohol poisoning can cause death directly by acting on those brain areas that control consciousness, respiration and heart rate. As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol can "turn off" these vital brain areas, resulting first in coma and then death. In many cases, drinking too much alcohol will make you sick and you will stop drinking. Contrary to folk tales, getting sick is not from mixing drinks or drinking on an empty stomach, it is because specialized poison control cells in your brain detect danger -- too much alcohol -- and send a signal to your stomach to vomit. This is the brain's way of dealing with poisoning and in this case, 'alcohol poisoning'. Vomiting is an attempt to eliminate any unabsorbed alcohol. The logic is, if you can prevent any alcohol that's still in the stomach from getting into the blood supply, it will prevent any further alcohol poisoning and quite possibly save your life.

Eating before you drink will slow down the speed of intoxication but it is no guarantee that you won’t get sick or alcohol poisoning if you consume enough alcohol. Whereas some people only vomit when they have consumed too much alcohol, other people just fall asleep (with or without vomiting) after they have consumed too much alcohol. In these people, alcohol poisoning and death can follow in one of two ways: you may fall into a deep sleep and vomit while sleeping. What’s the result? You choke on your own vomit because you are too intoxicated to wake up and clear out your airway. In other instances, you simply fall asleep and never wake up, because the concentration of alcohol is so high that the areas of your brain controlling life functions are so depressed they stop functioning, and so do you.

Do you know about the signs 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 poisoning tragedies that could have easily been prevented.

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.

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning

  • Mental confusion
  • Stupor
  • Inability to make eye contact or sustain a conversation
  • Unconsciousness (passing out)
  • Absent reflexes
  • No withdrawal from painful stimuli (for instance from pinching)
  • Difficulty awakening the person
  • Vomiting.
  • Seizures.
  • Slow breathing (fewer than eight breaths per minute).
  • Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths).
  • Blue-tinged skin or pale skin
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature), bluish skin color, paleness.

It must be pointed out that alcohol, even in smaller amounts, can also be dangerous and result in alcohol poisoning if alcohol is used in combination with various drugs (prescription or illegal) such as the following:

  • Narcotic pain medications (such as vicodin, percocet, morphine, heroin, and darvocet)
  • Sedatives (examples include barbiturates, tranquilizers, and cannabis)
  • Certain anti-seizure medications (such as phenobarbital)

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