Alcohol Overload


By Nicki Resnikoff


Lights illuinated the backyard to reveal teenagers laughing sipping vodka and lemonade, enjoying each other’s company.

Stu* ’10 was having a party at his house and everyone was having fun. It was turning out to be a great night, until Stu’s friend George* ’10 had too much to drink.

“Originally, the plan was to clean him up and get him to sleep it off,” Stu said.

But, all of a sudden, everything changed: due to his impairment from alcohol, George got hurt.

“The injury wasn’t that bad,” Stu said. “But he had such a slow reaction. We knew we had to call 911.”

Although Stu was not afraid of getting in trouble with his parents, as they knew about the party, he was a little scared about calling the police. However, Stu’s fears did not influence his decision.

“I had to put him ahead of getting in trouble,” Stu said. “The injury was nothing, but if he hadn’t gone to the hospital, something really bad could have happened.”

George was not mad at his friends for calling an ambulance.

“I think it was a good and safe call,” he said. “Looking back it may have been unnecessary, but it was understandable.”

The Paramedics and Fire Department arrived, and took George to the hosptial, the party continued.

Alcohol causes over 10,000 deaths nationwide each year.

Binge drinking, consuming five or more drinks at one time, is the leading cause of alcohol poisoning. Although the majority of deaths from alcohol poisoning occur in adults ages 45 to 54, alcohol poisoning and binge drinking is a growing problem among high school and college students.

These visits included treatment not only for alcohol poisoning, but also injuries sustained while under the influence.

People suffering alcohol poisoning require medical attention.

Younger people are more prone to alcohol poisoning, according to Dr. Joel Geiderman, Co-Chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

“Alcohol in large doses is a respiratory depressant,” he said. “It also causes loss of consciousness and may induce vomiting. A patient who drinks to excess, especially quickly, may vomit, choke on their vomitus and/or stop breathing.”

Key symptoms that indicate the need to call an ambulance are unconsciousness and choking, Geiderman said.

Other symptoms that indicate alcohol poisoning, according to the Mayo Clinic, are confusion, stupor, seizures, blue-ish or pale skin, and hypothermia.

However, the Mayo Clinic states on their website that the absence of one or more of these symptoms does not mean that an ambulance should not be called.

Many cases of alcohol poisoning are not reported, and the appropriate medical attention is not received. In a study conducted at Cornell University in 2000, 19 percent of the subjects were found to have considered calling for help for someone who was “severely intoxicated.” However, only four percent of the subjects actually ended up calling for help.

One of the most cited reasons in the Cornell study that respondents did not end up calling for help was fear of getting the intoxicated person trouble (3.8 percent).

In order to encourage students to call the necessary emergency services, over 90 universities nationwide have instituted “Good Samaritan Policies,” according to Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

These policies protect students from being punished when they call for help during an alcohol or drug related emergency. In 2007, New Mexico instituted a 911 Good Samaritan Law that shields from drug possession charges during an overdose emergency.

Many times, according to Sergeant Guttilla of the North Hollywood Division of the Los Angeles Police Department, people are afraid to call 911 when someone has passed out or having convulsions.

“Usually, an ambulance will show up,” Guttilla said. “It is up to them to call us, but they are more concerned with the medical aspect than the criminal.”

If police do arrive at a party where there is underage drinking, there are a few possibilities of what could happen.

Teenagers who have been drinking could be arrested, cited for a misdemeanor and taken to juvenile court.

“Usually, we try not to take people to jail,” Guttilla said.

The police will contact parents, because there needs to be a responsible adult there, Guttilla said.

It seems that high school students still hesitate to call 911 in the case of an alcohol- related emergency.

During the unsanctioned semiformal after-party, Milken High School senior Leah Steinberg, who was just near the party and not attending it, walked into the bathroom to see a non-Harvard-Westlake girl vomiting.

“She was with a bunch of friends who kept saying ‘we have it under control,’” Steinberg said.

Steinberg said security guards present told her, ‘Sorry, but they are refusing medical attention,’” Steinberg said. “Everyone was running around, and they seemed consumed with not getting in trouble.”

Eventually, Steinberg called the paramedics herself.

“The kids said it was none of my business, but she was not in good shape. They seemed more concerned with their own being in trouble than their friend being really sick,” she said. “I found it traumatic to watch.”

According to Geiderman, there are rarely teenagers admitted to the ER at Cedars for alcohol poisoning. When they are admitted, doctors call the patient’s parents, he said. He also suggests the parents be called when the teen gets sick.

“The first call should be to the child’s parents,” he said. “The judgment and help of an adult is useful in these situations.”

“Kids shouldn’t be willing to sacrifice their whole futures to drink in high school,” Geiderman added.

Mariah* ’11 witnessed a situation of alcohol poisoning at a party.

“There was a girl unconscious and her friends were too afraid to call for help because they feared the party would get shut down, they would get in trouble, and their friend would get in trouble,” she said.

Someone at the party finally called 911, the paramedics came. The party was not shut down, Mariah said.

“Her family was very thankful that somebody did call an ambulance because she could have died,” Mariah said.

The Cornell study found that the leading reason for students not calling for help was that they were not sure if the intoxicated person was “sick enough.” This was the reason cited by 9.3 percent of the respondents who did not call for help.

One way to determine if medical attention is needed is to call the local poison control center (1-800-222-1222). The staff will give instructions to the caller as to whether or not to go to the hospital, and the call will be confidential.

If the person is unconscious or vomiting uncontrollably, the Mayo Clinic says that 911 should be called immediately. The website suggests finding out how much of what type of alcohol the person consumed to tell emergency services.

Besides the dangers of alcohol poisoning, alcohol impairs judgment, which can lead to injuries.

Although teens in general are most vulnerable to alcohol’s effects this may be more extreme based on features or habits,

According to the Mayo Clinic, gender is a factor. While males have been more prone to alcohol poisoning because of their greater tendency to drink, this is no longer the case. Females are also more susceptible to the effects of alcohol because they produce less of an enzyme that deals with alcohol in the stomach than males do.

Size and health are also important; smaller people are more susceptible to alcohol poisoning. And, health problems such as diabetes and heart disease, the Mayo Clinic’s website says, can exacerbate the consequences of binge drinking.

An empty stomach will cause alcohol to enter the bloodstream faster and taking drugs while drinking alcohol can be fatal.

“[Alcohol poisoning] is especially bad when drugs are mixed in,” Geiderman said. “There is a synergistic effect.”

The Mayo Clinic website addresses home remedies to sober up that are ineffective. Among these myths are drinking black coffee, taking a cold shower and walking or sleeping it off. Not only are these methods ineffective, some are actually detrimental. The shock of cold in a cold shower as well as sleeping can cause loss of consciousness.


*Names have been changed