Facts About Alcohol Poisoning

Excessive drinking can be hazardous to everyone’s health! It can be particularly stressful if you are the sober one taking care of your drunk roommate, who is vomiting while you are trying to study for an exam.

Some people laugh at the behavior of others who are drunk. Some think it’s even funnier when they pass out. But there is nothing funny about the aspiration of vomit leading to asphyxiation or the poisoning of the respiratory center in the brain, both of which can result in death.

Do you know about the dangers of alcohol poisoning? When should you seek professional help for a friend? Sadly enough, too many college students say they wish they would have sought medical treatment for a friend. Many end up feeling responsible for alcohol-related tragedies that could have easily been prevented.

Common myths about sobering up include drinking black coffee, taking a cold bath or shower, sleeping it off, or walking it off. But these are just myths, and they don’t work. The only thing that reverses the effects of alcohol is time-something you may not have if you are suffering from alcohol poisoning. And many different factors affect the level of intoxication of an individual, so it’s difficult to gauge exactly how much is too much (BAC calculators).

What Happens to Your Body When You Get Alcohol Poisoning?

Critical Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning

What Should I Do If I Suspect Someone Has Alcohol Poisoning?

What Can Happen to Someone With Alcohol Poisoning That Goes Untreated?

Alcohol depresses nerves that control involuntary actions such as breathing and the gag reflex (which prevents choking). A fatal dose of alcohol will eventually stop these functions.

It is common for someone who drank excessive alcohol to vomit since alcohol is an irritant to the stomach. There is then the danger of choking on vomit, which could cause death by asphyxiation in a person who is not conscious because of intoxication.

You should also know that a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) can continue to rise even while he or she is passed out. Even after a person stops drinking, alcohol in the stomach and intestine continues to enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body. It is dangerous to assume the person will be fine by sleeping it off.

Critical Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning

Mental confusion, stupor, coma, or person cannot be roused.
Slow breathing (fewer than eight breaths per minute).
Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths).
Hypothermia (low body temperature), bluish skin color, paleness.
What Should I Do If I Suspect Someone Has Alcohol Poisoning?

Know the danger signals.
Do not wait for all symptoms to be present.
Be aware that a person who has passed out may die.
If there is any suspicion of an alcohol overdose, call 911 for help. Don’t try to guess the level of drunkenness.

What Can Happen to Someone With Alcohol Poisoning That Goes Untreated?
Victim chokes on his or her own vomit.
Breathing slows, becomes irregular, or stops.
Heart beats irregularly or stops.
Hypothermia (low body temperature).
Hypoglycemia (too little blood sugar) leads to seizures.
Untreated severe dehydration from vomiting can cause seizures, permanent brain damage, or death.
Even if the victim lives, an alcohol overdose can lead to irreversible brain damage. Rapid binge drinking (which often happens on a bet or a dare) is especially dangerous because the victim can ingest a fatal dose before becoming unconscious.

Don’t be afraid to seek medical help for a friend who has had too much to drink. Don’t worry that your friend may become angry or embarrassed-remember, you cared enough to help. Always be safe, not sorry.

Opioids drive continued increase in drug overdose deaths

Drug overdose deaths increase for 11th consecutive year

Drug overdose deaths increased for the 11th consecutive year in 2010, according to an analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The findings are published today in a research letter, “Pharmaceutical Overdose Deaths, United States, 2010,” in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
CDC’s analysis shows that 38,329 people died from a drug overdose in the United States in 2010, up from 37,004 deaths in 2009. This continues the steady rise in overdose deaths seen over the past 11 years, starting with 16,849 deaths in 1999. Overdose deaths involving opioid analgesics have shown a similar increase. Starting with 4,030 deaths in 1999, the number of deaths increased to 15,597 in 2009 and 16,651 in 2010.
In 2010, nearly 60 percent of the drug overdose deaths (22,134) involved pharmaceutical drugs. Opioid analgesics, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone, were involved in about 3 of every 4 pharmaceutical overdose deaths (16,651), confirming the predominant role opioid analgesics play in drug overdose deaths.
CDC researchers analyzed data from CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics 2010 multiple cause-of-death file, which is based on death certificates.
The researchers also found that drugs often prescribed for mental health conditions were involved in a significant number of pharmaceutical overdose deaths. Benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety drugs) were involved in nearly 30 percent (6,497) of these deaths; antidepressants in 18 percent (3,889), and antipsychotic drugs in 6 percent (1,351). Deaths involving more than one drug or drug class are counted multiple times and therefore are not mutually exclusive.
“Patients with mental health or substance use disorders are at increased risk for nonmedical use and overdose from prescription painkillers as well as being prescribed high doses of these drugs,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Appropriate screening, identification, and clinical management by health care providers are essential parts of both behavioral health and chronic pain management.”
Additional steps are being taken at the national, state and local levels, as well as by non-governmental organizations, to help prevent overdoses from prescription drugs.
In particular, the federal government is:
• Tracking prescription drug overdose trends to better understand the epidemic.
• Encouraging the development of abuse-deterrent opioid formulations and products that treat abuse and overdose.
• Educating health care providers and the public about prescription drug abuse and overdose.
• Requiring that manufacturers of extended-release and long-acting opioids make educational programs available to prescribers about the risks and benefits of opioid therapy, choosing patients appropriately, managing and monitoring patients, and counseling patients on the safe use of these drugs.
• Using opioid labeling as a tool to inform prescribers and patients about the approved uses of these medications.
• Developing, evaluating and promoting programs and policies shown to prevent prescription drug abuse and overdose, while making sure patients have access to safe, effective pain treatment.
Promising steps that many states are taking include:
• Starting or improving prescription drug monitoring programs, which are electronic databases that track all prescriptions for opioids in the state.
• Using prescription drug monitoring programs, public insurance programs, and workers’ compensation data to identify improper prescribing of opioids.
• Setting up programs for public insurance programs, workers’ compensation programs, and state-run health plans that identify and address improper patient use of opioids.
• Passing, enforcing and evaluating pill mill, doctor shopping and other state laws to reduce prescription opioid abuse.
• Encouraging state licensing boards to take action against inappropriate prescribing.
• Increasing access to substance abuse treatment.

Alcohol and Cardiovascular Disease: The Tippling Point

If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. If you don’t drink, don’t start.

So says the current advice of the American Heart Association in relation to alcohol and prevention of cardiovascular disease.

When it comes to the purported cardioprotective benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, the scientific world is divided into believers and skeptics and there are abundant data to support both points of view.

As reviewed in the 2014 World Cancer Report, issued by the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) International Agency for Research on Cancer, concluded that no amount of alcohol is safe, at least when it comes to cancer risk.

This prompted a critique of the WHO report by the members of the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research in which they disputed the “paternalistic blanket condemnations against alcohol,” noting that “WHO seems to deliberately ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence showing that light-to-moderate consumption of alcohol not only reduces overall mortality but is usually not associated with an increased risk of cancer.”

Plausible but Not Proven

Is moderate drinking truly cardioprotective or is it merely a marker of a healthy lifestyle? Will we ever know for certain in the absence of randomized clinical trial data that will never be forthcoming, given the ethical and practical challenges entailed? For the nonbelievers, the evidence will always be on shaky ground, and adjustments for confounding will never fully cement the cracks.

Among the plausible explanations for alcohol’s cardiovascular effects include reductions in platelet aggregation and thrombotic markers such as fibrinogen, increases in HDL cholesterol (by about 8%),[1] and anti-inflammatory effects such as lowering C-reactive protein levels.[2] But epidemiologists have been led down the observational garden path before, notably with hormone therapy[3] and vitamin E,[4] 2 therapies widely purported to have cardiovascular benefits that did not hold up in randomized trials.[5,6] Documented effects on surrogate markers like HDL-C are also no guarantee of a reduction in hard events as seen in trials with niacin.[7,8]

The “goldilocks” amount of alcohol is said to be 1 to 2 drinks daily. However, amounts in or near this level have been associated with an increased risk for hypertension,[9] an effect the pro-alcohol lobby say is explained by heavier drinkers who underreport their intake.[10] This uncertainty about the true drinking status of study populations is at the crux of the debate on alcohol and cardiovascular health.

Candy Crush and Online Poker Games Being Blamed For Childhood Gambling Addiction

Candy Crush and the huge amount of free online poker games available to young people has caused a spike in childhood gambling addiction in the United Kingdom, according to a new report found in the Times Educational Supplement.

The report is based on research done by Mark Griffiths, director of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University in England. The expert on gambling believes that by allowing children to play online poker for free gets children hooked on the experience and can easily lead to children becoming gambling addicts in the future:

“One of the biggest predictors of whether people become gamblers is the playing of gambling-type games on free-play sites…When you start winning, you start thinking that, if I was playing with real money, I could be doing quite well. Children who play these free games are more likely to gamble and more likely to develop problem gambling behaviors. These are gateway activities that can lead people down the gambling road.”

Griffiths claims that the huge amount of poker games found on social media websites and online poker websites that allow a free trial with no age restrictions has caused more and more children to get hooked into gambling. The professor backs up his claim with a 2011 survey of 2,700 secondary school children which found that 15 percent of those children had played gambling games online the week before the survey.

While free online poker may be a root factor in causing childhood gambling addiction, some may be confused as to how Candy Crush, one of the most popular mobile games available today, also encourages gambling. Griffiths believes that by offering users the chance to buy new levels allows them to be drawn into the game and become obsessed with it.

“It’s a bit like the old drug-dealing analogy of giving a bit for free and hooking them in…Games like Candy Crush have a more-ishness quality, a bit like chocolate. You say you’ll just have one chunk and you end up having the whole lot. So you say, ‘I’ll just play for 15 minutes’, and you end up still there four or five hours later.”
Griffiths also cites games allowing users to spend money on avatar items as a source of childhood gambling addiction, and if developers started offering users the chance to win back their money they would trap even more young people. The professor believes that teachers as well as parents should teach children the differences between virtual and real gambling and the consequences that come with gambling addiction sooner so that children do not grow up with gambling issues.

Too Much Alcohol: Making Screening and Counseling Routine Healthcare

At least 38 million adults in the United States drink too much alcohol, leading to a wide range of negative consequences, including heart disease, breast cancer, sexually transmitted diseases, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, motor vehicle crashes, and violence. Drinking too much includes binge drinking or high per-occasion use (5 or more drinks on an occasion for men and 4 or more for women), high weekly use, and any alcohol use by pregnant women or those under age 21.
Drinking too much alcohol accounts for about 88,000 deaths in the United States each year and is the fourth leading preventable cause of death. In 2006, it cost the United States about $224 billion. And although this may be a surprise, most people who drink too much are not alcoholics.
More than 30 years of research has shown that alcohol screening and brief counseling is effective at reducing risky drinking. However, this month’s Vital Signs reports that only 1 in 6 adults — and only 1 in 4 binge drinkers — say that a healthcare professional has ever talked about alcohol use with them. We need to work toward making alcohol screening and brief counseling routine.
How many US adults drink too much?
An estimated 30% of adults misuse alcohol, with most engaging in high daily, weekly, or per-occasion use which results in the increased risk for health consequences. However, only about 4% of the US population is alcohol dependent. Drinking too much is dangerous and is associated with many health and social problems, including heart disease, breast cancer, sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancy, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, sudden infant death syndrome, motor vehicle crashes, and violence.
Is it realistic to expect health professionals to do anything about this problem?
Absolutely. Health professionals are already asking screening questions on an array of risk factors and may even have information about alcohol use on patient history forms. It’s simple to add alcohol screening questions to these forms. The counseling interventions are also brief (6-15 minutes), involve the patient’s active participation, and do not have to be provided by a physician, but can be provided by other health professionals, including nurses, social workers, and psychologists.
Screening and counseling can also be provided electronically to save staff time.
There are many resources for clinicians and public health practitioners with tips on brief counseling with patients who are drinking too much. In addition, the Affordable Care Act requires new health insurance plans to cover alcohol screening and brief counseling without a copayment.

What are the latest guidelines on screening and counseling in healthcare settings? What is the evidence about how well they work?

There are a number of validated screening tools to assess alcohol use, including the AUDIT, AUDIT-C, and a single-question screen for number of days in a year of binge-level alcohol use. Counseling or a brief conversation with those who drink too much can then inform the patient about health problems that could occur as a result of their drinking, and set goals and a plan for reducing drinking if the patient wants to do so. Patients who agree to reduce their drinking are then followed to assess their success.
Counseling interventions are brief (6-15 minutes) screening sessions that can help:

• Reduce average alcohol use by over 3 drinks per week;

• Reduce episodes of binge-level alcohol use by 12%; and

• Improve adherence to recommended drinking limits.

These effects can last for years and can also lead to reduced healthcare utilization, including fewer hospital days and lower costs. A very small percentage of those who are screened will have indications of alcoholism or a severe alcohol use disorder. These patients can be referred for specialized treatment.

What is an ideal screening and counseling intervention in, for example, a primary care outpatient setting, perhaps during an office visit?

Alcohol screening can be done using a set of validated questions, such as the AUDIT, AUDIT-C, or even a single question about days of binge-level alcohol use in the past year. These questions can be worked into an existing patient questionnaire or asked of patients during other clinical activities. Scoring the screening questions typically takes no more than a few seconds. Only patients who screen positive will require counseling.
Alcohol screening and counseling is similar to smoking cessation interventions, with the use of motivational interviewing and the 5 A’s of behavioral change intervention (ask, advise, assess, assist, and arrange). The clinician works with the patient to come up with a plan for reducing their drinking that takes into consideration their specific health issues as well as problems with functioning at home or work, and legal problems. Follow-up occurs in future visits to determine whether the patient’s drinking and associated problems are improving.

In what settings and in what age groups should health professionals consider screening? Which health professionals might carry out the screening and counseling most effectively — physicians, NPs or PAs, RNs, or others.

Alcohol screening and brief counseling can occur in primary care settings, trauma care settings, emergency departments, and many other health and social service settings. It can be delivered by social workers, nurses, psychologists, and others. Delivering alcohol screening and counseling by phone, computer, or mobile devices can also reduce the demand on staff time for delivering this service.

Are there some successful or innovative programs that have used these guidelines in practice?

One example of successful integration of alcohol screening and brief counseling into routine clinical care is Kaiser Permanente of Northern California. It has recently integrated this service into its primary care practices, covering 3.4 million members. During a 4-month period (July-November 2013) there were 230,000 brief interventions or referrals. Staff supported this implementation, in part because the screening process was built into their electronic health record (EHR) system.

What are the ways that alcohol screening and brief counseling can be integrated into EHRs?

There are a variety of e-tools, including prompts and other reminder systems, that can be used to help clinicians integrate alcohol screening and brief counseling into their practices. The Community Preventive Services Task Force has also recommended the use of electronic methods (eg, use of computers, telephones, or mobile devices) to deliver components of alcohol screening and brief intervention. In addition, alcohol screening and brief counseling are being considered for inclusion as a meaningful use measure in EHRs, which could also help support the use of this service in clinical settings.

What should clinicians do differently tomorrow to start to improve this situation?

Doctors, nurses, and other health professionals can take 3 key actions:

• Screen all adult patients for alcohol use as part of their regular services by using clinical intervention guidelines and overall implementation guidelines;

• Counsel those who drink too much to drink less, using specific techniques such as motivational interviewing to establish a plan, and then reassess their success in future visits; and

• Advise pregnant women and underage youth not to drink at all.

They can also train staff to support the routine delivery of this intervention and make changes in the healthcare delivery system to ensure the success of alcohol screening and counseling activities.

US Women Not Interested in Alcohol as Breast Cancer Risk

For the most part, American women are uninterested in learning how to cut their alcohol consumption to reduce breast cancer risk, according to a survey of a nationally representative sample of nearly 1700 women.

Only 12% of survey respondents were interested in learning how to reduce their drinking, which is a proven risk factor for breast cancer.

A whopping 88% reported being “uninterested” in learning about how to reduce alcohol consumption, report the authors, led by Marisa Weiss, MD, president of breastcancer.org, the consumer Web site.

“Clinicians should know that women don’t want to have a conversation about alcohol,” Dr. Weiss told usin an interview.

Clinicians should know that women don’t want to have a conversation about alcohol.
The intent of the survey, presented as a poster here at the 36th Annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, was to measure consumers’ knowledge of breast cancer risk and their interest in risk reduction.

It was administered online, and had an 87% completion rate among the 1692 women who participated.

Overall, 74% of the respondents were 30 to 65 years of age, and 68% identified as white, 14% as Latina, 12% as black, and 1% as Asian. Only 2.6% of the women had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Notably, a majority of the respondents (78%) were interested or very interested in learning how to reduce breast cancer risk. The top 3 risk-reduction factors these women wanted to learn more about were exercise (41%), weight (35%), and diet (30%).

There are multiple reasons women are not interested in education about cutting back on alcohol, said Dr. Weiss, who is director of breast radiation oncology at the Lankenau Medical Center in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.

Alcohol is “embedded in all the good times in life,” she said, referring to parties, end-of-work-day rituals, and coming-of-age rites, such as college socializing.

“Alcohol is also self-medication. These are stressful times with a lot of economic uncertainty, and alcohol is a reward at the end of a long day,” she said.

There is a dose-response relation between alcohol and breast cancer risk: the higher the daily intake, the greater the risk, Dr. Weiss pointed out.

There have been multiple studies that establish alcohol, even in small daily amounts, as a breast cancer risk factor. A 2012 meta-analysis of 113 studies of light drinking and breast cancer found that the equivalent of 1 drink per day increases risk. In addition, a widely covered study published in 2011 found that the regular consumption of a light amount of alcohol — 3 to 6 glasses of wine per week — over a nearly 30-year period increased a woman’s risk for invasive breast cancer by a small but statistically significant amount (JAMA. 2011;306:1884-1890).

However, last year, a large American cohort study concluded that a substantial portion of the apparent increased risk for cancer among light to moderate drinkers is related to people lying about their drinking habits.

“People will under-report drinking and eating unless the reporting is anonymous,” acknowledged Dr. Weiss.

She noted that she is especially concerned about the “strong trend” of “more and more drinking among young women in college” in the United States.