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How Alcohol Can Lead to an Emergency

May 18, 2018

Young woman drinking alcohol

As always, if you are experiencing an emergency right now and need immediate assistance, call 9-1-1.

Alcohol’s history and reputation in the U.S. is lengthy and filled with controversy. From tonics that claimed to cure all, to a total prohibition, to being the main ingredient of most adult social scenes. But while many people enjoy an occasional drink with friends, others continue to misunderstand its power and influence—and just how easily a fun night can turn into an emergency. 

Even with a minimum legal drinking age of 21, excessive alcohol consumption is still a serious public health problem on college campuses across the country. In fact, more than 1,800 students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related injuries, and hundreds of thousands are physically and sexually assaulted by fellow students who are intoxicated. Binge drinking, too, has long been a scourge among student populations, and is the most common and deadly form of alcohol abuse in the United States. Binge drinking’s largest risk is the possibility of alcohol poisoning, which, if left untreated, carries some huge health costs: seizure, asphyxiation, permanent brain damage, or even death.

We can’t stress enough that if you choose to consume alcohol, you should do so responsibly and in moderation. Even then, it’s extremely important to know the risks of consuming alcohol, and to recognize the critical signs of alcohol poisoning should there ever be an emergency.

When consuming alcohol, each drink adds to your total blood alcohol content (BAC). Alcohol poisoning happens at a BAC of .250. Considering that the legal limit to drive is a BAC of under .08, .250 is an incredibly large and deadly percentage. Common signs of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Confusion, stupor, or even coma
  • Vomiting
  • Seizure
  • Slow breathing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Bluish skin color or pallor (hypothermia)

Alcohol poisoning is a critical condition, and requires immediate medical assistance. If you think someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning, you need to contact emergency medical services and find the nearest emergency room right away.

Of course, excessive alcohol consumption carries more than just short-term risks. Regularly drinking large amounts over time can have a serious effect on your health and lead to far too many chronic conditions, including:

  • Brain Malfunction: Alcohol affects the physical makeup of your brain, and can permanently change your mood, behavior, and interfere with your ability to concentrate and even move steadily.
  • Liver inflammation: Your liver cleans out toxic substances from your body and, you guessed it: alcohol is a toxic substance. Over time, alcohol can cause your liver to become inflamed, leading to worse conditions like steatosis, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis.
  • Pancreas inflammation: Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that will lead to pancreatitis, causing the blood vessels inside to swell.
  • Heart complications: Heavy drinking can lead to cardiomyopathy, which is when your heart muscles stretch and droop, as well as irregular rhythms, high blood pressure, and even stroke.
  • Immunodeficiency: Drinking too much can make you sick, in more ways than one. Too much alcohol over time can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to disease. In fact, heavy drinkers are more likely to contract pneumonia and tuberculosis than non-drinkers.
  • Cancer: More specifically, cancers of the mouth, esophagus, throat, liver, and breast.

For all alcohol-related emergencies, Saint Luke’s is here to help. Our Community Hospitals have low wait times—as low as 10 minutes, on average—that allow you to be seen by a doctor quickly and efficiently at any of our multiple locations across the area. Our Community Hospitals offer full-service, inpatient care and are open 24/7, 365. Find a Saint Luke’s Community Hospital near you.