Don't wait! Seek treatment for alcohol poisoning

Alcohol negatively impacts nervous system, depresses involuntary actions

Fraternity rush has finally come to a close, but not before bringing about an unusually high number of alcohol poisonings. The night after girls’ rush ended, 12 students ended up in the emergency room for alcohol related problems. Although new rules were created for Greek organizations, the number of students admitted to the emergency room for alcohol poisoning is preventable.

Unlike food, alcohol is quickly absorbed into the body. On average, it takes the body about one hour to metabolize the alcohol in one drink — 12 ounces of beer or one shot of liquor — but metabolism rates can be influenced by many other factors, such as recent food consumption or the drinker’s weight.

Enzymes in the liver are responsible for metabolizing the alcohol, but when more alcohol is consumed than the liver can metabolize, the system becomes saturated, and the excess alcohol accumulates in the body until the liver is able to break it down.

Alcohol depresses the parts of the nervous system that control involuntary actions — it slows down the heartbeat and breathing and impairs the gag reflex, making vomit asphyxiation a common concern, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website. Alcohol poisoning can also cause a decrease in blood sugar and body temperature.

EMTs often use the anagram PUBS to recognize the signs of alcohol poisoning: Puking while passed out; Unresponsive to stimulation such as pinching or shaking; Breathing that is slow, shallow or nonexistent; and Skin that is blue, cold or clammy.

But common myths to help with counter these symptoms — such as drinking black coffee, taking cold showers, walking it off or sleeping — are ineffective and potentially dangerous. Instead, the best thing to do in cases of alcohol overdose is to call 911. The Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad (CARS) offers free, quick response within the University community.

Third-year College student Ryan Schlobach works with the rescue squad every Thursday night and said the alcohol-related calls are par for the course when working in a college town. “Drunk students are an inevitable part of running rescue on weekend nights,” Schlobach said. “However, most of the students are so intoxicated that they are unresponsive, vomiting, or belligerent.”

Although the high number of alcohol-related hospital trips at the end of sorority rush drew the spotlight to the University drinking culture, the number of students brought in for alcohol poisoning isn’t much higher than normal this semester, said Dr. Chris Ghaemmaghami who works in the ER at the University Hospital.

“Students may not realize that they only make up a small part of the patient population,” Ghaemmaghami said. “[The number of intoxicated students] is not too bad until the Foxfield Races or football games roll around.”

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