We’ve all been there. At some point throughout our college experience, we will all find ourselves faced with the decision of whether an intoxicated friend can simply “sleep it off,” or whether medical attention is needed. We’ve all read the signs posted by the Health Promotion Office and Residential Life, and we know what to do in the event of a medical or alcohol-related emergency.

What the signs don’t tell us is why alcohol poisoning is such a major concern. All we see is our friend acting like an idiot and then passing out on our couch or bathroom floor. What we don’t see is what is happening on the inside – where it truly counts.

Alcohol falls into the category of drugs known as depressants. Simply put, as more and more alcohol is imbibed and the blood-alcohol content continues to rise, various categories of body functions become depressed and eventually stop working.

Alcohol first depresses one’s intellect and emotions, impairing one’s judgment and causing the individual to act recklessly, often without regard for commonly accepted social graces. Soon thereafter, the alcohol will begin to affect functionality, causing clumsiness, sloppiness and a loss of balance.

While at first these symptoms of intoxication may appear humorous, stop and remember that such behavior is symptomatic of a potentially very dangerous situation. An individual passes out when his or her motor functions become completely depressed.

Although, at this point, the individual is no longer consuming alcohol, it is important to remember that his or her BAC will continue to rise even after the individual has lost consciousness. In high doses, alcohol can depress the nerves that control involuntary actions such as breathing, heartbeat and the gag reflex, which prevents choking. When the gag reflex is depressed, an individual can inhale and then choke to death on his or her own vomit.

Over the years, it has been found that students are often hesitant to call for medical assistance. The typical reasons given are fear of getting into trouble or of a hospital transport and all that it entails. Know that these fears are common, but that it is imperative that you call for medical assistance at the earliest signs of alcohol poisoning.

It is quite possible that medical personnel will desire to take the victim to the hospital for further treatment. Those who experience alcohol poisoning often need intense rehydration, as well as constant observation and monitoring for signs of alcohol’s effect on involuntary functions.

With insurance, a typical emergency room visit costs the insured a $50 co-payment. This cost varies based on an individual’s type and level of insurance and does not include any extra services such as tests or procedures.

However, in a situation like this, one really needs to stop, take a look and listen. Would you rather tell your friend’s parents that you took him or her to the hospital because he or she needed medical help or that your friend died because you were afraid to take action?

With regards to “getting into trouble,” the university has an excellent program called “Second Chance,” which erases first-time alcohol offenses from a student’s record. This happens with the discretion of the Dean of Students’ Office and with the successful completion of the online course. The program is designed to encourage students to call for assistance and help their friends in need.

According to University Health Service, every year an estimated 1,400 college-age students die in alcohol-related incidents and an additional 500,000 are injured while under the influence of alcohol.

As clich as it sounds, don’t become another statistic. Recognize the signs, make the call and play it safe.

Newman works in the Health Promotion Office of the University Health Service and can be reached at jnewman@campustimes.org.

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