Statistics of Teenagers Who Die From Alcohol Poisoning
What is Alcohol Poisoning?
Parents of toddlers guard against accidental poisoning, but parents of teens may overlook this important danger. Alcohol is the number one drug abused by teens, with nearly half of all teens using it regularly. Monitoring the Future (MTF) is a nationwide, annual survey of high school seniors, sophomores, and eighth graders that investigates trends in teen drug use. In 2011, nearly half of all college seniors acknowledged using alcohol within the thirty days before they completed the questionnaire.
Yet when we think about risks associated with alcohol consumption, we're more likely to think of drunk driving and the dangers of addiction than the very real risk of death by alcohol poisoning.
Alcohol poisoning killed two of my friends long before I became a drug and alcohol counselor, but it wasn't until I was in my certification program that I even heard the words "alcohol poisoning." Until then, it was just "they died from drinking too much."
Poison: Something that can cause injury or death. There are plenty of substances that fit the bill, but alcohol is noteworthy because it's a socially accepted practice - one that is almost an obligation to teens and young adults if they want to fit in with their peers.
Let's take a look at how and when alcohol becomes toxic, and how many teens experience alcohol poisoning.
How Alcohol Use Leads to Death
As little as one or two drinks can be enough for a person to feel alcohol's effects upon their body. Some people are more susceptible than others. People who have built up a tolerance to alcohol may not feel any noticeable effects until they've had four, five, or six drinks.
Technically, a "drink" consists of 18 milliliters of alcohol. In the U.S., this is approximately12 ounces of beer, a single ounce of hard liquor, or a 6-ounce glass of wine. Alcohol's effects are cumulative. It takes a little over an hour for a drink to exit the body of an average-sized (about 175 pounds) male, but if he drinks another drink before the first one is gone, the effects build and he'll notice a stronger effect. It's easy to drink more than one drink per hour, and as the alcohol accumulates in our bodies, they follow a predictable pattern.
First, it acts upon the voluntary behaviors. We relax our inhibitions and feel a sense of euphoria. This might mean we filter our words less and talk more than usual, or it might have the opposite effect. We can feel comfortable with more silence and become quiet instead. Our ability to pay attention worsens. As our senses become dulled, our judgment is affected and we respond more slowly to the things that happen around us. Our emotions feel magnified.
Second, our bodies reflect what's happening. Once the brain is affected, it starts sending faulty messages to our bodies. We may feel drowsy and uncoordinated. We start to slur our words, stumble, and feel less pain and discomfort.
Third, it affects the parts of our brains that control non-voluntary reflexes. Our bodies recognize the danger at this point and may try to purge the toxin, causing vomiting. By this time, however, enough alcohol has been consumed that it may not work, especially if we keep drinking. When there is more alcohol than our bodies can get rid of, our body goes into a protective mode. We stop caring about what's happening around us. We may pass out. This may be the way our body forces us to stop drinking, but it may already be too late. If we've had enough, the effects will still be accumulating even while we're unconscious because blood alcohol concentrations are still being processed in the body. When the brain and body can no longer handle it, our breathing becomes shallow, our heart rate slows, and our body temperature drops. Our gag reflexes have been shut down, and we may vomit while unconscious and choke on it. At this point, we can go into a coma or die.
How Much Alcohol Does it Take to Reach the Third Stage?
How quickly we reach the third stage depends on a number of factors; how much we weigh; whether we're male or female; our genetic makeup, whether we've combined alcohol with other drugs. It's impossible to say that a certain amount of alcohol will always produce this result in every person.
Specific Signs of Alcohol Poisoning
Don't hesitate to take a friend to the emergency room if you see any of these signs of alcohol poisoning. If you're underage and afraid of getting into trouble, call 911 for them.
- Vomiting several times
- Changes in breathing (slow or irregular)
- Cold, clammy skin
- Blue or very pale skin
- Drop in body temperature
- Passed out and difficult to rouse
How Many People Get Alcohol Poisoning?
Unfortunately, there are no studies that focus in detail on underage drinkers who are treated for or die from alcohol poisoning. We can consider studies that reveal important information to get a better idea of how widespread alcohol toxicity is for teens:
- About 24% of high school seniors that took part in MTF reported binge drinking (more than 4 drinks in a single occasion) during the thirty days prior to completing the survey. For all students age 12-20 who completed the survey, about 17% had engaged in binge drinking in the preceding month.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that in 2008, about 190,000 people under 21 years old visited an emergency room for an alcohol-related injury or condition.
- The National Institute on Alcohol and Abuse & Alcoholism (NIAAA) analyzed reports of accidental or unintentional alcohol poisoning over a two-year period (1996-1998). The results showed a total of 3,229 deaths where alcohol poisoning was a contributing factor. About two percent of all deaths related to alcohol poisoning were underage drinkers.
Other Important Info
Spring break, prom, and graduation see a spike in alcohol-related incidents among teenagers.
Death may be the most severe thing that can happen, but it's not the only thing. Rapes, assaults, unsafe sex, drunk driving accidents, and other injuries affect over a million teens and young adults every year.
It's possible to consume a fatal dose of alcohol within a minute or two. Avoid taking bets or accepting dares! Even when a person passes out, their blood alcohol concentration can continue to rise.
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