Â About forty-two percent of high-school students claimed to have drank alcohol within the past 30 days.Â Alcohol kills more teenagers than any other drug taken to affect mood and behavior.Â Accidents, suicides, andÂ homicides are ways teenagers die from alcohol. They also die from alcohol poisoning.
Alcohol Poisoning and the Adolescent Body
Alcohol is a deadly toxin. It depresses nerves that control involuntary actions such as breathing, heartbeat, and the gag reflex. Adolescents can die from alcohol when their drinking depresses their involuntary actions too much or they become unconscious and cannot take corrective action for the feedback their body is giving them that help is needed.
- Alcohol irritates the stomach, frequently causing vomiting. If the vomiting occurs while the adolescent is unconscious, the adolescent can “drown” in their own vomit.
- Breathing can become so shallow it eventually stops and the adolescent dies of respiratory arrest.
- Â The heart can stop beating.
- Vomiting can cause severe dehydration, leading to seizures and permanent brain damage.
- Glucose (sugar) levels in the blood can become dangerously low, leading to seizures and coma.
- The body loses its ability to regulate temperature. Body temperature can go down too far, causing hypothermia.
The alternative to dying is to get to an ER in time to pump the alcohol out of the system. Adolescents who are aware of the danger can make sure that happens.
Adolescents who are aware of the signs of alcohol poisoning, however, have the power and knowledge to save their life or the life of one of their peers. Make sure that your teenager knows the signs of alcohol poisoning and what to do if he or she encounters it.
Why the “Wait and See” Approach Can Be Fatal for Teenagers Using Alcohol
The most important thing and adolescent needs to know to deal with alcohol poisoning is to get help as soon as they suspect the alcohol might be poisoning someone.
The “wait and see” approach can be fatal when it comes to alcohol. The reason?Â Alcohol levels continue to go up after the person has stopped drinking. Alcohol levels will jump up when the alcohol reaches the small intestine–and it takes some time for the alcohol to transit from the mouth to the small intestine.Â That teenager who is passed out over there is not drinking right now–but his or her alcohol levels are still going up.
Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning
Adolescents should know to “get help” as soon as they notice any of these symptoms:
- Person can’t be roused after they have passed out
- Slow breath–breathing 8 times a minute or less
- Pale, bluish skin (a sign of hypothermia)
- Irregular breath (more than 10 seconds between breaths)
- Mental Confusion
What Adolescents Should Do When They Notice Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning
The most important thing that needs to happen if an adolescent has alcohol poisoning is to get immediate medical help.Â In the USA, dialing “911″ will usually get medical help fast.
The second most important thing to remember is: Never, Never, Never “wait and see” when a person has symptoms of alcohol poisoning.Â It could be too late. Its better to have a false alarm than a dead friend.
Adolescents are very concerned about getting in trouble with their parents, and often fail to deal effectively with an alcohol crisis out of fear of getting into trouble. Parents should talk to adolescents about how staying alive, and keeping one’s peers alive trumps getting in trouble.
Do this Today
If you have an adolescent, whether or not you are aware they are drinking–have an adult conversation today about the dangers of alcohol poisoning , how to recognize it, and how to address it. Make sure your adolescent knows to do this:
1.Â Call for help–even if they are afraid someone will get in trouble.
2. Be vigilant about their own and peer’s state of body and mind if they are drinking.
3. Never, never, never “wait and see” if there are symptoms of alcohol poisoning.
Katrina Miller, PhD