Alcohol poisoning can turn a party scene into a life-threatening situation, and if the symptoms aren’t recognized, the consequences can be deadly. There are a number of symptoms to look for in a case of alcohol poisoning and steps that can be taken to help, Cal Poly Health Education Department Director Rojean Dominguez said.
“People don’t wake up and go, ‘Oh, I think I’m going to become an alcoholic today,’ or ‘Oh, I think I’m going to party until I have alcohol poisoning,'” Dominguez said. “No one ever thinks it will happen to them.”
Cal Poly recently partnered with Aware Awake Alive to inform people to look for a range of symptoms of alcohol poisoning including mental confusion, gasping for air, erratic breathing and blueness of skin. Any of these symptoms are serious on their own and are cause to get the person medical attention, Dominguez said. An individual’s risk for alcohol poisoning can be influenced by a number of biological factors, Dominguez said — weight, a family history of alcoholism and enzymes for metabolizing alcohol that are present in some cultures but not in others can all contribute.
California’s recent amnesty law removing responsibility from people who bring underage victims of alcohol poisoning to a hospital for medical attention has increased the number of hospital transports, Dominguez said, and the law also removes responsibility from the victim as well. The family of Carson Starkey, a Cal Poly student who died from alcohol poisoning in 2008, helped bring that law about, Dominguez said — first in Starkey’s home state of Texas and then to several others, including California.
There are several things Dominguez suggests to avoid endangering oneself when drinking alcohol: spacing drinks with water, keeping track of how many drinks are consumed, eating before and during drinking and using a buddy system. Once a person’s blood alcohol level reaches 0.06 percent, judgment becomes impaired, Dominguez said — and even if a person stops drinking after having a lot of alcohol in a short period of time, their blood alcohol content will keep rising as the alcohol continues to be absorbed by the body.
Associate director of Apartment Life and Education Juliette Duke said in dealing with alcohol poisoning of students living on campus, resident and community advisers know the protocol. Advisers receive training on what signs to look for to identify alcohol poisoning, Duke said, and contact the University Police Department (UPD) as well as the coordinator of Student Development once they see or are informed of a sick student. Most of the time the advisers just call right away, she said.
Once UPD is informed of a medical situation, the respondents usually just bring an ambulance right away, Duke said.
“We always err on the side of caution,” Duke said.
The numbers of reported alcohol poisonings are higher this year, Duke said — but she said this a result of the Aware Awake Alive program being brought to campus, which encourages more people to report these incidents.
UPD Commander Lori Hashim confirmed what Duke said — last year there were 18 reports of alcohol poisoning, and so far this year, there were 44, she said. But Hashim said she doesn’t think the number of alcohol poisonings is any more or less than in the past.
“I just think the reporting piece is different,” she said. Hashim also said a recent increased awareness on campus about alcohol poisoning is responsible.
Aerospace engineering senior Joshua Hauswirth hasn’t ever gone to the hospital for drinking too much, but a few of his friends had to have their stomachs pumped, he said. And he has seen the effects of alcohol poisoning firsthand.
“In my experience, when their eyes kind of glaze over and they’re not really with you anymore, that’s when you need to really start paying attention,” Hauswirth said.