Saturday, January 9, 2010

Binge Drinking Especially Dangerous For The Unaccustomed

The Sun - Inland Empire

For certain events, society provides encouragement for alcohol abuse.

And New Year's Eve ranks at the top, says Bob Forrest, chemical dependency program director at Las Encinas Hospital in Pasadena.

A vocalist for Los Angeles bands Thelonious Monster and The Bicycle Thief, Forrest has been a member of the treatment team on VH1's "Celebrity Rehab" and its spinoff, "Sober House."

An obsession to turn every day into New Year's Eve is the dividing line between a non-alcoholic and someone in need of alcohol treatment, he said.

But the non-alcoholic who gives into the urge to binge drink has as much to fear on New Year's Eve.

People who are unaccustomed to drinking have a lower tolerance for alcohol, said Dr. Marc Eckstein, medical director of the Los Angeles Fire Department and associate professor of emergency medicine at USC's Keck School of Medicine.

Eckstein has seen alcoholics with blood alcohol levels of between .400 and .500 sitting up and talking.

He has seen college students with blood alcohol levels of .100 in a state respiratory collapse.

In California, driving with a blood-alcohol content of .08 or above is one of two ways to be convicted of a DUI. The other is being an impaired driver.

The difference has to do with how the liver works to neutralize the toxic effects of alcohol. When the liver is exposed to alcohol regularly, it builds up enzymes to neutralize this bloodstream invader, Eckstein said.

People who do not have this buildup are more easily overwhelmed by it.

Women appear to be more susceptible to alcohol than men, but the reason may be as simple as they tend to weigh less than men and the amount of the enzyme needed to neutralize alcohol is proportional to body weight, said Thomas Otis, a neurobiologist at UCLA who has been researching alcohol's effects on the brain.

Eckstein cautions that when you see someone sleeping after drinking, try to wake them. If you can't, call 9-1-1.

This unconsciousness is likely the result of alcohol poisoning, he said.

Alcohol - a central nervous system depressant - deadens the gag reflex, setting up a potentially fatal situation.

If the "sleeping" person vomits - and they often do - they can breathe that into their lungs and asphyxiate.

In less frequent cases, alcohol may shut down breathing altogether, he said.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism notes, in a publication about New Year's Eve traffic deaths, that many New Year's revelers get into trouble because they do not recognize that driving-related skills and decision-making abilities are diminished long before physical signs of intoxication occur.

Revelers also frequently believe that they can drive safely once drinking has stopped.

Dr. Rodney W. Borger, chairman of the department of emergency medicine at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton, said that eating can help people to sober up, perhaps 5 percent to 10 percent faster.

Even after someone stops drinking, alcohol in the stomach continues to enter the bloodstream, according to the NIAAA. Judgment and coordination can be impaired for hours.

And driving home at night is especially dangerous - natural drowsiness is magnified by alcohol's depressant action, according to the NIAAA.

Driving abilities may even be impaired the next day, when alcohol remaining in the system, a headache or disorientation associated with hangovers, works against them.

Sobering Up Myths and Facts

MYTH: You can drive as long as you are not slurring words or acting erratically.

FACT: The skills and coordination needed for driving are compromised long before the obvious signs of intoxication are visible. Also, the sedative effects of alcohol combined with late-night hours place you at much greater risk of nodding off or losing attention behind the wheel.

MYTH: Drink coffee because the caffeine will sober you up.

FACT: Caffeine may help with drowsiness, but it doesn't counteract the effect of alcohol on decision-making or coordination. The body needs time to break down alcohol and even more time to return to normal.

SOURCE: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

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