by Alex Hudson/ Drug Information Center
Q: How can you tell the difference between someone who is just really drunk and someone who has alcohol poisoning?
A: I’m going to start this one with a disclaimer. I’m going to list off some of the signs and symptoms of alcohol overdose here, but DO NOT take this to mean that if not all the signs are present then your friend isn’t really sick. If you are worried that someone you know and love is overdosing CALL THE MEDICS. Just because they aren’t doing everything on the list does not mean that they aren’t potentially having an emergency. It’s better to be safe than sorry here, calling the medics when you think someone is in trouble will potentially save their life.
That being said, there are some indicators to help you recognize when someone has crossed the Rubicon.
•Unconscious/Unresponsive: There is a difference here between someone who has “passed out” and someone who is unconscious. If they are unresponsive to being woken or totally disoriented it is not a good sign.
•Disorientation/Stupor or Panic: Unreasonably out-of-it behavior (outside of normal drunkenness, you be the judge). If they person cannot tell you where or who they are, or replies to your questions with totally unrelated answers, is sitting there with the lights on when no one is home, or starts freaking out big time, this is not good.
•Can’t stand or walk on their own: If you have to carry them because they have lost motor function, stay on the look-out for the other signs. A lot of people get into “really annoyed at my drunk friend” mode when this happens, but stick with it and stay with them to check for the other symptoms. You may have other things you want to do, but you’ll feel better about yourself by keeping your friend safe. If you get through the night without any problems, make them buy you breakfast in the morning to make up for it.
•Trouble Breathing/Bluish Skin that is cold and clammy: This should be considered a “duh”. If your friend is not breathing well, you need to call 911 ASAP.
•Vomiting Blood or Convulsions: This is another no-brainer. These are both extremely serious symptoms and need IMMEDIATE medical attention. These signs indicate you have gotten into the territory where people start dying.
Let’s say you are in a hypothetical alcohol emergency situation. What the hell are you going to do about it? CALL 911 as soon as you begin to worry. The longer you wait the worse. Nobody “sleeps off” alcohol poisoning. And if you don’t call the medics and your friend does live, there is a serious chance they can suffer long term brain damage.
Here’s something very important you should know about calling 911 during a situation like this. They are going to dispatch the medics. Typically the police do not come to these kind of calls and even if they do, they are not there to give you MIPs. They want to make sure that people are staying safe and getting good care. Don’t act out of line and you should be fine. Same thing goes for the dorms. Yeah, you are probably going to get a write-up and might have to go to ADCAS, but it’s not that big of a deal, and the RD is going to take into account that you were trying to do the right thing for your friend. The possibility of getting in trouble should not prevent you from calling 911 as soon as you suspect something is not right.
While you are waiting for the medics to get there, check the person’s breathing; if they aren’t, initiate rescue breathing or CPR, if it’s needed (if you are CPR certified). Put them in “the recovery position”. Tilt them to the side and put an arm under their head and a knee out so the won’t roll over. This way if they spew, they have less of a chance of choking to death on it. Which is so not cool. Now is also a good time to clear the party out. “The cops are coming” will probably do the trick. Also, don’t leave them alone.
And let this be a lesson in moderation my friends. Cause nothing is less sexy than death.