Alcohol poisoning: Do you really know the signs?

Imagine this: You’re a freshman at your first college party, you’re having your first drink, and, all of a sudden, someone at the party passes out. What’s your initial reaction? Do you call the police? Do you just wait it out and hope that, as time passes by, the student wakes up and starts to feel better?


Truth is, the majority of young college students are not educated enough to decipher the difference between someone who is just drunk, and someone who has alcohol poisoning. This is where the education system needs to step up and do their part in providing more information on alcohol poisoning to students.


Why are schools not educating students soon enough? Are parents not having these talks with their child in fear that it will lead the child to drink underage? Nothing bad can come of a student knowing how to help another in need. Are school systems, just like parents, afraid to talk about it in fear that they are coming across as condoning the act?


Let’s be honest: At some point in time, students, despite their age, will probably experiment, so why not prepare them?


Some typical signs of alcohol poisoning include mental confusion, stupor, coma, vomiting, slow or irregular breathing, hypothermia or low temperature, bluish or pale skin or the person being unable to be roused. If not careful, alcohol poisoning can lead to permanent brain damage, or even worse –– death.


Throughout my lifetime of attending school, acquiring a thorough education on how to properly handle a situation regarding alcohol poisoning has never been taught to me to the point where I was confident enough to interpret the difference between being drunk and alcohol poisoning on my own.


To be quite frank, self-teaching was how I was able to educate myself in case a situation similar ever arose. It shouldn’t come to that, though. Many schools are so willing to teach sex-ed, yet they shy away from alcohol poisoning.


In the process of transferring to SF State, the University required students to partake in a short online quiz coaching students on how to handle situations involving assault, alcohol and drugs. This was my first experience of the topic being discussed in an educational system, but at that point in time, it was simply too late in the game. Why was this not taught in my community college courses? Why was this not discussed in high school, where most of the time, the drinking really starts?


Colleges have had their hands full trying to keep students safe since the 1980s, when the legal drinking age became 21, making (at the very minimum) it illegal for half the student body to drink. Students are exposed to new experiences when entering college life –– freedom to have new encounters, unstructured time, limited interactions with parents, easy availability to alcohol/drugs, lack of enforcement of underage drinking laws and more.


According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), around 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related, unintentional injuries, which includes car crashes. The site also mentioned how 37.9 percent of college students ages 18-22 reported binge drinking in the past month.


It’s even safe to say that a serious drinking problem could go undiagnosed for a long amount of time, where heavy drinking is considered the norm. Alcohol can be easily found in dorm rooms, parties, sororities, fraternities and more. The options are limitless.


According to the same study by the NIAAA, the first six weeks of freshman year are the most vulnerable time for students because they are exposed to heavy drinking and potential alcohol-related consequences. Factors play a significant role in college environments. For example, it has been proven that if a school has a strong Greek system or prominent athletic programs, students tend to drink more.


Personal experiences over the years have made interpreting the difference between the two simple. But being of the legal age, calling for help if needed was luckily never a concern of mine. Most students who drink in college are not of the legal age, so they most likely are worried that if they dial 911, they are in turn ratting out the person who provided the illegal beverage.


As sad as it is, there is fear in calling for help. This is where education is key. Doing research on your own time, reaching out to professors who study the field and asking questions are all ways to prepare yourself if needed. Being educated in regards to a risky activity that you may or may not partake in is vital. And if someone is showing any signs of alcohol poisoning, do not hesitate. It’s always safer to take precautions. Call 911 if you suspect alcohol poisoning, you could be saving a life.