The parents didn’t know what they’d find after a phone call in the middle of the night summoned them to their teenage son’s bedside in an intensive care unit. Is he dead or alive? During a frantic 90-minute car ride to a hospital near their son’s college campus, that question repeated in their minds on an endless loop. They knew the situation was critical and that he hovered between life and death.
The young man recovered and went back to school, but that harrowing drive will long be remembered by his parents, family and friends.
He drank too much too quickly at an off-campus party. It was a rookie mistake, one that unfortunately is all too common.
According to the latest research by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, heavy drinking by men and women combined increased about 17 percent between 2005 and 2012, while binge drinking increased about 6 percent between 2002 and 2012. Increases in Indiana for the same time periods fell along similar lines — with about a 20 percent increase in heavy drinking and about an 8 percent increase in binge drinking. But in Kentucky and Jefferson County, the increases were drastically higher.
Statewide, heavy drinking increased about 61 percent and binge drinking increased about 67 percent in the same time periods. In Jefferson County, heavy drinking increased about 64 percent and binge drinking increased about 55 percent.
About 2,200 deaths from alcohol poisoning occur each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That averages to about six deaths each day. Alcohol poisoning is caused by drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. The high levels of alcohol in the blood can shut down parts of the brain that control such critical functions as breathing, heart rate and body temperature, which can result in death.
How much is too much?
CDC guidelines suggest no more than two drinks a day for men and no more than one a day for women.
Binge drinking, according to the CDC, is typically four or more drinks for women and five for men in a short period of time. Any drinking is too much for someone under 21, the U.S. legal age. Yet the CDC estimates that people ages 12 to 20 drink 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States, with 90 percent of that consumed while binge drinking. In 2010, about 189,000 emergency room visits were made by people under age 21 for injuries and other conditions linked to alcohol.
With summer vacations for college and high school students right around the corner, it’s a good time to talk about safe drinking, said Ashley Webb, director of the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center. Remind your friends and family to follow these recommendations:
- Don’t drink and drive.
- Don’t drink on an empty stomach.
- Sip your drink instead of guzzling
- Alternate alcoholic drinks with nonalcoholic beverages.
- If you feel you are in an unsafe situation, walk away.
- Don’t drink anything you haven’t poured for yourself.
- Be cautious of premixed drinks, such as “zombie punch.” You don’t know how much alcohol (or other substances) the drink contains.
- Accept a drink only if you want one. Don’t let others talk you into drinking.
- Watch out for your friends, and get help if you think they have drunk too much alcohol.
Signs of alcohol poisoning
According to the National Institutes of Health, the following signs can indicate a dangerous blood alcohol level:
· Mental confusion, stupor, coma, inability to wake up
- Slow breathing (fewer than eight breaths per minute)
- Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)
- Hypothermia (low body temperature), bluish skin color, paleness
If you suspect alcohol poisoning, call 911. If you have questions, call the national poison control hotline at (800) 222-1222.