The University of Maine student newspaper since 1875
Tuesday, Sept. 29, 1:12 p.m.

Alcohol poisoning a common problem

First part of a Maine Campus three-part report.


P1. Defining Alcohol poisoning.

Wednesday (online Monday):

P2. Examining the effects.

Friday (online Wednesday):

P3. Legal issues surrounding alcohol.

Four hundred college students die every year in the United States from drinking too much alcohol. While this condition is often referred to as alcohol poisoning, alcohol overdose is a more accurate description, said Dr. Robert Dana, substance abuse coordinator and dean of Students and Community Life for the University of Maine.

“An alcohol overdose is enough alcohol to create life-threatening physical changes in the body,” Dana said. “It usually means too much alcohol is drank too quickly.”

An alcohol overdose is the result of alcohol poisoning, a more common but still serious problem on college campuses today.

“Poisoning is when there is any level of a substance in your system that has reached toxic levels, which means that it impairs function,” said Travis Hawksley, the University Volunteer Ambulance Corps administrative coordinator.

It’s a common scene on the average UMaine weekend: Friends get together for a few drinks. But it doesn’t take much for alcohol poisoning to set in.

“It takes remarkably little to kill you,” Dana said. “If a 100-pound woman drank eight standard drinks within an hour, such as a bottle of beer or a shot, it would give her a blood alcohol level of .35, which is the minimal lethal dose-it would kill 10 percent of normal drinkers.”

Warning signs of alcohol poisoning include slurred speech, inability to focus, swaying and labored breathing.

“Someone who is in a stupor and is in and out of consciousness would be `drunk,’ and have some level of alcohol poisoning,” Hawksley said.

Dana said that is the time to slow down. As a person’s capacity to reason diminishes and his or her judgment starts to fail, the person might decide the best thing for him or her to do is keep drinking.

“Talk to your friends up front before you start drinking, designate your preferences in the relationship,” said Mark Jackson, director of student health and services at Cutler Health Center. “Establish expectations about drinking, tell them you are not going to tolerate someone who can’t handle themselves when they drink.”

Jackson said not to try to bring someone around by a shower or coffee. In doing so the person runs further risk of injury. He or she could fall down in the shower or spill hot coffee on himself or herself. But those are not the only risks.

“After one episode of binge drinking brain cell changes occur, and you have a hangover and also run the risk of things like falling down a flight of stairs and breaking your neck,” Dana said.

According to a report from UVAC, alcohol depresses the central nervous system, meaning it affects your brain and spinal cord. People often become unaware of their environment and are often injured without realizing it.

“A person under the influence might suffer injuries to themselves or might hurt someone else,” Jackson said. “You might wind up in a dangerous place without knowing how you got there.”

Don’t think twice about calling for help, Dana said. If you feel a friend has had too much to drink call 911 or Public Safety at 581-4040. A trained UVAC technician will come to assess the situation and treat the person.

“If someone passes out or appears unguarded call UVAC, it’s safe, confidential help,” Dana said.

While waiting for UVAC to arrive, Dana said to keep the person warm and turn him or her on his or her side to prevent swallowing or choking if the person starts to vomit.

“The best thing to do is learn how alcohol works as a drug,” Dana said. “Learn safe drinking practices and moderation. And always, if you’re in doubt call for help.”