Thursday, August 4, 2016

Alcohol Poisoning

Most of us reading and writing here are old enough to enjoy an adult beverage on occasion. I grew up in the era before mad mommies started their push for stricter drunk driving laws, the legal drinking age was 18 or 19 in most states, and alcohol didn't have quite the taboo about it that it does now. Getting drunk was a rite of passage for most boys, and some of the girls too. Living in a rural area as a teen, it was common to drive around on a weekend night, looking for friends while legally drunk.

I also buried three friends due to drunk drivers before I graduated high school. Like most things in life, moderation is the key to alcohol.

What Is Alcohol Poisoning?
Alcohol poisoning will differ from person to person, but a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.40 is generally considered the LD50 (Lethal Dose for 50% of a population) for ethanol. Things like body mass, genetic quirks, gender (sorry ladies, but it hits you harder), and acquired tolerances make it hard to predict how much it will take to cause poisoning, but once the body has reached that limit, the symptoms are the same.

A child getting into the liquor cabinet can cross the line quickly. A teenager trying to impress friends can easily drink too much, too fast. A person trying to “drown their sorrows” can keep drinking after their body has had too much. An alcoholic falling off the wagon and binge drinking can exceed their body's tolerances. I've seen all of these happen and they could all happen after TSHTF very easily.

Let's get the basics out of the way.
  • Alcohol is a CNS (Central Nervous System -- your brain and nerves) depressant.
  • Have you noticed the word toxic is right in the middle of intoxication? That's deliberate: Alcohol is a poison that is metabolized (broken down) by the liver.
  • Your liver can only handle about one drink's worth of alcohol per hour.
  • One drink is equal to one 12 oz. beer, a 6 oz. glass of wine, or one shot of liquor. They all contain about 0.6 oz. of pure ethanol.
  • Your BAC can continue to rise for 30-40 minutes after you stop drinking.
Stages of Intoxication
There are levels of intoxication. The names vary by source, and the BAC ranges vary according to all of the variables I listed above, but the rough outline is shown in this chart:
Not everyone will show the same symptoms, but they will fall into the same general categories.

As you can tell by the chart, once a person can no longer stand or walk, or has started vomiting, they are beyond drunk and need help. If you have access to 911 services, call them; it's better to have an angry, embarrassed, live friend than a funeral.

First Aid for Alcohol Poisoning
In the event that you don't have 911 available, there are things you can do to help... up to a certain point. If that 100-pound non-drinker decides to put down a half-bottle of whiskey in an hour, they'll likely need a hospital to survive. While you're waiting for the ambulance, or if you're all the help that is available, here's what you can do:
  • Keep them awake if you can. Do not give them coffee -- it won't help, and can increase dehydration if they are vomiting.
  • Do not let them drink any more alcohol. Pretty common sense, but it has to be said.
  • Keep them warm. Their body temperature controls are going to be affected, and they will be at greater risk of hypothermia.
  • Keep them upright (sitting if they can't stand) for as long as possible. If they have to lie down or pass out, make sure they are on their side and not on their back. Choking on vomit is a common cause of death in alcohol poisoning cases.
  • One of the first parts of the CNS affected is the gag reflex, so don't try to make them vomit.
  • Stay with them. Do not ever “just let them sleep it off” if you care to see them alive in the morning. See the reference to choking, above.
  • IF they are conscious, give them water. Never try to give liquids to an unconscious person.
  • Be ready to administer CPR if they stop breathing.

Unfortunately, dehydration from excessive vomiting and a drop in blood sugar as the liver tries to metabolize the poison can lead to seizures and brain damage. Without a stomach pump and IV equipment, there's not much you can do to help.
    If they make it through the night alive, though, they will likely have a hang-over. If you want to help them recover, do the following:
    • Make sure they drink plenty of water to replace what they lost through sweating, urinating, and vomiting the night before.
    • Alcohol inhibits glucose production in the body, so intake of sugars will help. This is one of the reasons diabetics are warned to not drink alcohol.
    • Along with all of the water they lost, they probably also lost significant amount of electrolytes. Sports drinks will help replace them.
    • Wait it out. Time is the only thing that will clear the accumulated toxins from their body, easing the aches and pains.

    Prepping isn't always about surviving the zombie apocalypse or being ready for severe weather; some of it is just knowing how to handle the odd crap that life throws at you when you least expect it.

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