Every year, about 2200 Americans die from alcohol poisoning, which averages out to about six people every day. While fatal cases of alcohol poisoning are typically associated with frat parties, it is far more common among middle-aged adults. Roughly 76 percent of people who die from alcohol poisoning are between the ages of 35 and 64. Alcohol poisoning is a result of drinking too much too quickly, and therefore is typically caused by binge drinking. Binge drinking is typically defined as drinking five drinks in two hours for men, and drinking 4 drinks in two hours for women. Alcohol is absorbed very quickly into your blood, but is processed relatively slowly by your liver. It typically takes about an hour for your liver to process half a pint of beer. Drinking any faster than that will cause your blood alcohol level to keep rising.
Symptoms of alcohol poisoning can include confusion, vomiting, seizures, very slow breathing, i.e. less than eight breaths per minute, irregular breathing, with more than 10 seconds between breaths, pale or blue-tinged skin, low body temperature, and passing out and becoming non-responsive. Someone doesn’t have to exhibit all of these symptoms to have alcohol poisoning. If you suspect someone has alcohol poisoning, get help immediately, especially if he has passed out and can’t be revived. Call 911. Be prepared to answer questions about how much the person drank and when. Don’t leave an unconscious person alone because he could vomit and choke. If you have to leave him alone, make sure he’s turned on his side. If he vomits, help him so he doesn’t choke. Try to keep him awake if you can.
Don’t worry about a false alarm. It’s much better to call for help when someone is not in danger than to not call for help when someone is in danger. If you’re underage, and worried about getting in trouble, keep in mind that you’ll get in far more trouble if someone you’re drinking with dies. Plus, getting help despite personal risk is the right thing to do.
The biggest risk factor for alcohol poisoning is binge drinking. If you drink at a moderate pace, alcohol poisoning is nearly impossible. Other risk factors include whether you’ve recently eaten, as food slows the absorption of alcohol into the blood, your weight, your general health, whether you’re drinking while taking other drugs, especially depressants like benzodiazepines or opioids, the strength of your drinks, and your tolerance level.
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