April Injury Prevention
April is alcohol awareness month. There are few topics that carry the same importance as talking about the use and abuse of alcohol. Alcohol, a legal substance, is commonly used in our culture. In small, infrequent doses, its harmful effects are limited. However, when it is used excessively over long periods of time, alcohol can have harmful effects on the body.
The biology of alcohol
Many think alcohol is a stimulant. In fact, it is a depressant. The body processes alcohol at the rate of about one half-ounce every hour and cannot keep up when someone is drinking excessively. Alcohol is toxic to the liver and absorbed through the stomach. Food, drinking other liquids between drinks, the mixers used, as well as what and why a person drinks all contribute to the rate at which the body absorbs alcohol. If an individual develops alcohol poisoning, it can be life-threatening.
The following list includes the progressive signs of alcohol intoxication:
- Overly friendly behavior
- Speaking loudly, bragging or using foul language
- Slurred or slowed speech with a tendency to lose train of thought
- Sloppy, uncoordinated behavior, which may include spilling drinks or lack of coordination when eating or drinking
- Glassy eyes, dilated pupils, inability to focus or a sleepy look
- Sudden unexplained mood changes
- Drinking faster than usual
- Staggering, swaying or inability to walk
As intoxication increases, so does the toxicity of alcohol in the body. Severe alcohol intoxication is a dangerous situation. Medical attention should be sought by calling 911 if the following occurs:
- Breathing rate drops below 12 breathes per minute or if the individual stops breathing for periods of ten seconds or more
- You are not able to arouse or awaken the individual
- Skin, is cold, pale-bluish in color or sweaty
An individual experiencing altered consciousness, slowed respirations or cool, pale skin is experiencing a condition more severe than general intoxication and known as acute alcohol intoxication or alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning is a medical emergency which requires rapid medical intervention by calling 911. Individuals with alcohol poisoning should not be given food or coffee to sober up more quickly. This is dangerous to the individual, especially if the person is semi-conscious. Time is the only thing that sobers an individual because our bodies have to process and detoxify the alcohol. If the person is vomiting, it is best to have him/her sit up or lie on one side to help prevent aspiration and choking.
Teens and alcohol use and abuse
Alcohol is frequently associated with social activities such as high school proms, graduations and outdoor sporting events. Parents and caregivers have an important responsibility to talk about the dangers and harm of alcohol, as well as the legalities, in a realistic manner. Realistically, scare tactics rarely work. Of course, abstinence from alcohol is preferred, especially because it is illegal for individuals under 21 years of age to drink. However, peer pressure is frequently overwhelming for young people, especially when they don’t have a plan for handling unusual situations.
The statistics for teen-related drinking are staggering: young people who first use alcohol prior to age 15 are more than five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse compared with persons who first used alcohol at age 21 or older.
Economically speaking, alcohol-related injuries and illnesses cost approximately $185 billion annually. This enormous cost is avoidable with responsible behavior on the part of those who drink and by educating young people.
Alcohol overuse and abuse
The following guidelines offer awareness questions to consider if you or someone close to you needs help in handling alcohol:
- Do you drink alone when you feel angry or sad?
- Does your drinking ever make you late for work (this includes hangovers)?
- Does your drinking worry your family or have they asked you to quit?
- Do you ever drink after telling yourself you won’t?
- Do you ever forget what you did while drinking?
- Do you get headaches or have a hangover after drinking?
Various possibilities for assistance are available for alcohol and drug treatment. These can be found in the phone book’s yellow pages under “Alcoholism Information and Treatment Centers.” You can also go to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website (http://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/) to locate a drug or alcohol treatment facility near you. To learn more about St. John Medical Center's outpatient behavioral health program, please click HERE.
Have a happy, safe and sober spring from St. John Trauma Services!
*Educational information for this article is from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)