Many people who are regular drinkers of alcohol would have experienced a hangover the next morning or drinking so much that they find themselves vomiting on their own feet. It’s not a good look. Both of these are often seen as a bit of a laugh and often as a natural consequence of having a big night out.

One thing that we don’t talk about as much is alcohol poisoning. This happens when the blood alcohol level (i.e. the percentage of alcohol circulating in the bloodstream) rises to a dangerous point. At very high blood alcohol levels, a person loses consciousness and goes into a coma. There have been cases when the person intoxicated dies.

When you hear about someone dying from alcohol poisoning it usually means the person dies in one of three ways.

Firstly, the blood alcohol level is so high that the depressant effects of the drug slow down the parts of the brain and nervous system that control breathing and the heart. Usually the drinker dies because he or she has stopped breathing and the heart stops, usually while unconscious. The second way is one that we unfortunately hear of more and more anecdotally. While unconscious, the drinker has been sick and choked on his or her own vomit. There are also rare reports of an unconscious drinker choking on his or her own tongue.

Finally, the alcohol could react with another drug that the person has taken. This can be either a prescription drug, over-the-counter medication or an illicit substance. These deaths are even more unpredictable as they can happen at a relatively low blood alcohol level.

It is also important to be aware that an intoxicated person can also die of exposure in comparatively warm temperatures. Alcohol affects the body’s thermostat, as well as the drinker’s perception as to what is hot or cold; therefore, someone who has been drinking can feel quite warm when in fact their body temperature is dropping sharply.

So how do you know if a person is just drunk or suffering from alcohol poisoning? If you see any one of the following, you should seek medical help immediately -“ this is not something you can deal with alone:

l The person is unconscious and can’t be wakened by pinching, prodding or shouting.

l The skin is cold, clammy, pale or bluish or purplish in colour, indicating they are not getting enough oxygen.

l The person is breathing very slowly -“ if there are more than 10 seconds between breaths, this is an emergency.

l The person vomits without waking up.

People do die from alcohol poisoning. It really is amazing that any time someone dies at a nightclub or dance event the media goes crazy and that on any given weekend across Australia there are a number of deaths directly linked to alcohol -“ how many of those get reported?

Remember: if you do not want any negative consequences, do not use the drug, and no matter how many times you have used a substance, never be blas?

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