Avoid alcohol poisoning this festive season

Dr Tendai Zuze —
NOW that we are officially in the festive season, a lot of people will be drinking a lot of alcohol.

An unfortunate consequence of excessive alcohol is alcohol poisoning which is a few levels beyond usual drunkenness. You should suspect that someone has alcohol poisoning when they have confusion, vomiting, convulsions, slow breathing(less than eight breaths per minute), pale skin, low body temperature or are unconscious and can’t be awakened.

Besides beer, alcohol, in the form of ethanol, is also found in mouthwash, some medications and some household products. This alcohol is not usually significant unless excessive amounts of these products are taken.

A major cause of alcohol poisoning is binge drinking. You can consume a fatal dose before you pass out. Even when you are unconscious or you have stopped drinking, alcohol continues to be released from your stomach and intestines into your bloodstream, and the level of alcohol in your body continues to rise.

Several factors are important in whether you get alcohol poisoning or not. These include your size and weight, overall health, whether you have eaten recently, the percentage of alcohol in your drinks, the rate and amount of alcohol consumption and your alcohol tolerance levels.

Severe complications can result from alcohol poisoning, including:

Choking: Alcohol may cause vomiting. Because it depresses your gag reflex, this increases the risk of choking on vomit if you’ve passed out.

Asphyxiation: Accidentally inhaling vomit into your lungs can lead to a dangerous or fatal interruption of breathing (asphyxiation).

Severe dehydration: Vomiting can result in severe dehydration, leading to dangerously low blood pressure and fast heart rate.

Seizures: Your blood sugar level may drop low enough to cause seizures.

Hypothermia: Your body temperature may drop so low that it leads to cardiac arrest.

Brain damage: Heavy drinking may cause irreversible brain damage.

Death: Any of the issues above can lead to death.

Alcohol poisoning treatment involves supportive care while your body rids itself of the alcohol. This typically includes careful monitoring, oxygen therapy, intravenous fluids and use of vitamins and glucose to prevent serious complications.

Home remedies for alcohol poisoning won’t usually work. This is an emergency situation. You can’t reverse the effects of alcohol poisoning, and you could actually make things worse through some actions. Here are some alcohol poisoning myths that will not work:

Black coffee or caffeine: This does not counteract the effects of alcohol poisoning

A cold shower: The shock of cold can cause a loss of consciousness

Walking it off: This does not increase the speed alcohol leaves your body

Sleeping it off: You can lose consciousness while asleep

To avoid alcohol poisoning
 Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger. When you do drink, enjoy your drink slowly.

Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Having some food in your stomach may slow alcohol absorption somewhat, although it won’t prevent alcohol poisoning if, for example, you’re binge drinking.

Communicate with your teens. Talk to your teenagers about the dangers of alcohol, including binge drinking. Evidence suggests that children who are warned about alcohol by their parents and who report close relationships with their parents are less likely to start drinking.

Store products safely. If you have small children, store alcohol-containing products, including cosmetics, mouthwashes and medications, out of their reach.

Use child-proof bathroom and kitchen cabinets to prevent access to household cleaners, and keep toxic items in your garage or storage area safely out of reach. Consider keeping alcoholic beverages under lock and key.