If something bad happens, you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens, you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens, you drink to make something happen.
– Charles Bukowski, author of “Women”
Alcohol, one of the most abused substances in the U.S., is an inherent part of most American societies. Taking this abuse to one extreme, known as binge drinking, involves getting as many alcoholic beverages down your neck as quickly as possible, usually in the company of your friends, family or co-workers.
If you’re on your own and binge drinking, you probably have a problem with alcohol. You may well be an alcoholic. And that’s the other extreme of alcohol abuse – Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).
If you’re binge-drinking in a social environment, among your peers, you may very well still have a problem with alcohol.
Binge drinking, also known as excessive drinking, is a dangerous form of alcohol abuse that can result in alcohol poisoning, which can be defined as “A condition in which a toxic amount of alcohol has been consumed, usually in a short period of time. The affected individual may become extremely disoriented, unresponsive, or unconscious, with shallow breathing. Because alcohol poisoning can be deadly, emergency treatment is necessary.”
“Can be deadly…” As in – fatal. As in – that’s all she wrote. And as in – the next time your friends, family or co-workers spend any significant time with you, it’ll either be in a morgue or at your funeral.
Personally, I fell into the AUD category, as mentioned above. An alcoholic, an alcohol abuser, a heavy drinker (and some). That was over 11 years ago now, and, thanks to alcohol detox and an extensive period in rehab, I’m still alcohol-free (just like some beers you can get), and clean and sober. I know a bit more than most about what alcohol can do.
So what are the medically-advised limits to heavy drinking and binge drinking?
- Binge drinking: consuming more than 4 drinks during a single session for women, and 5 drinks for men
- Heavy drinking: more than 8 drinks per week for women, and more than 15 drinks per week for men
These numbers differ from women to men because it is proven that women metabolize alcohol differently than men, so one drink will affect a woman more severely than it generally will affect a man.
- What is a “Drink”?
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) defines a drink as 12 ounces of beer, 8 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits
This means that you may well be drinking more than you realize, and, therefore, putting yourself at risk of alcohol overdose.
- Short-term Health Risks: Excessive alcohol use has immediate effects, increasing the risk of many health conditions. Most often the result of binge drinking, they include:
- Injuries, eg. motor vehicle accidents, falls, drownings, and burns
- Violence, eg. homicide, suicide, sexual assault, and violence by a partner
- Alcohol poisoning
- Risky sexual behavior, eg. unprotected sex, sex with multiple partners (possibly resulting in unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV
- Miscarriage and stillbirth or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) among pregnant women
- Long-Term Health Risks: Excessive alcohol use over the long-term can lead to the development of chronic diseases (and other serious problems), including:
- High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems
- Cancer, eg. breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon
- Cognitive problems, eg. dementia, poor school/work performance
- Mental health problems, eg. depression, anxiety
- Social problems, eg. family problems, unemployment, legal problems
- Alcohol dependence or alcoholism
By modifying your drinking to within the recognized medical guidelines, you diminish both of these sets of risks.
Alcohol intoxication during binge drinking can quickly lead to a medical crisis like alcohol overdose, or, as it is more commonly known, alcohol poisoning. This condition, without emergency treatment, can be fatal.
So what are the all-important signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning (alcohol overdose)?:
- Slow and/or Irregular Breathing
- Vomiting (especially while unconscious)
- Cold, blue, or clammy skin
- Coma-like unconsciousness (that you cannot be woken from)
It is important to remember that, as alcohol poisoning occurs, the body will continue metabolizing alcohol and thus, worsen the overdose. If someone you know is suffering from alcohol poisoning, it is imperative that you act quickly.
If someone is exhibiting alcohol overdose symptoms, you need to call 911 immediately. Immediately, no excuses. It is vitally important that you do this, because, as mentioned previously, someone with alcohol poisoning may possibly die from the condition. You should also put the person on their side and ensure that their airway is not obstructed. Once in the ER, it may be necessary for attending physicians to pump any remaining alcohol from the stomach of the patient.
After the medical emergency of alcohol poisoning is safely addressed, it has to be seen a the biggest wake-up call. Excessive alcohol consumption may be fatal next time too. it’s time to treat the AUD. Residential care at an alcohol detox center and rehab may be necessary, or, at the very least, an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) at such a facility, where patients can find sobriety from their AUD.
Personally, I came close many times to giving up my life for just that next drink.
So, please remember the signs and symptoms of an alcohol poisoning episode (and let’s hope it’s just an episode, and not the series finale…), and, in such an event, please call 911 without delay.
What experiences have you had with alcohol that possibly threatened your life? What advice would give to others who engage in binge drinking? Feel free to share your thoughts and experience with a comment below. Lastly, go easy and take care.