Counseling & Psychological Services

Hot Topics: Alcohol

Alcohol Poisoning/Alcohol Emergencies

Call 911 immediately - A person may die if they don't get medical attention

Good Samaritan Law: A person under the age of twenty-one will be protected from prosecution for the possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages if law enforcement, including campus police, became aware of the possession or consumption solely because the individual was seeking medical assistance for someone else. Read the Entire Policy.

Penn State Altoona students are Friends For Life: Friends Don’t Let Friends Die Drunk!

What Happens to Your Body When You Get Alcohol Poisoning?

Alcohol depresses nerves that control involuntary actions such as breathing and the gag reflex (which prevents choking). A fatal dose of alcohol will eventually stop these functions.

It is common for someone who drank excessive alcohol to vomit since alcohol is an irritant to the stomach. There is then the danger of choking on vomit, which could cause death by asphyxiation in a person who is not conscious because of intoxication.

You should also know that a person's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) can continue to rise even while he or she is passed out. Even after a person stops drinking, alcohol in the stomach and intestine continues to enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body. It is dangerous to assume the person will be fine by sleeping it off.

Critical Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning

  • Mental confusion, stupor, coma, or person cannot be roused.
  • Vomiting.
  • Seizures.
  • Slow breathing (fewer than eight breaths per minute).
  • Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths).
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature), bluish skin color, paleness.

What Should I Do If I Suspect Someone Has Alcohol Poisoning?

  • Know the danger signals.
  • Do not wait for all symptoms to be present.
  • Be aware that a person who has passed out may die.
  • If there is any suspicion of an alcohol overdose, call 911 for help. Don't try to guess the level of drunkenness.

What Can Happen to Someone With Alcohol Poisoning That Goes Untreated?

  • Victim chokes on his or her own vomit.
  • Breathing slows, becomes irregular, or stops.
  • Heart beats irregularly or stops.
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature).
  • Hypoglycemia (too little blood sugar) leads to seizures.
  • Untreated severe dehydration from vomiting can cause seizures, permanent brain damage, or death.

Even if the victim lives, an alcohol overdose can lead to irreversible brain damage. Rapid binge drinking (which often happens on a bet or a dare) is especially dangerous because the victim can ingest a fatal dose before becoming unconscious.

Don't be afraid to seek medical help for a friend who has had too much to drink. Don't worry that your friend may become angry or embarrassed-remember, you cared enough to help. Always be safe, not sorry.

The Counseling Center is staffed by licensed counselors who provide both individual counseling and case management services. The Center's staff is dedicated to assisting students in their pursuit of personal and academic growth, to help students gain a better understanding and appreciation of themselves, and to support students as they make important decisions about their lives. Contact the Health and Wellness Center at 814-949-5540 to schedule an appointment or schedule through the Online Student Access secure portal.

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