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Alcohol Emergencies

Binge Drinking
Binge drinking is drinking a large quantity of alcohol in a short period of time. If you consume too much alcohol too quickly, alcohol accumulates at toxic levels in the body. This dangerous accumulation of alcohol in the body is called alcohol poisoning. It takes someone about one to one and one half hours for the body to process one alcoholic drink–one twelve-ounce beer, four to five ounces of unfortified wine, or a one-ounce shot of liquor.

Some people drink so much alcohol that they pass out, or consume alcohol to the point of unconsciousness. If you think someone who drank too much is asleep, try to wake him or her. If the person responds to you, continue to monitor his or her condition to make sure he or she remains conscious. If he or she does not respond, then he or she is unconscious and could die without medical intervention. Call 911 to get help.

Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning

  • Unconsciousness or semi-consciousness
  • Slow breathing  (Eight or fewer breaths per minute)
  • Irregular breathing  (8-10 seconds or longer between breaths)
  • Slow heart rate
  • Bluish or pale, cold, clammy skin
  • Vomiting while sleeping or passed out

How to Help Someone with Alcohol Poisoning

  • CALL 911 for help if someone exhibits symptoms of alcohol poisoning.
  • Do not leave the person alone.
  • Keep the person lying on his or her side.
  • Monitor the person’s breathing.
  • Check the person’s pulse.
  • Place a cool rag on the person’s forehead.

Problem Drinking

Help a Friend with a Drinking Problem

If you think your friend has a drinking problem, evaluate changes in his or her drinking behavior. Why does the person drink? What impact does the person’s drinking have on his or her relationships, studies, or goals? Observe your friend’s behavior and watch for signs, such as those listed below, which will help you recognize problem drinking.

Alcohol-Drinking Behaviors

Social Drinking

  • Drinking alcohol slowly
  • Knowing when to stop drinking alcohol
  • Not drinking alcohol to get drunk
  • Eating before and during alcohol consumption
  • Not driving after consuming alcohol
  • Respecting those who do not drink alcohol
  • Knowing and obeying laws related to alcohol consumption and use

Problem Drinking

  • Drinking alcohol to get drunk
  • Viewing alcohol as a solution to his or her problems
  • Experiencing personality changes (may be loud, angry, or violent, or silent, remote, or reclusive)
  • Drinking alcohol at inappropriate times  (e.g., before driving or going to class)
  • Causing problems for or harm to self or others
  • Blacking out
  • Passing out

Alcoholic Drinking

  • Spending a great deal of time thinking about alcohol and where and when to drink it next
  • Hiding bottles of alcohol
  • Drinking alcohol without forethought and losing awareness of the amount consumed
  • Denying the consumption of alcohol
  • Drinking alcohol alone
  • Needing to drink alcohol before facing stressful situations
  • Blacking out
  • Exhibiting dangerous withdrawal symptoms such a delirium tremens (DTs), which can be fatal.

How You Can Help
Talk with your friend if you are concerned about his or her drinking. If you think your friend has a drinking problem…

  • …try talking to your friend, but be tactful. You might say, “I’ve noticed some changes in you. Are you having any problems?”
  • …cite specific examples of your friend’s behavior. You might say, “The last time I was with you, you drank so much you passed out.”
  • …avoid sermons, lectures, and verbal attacks.
  • …keep your mind open to your friend’s perspective.
  • …do not continue your conversation if you become impatient or angry.

If your friend is defensive…

  • …make it clear that you like your friend, but do not like his or her behavior.
  • …be honest about your own alcohol consumption and attempts to control it.
  • …understand that the person may be afraid of confronting his or her problem.

If your friend is in denial…

  • …tell your friend how his or her problem affects you. You might say, “It is hard to have a good time if I’m afraid you will get sick, pass out, or embarrass me.”

If your friend agrees with you, you may choose to ask these questions:

  • Why do you think you have a problem?
  • How do you think you could solve it?
  • What are you going to do to resolve your problem?
  • What can I do to help you?

Setting Limits
You may need to set limits on what you will do with or for your friend. Let your friend know what your limits are and stick to them. For example, you may decide not to socialize him or her while he or she drinks alcohol. You may decide not to allow alcohol in your room or apartment.

Limits, and sticking to them, are important particularly if a friend denies that he or she has a problem. Do not let your friend manipulate you into hiding or disposing of liquor, or covering for him or her with family members, dates, or other friends. Your withholding or lying enables your friend to continue inappropriate behavior.

Remember that you cannot control your friend’s choices or behaviors.

Online Resources About Alcohol
Consult this list of resources to learn more about the risks and consequences associated with alcohol use.

Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ Alcohol Education Project researches alcohol and its related social norms and publishes findings in order to help the higher education community become better informed about alcohol use.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation provides an online tool that you can use to calculate your blood alcohol content (BAC) online.

The Rutgers University Center of Alcohol Studies researches and provides information about the consequences of alcohol use.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), features information about the use of MDMA (ecstasy) and methamphetamine, among others, on Club

The Harvard School of Public Health conducts the College Alcohol Study that surveys a nationally representative sample about college alcohol use.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) presents College Drinking – Changing the Culture, a collection of online informational resources for college students and their parents and college administrators concerning alcohol use and alcoholism.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Higher Education Center for Alcohol & Other Drugs Prevention provides materials that support higher education institutions as they address problems with alcohol use, drug use, and violence on college campuses.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) seeks to educate college students about the dangers of drunk driving, binge drinking, and underage drinking.

The Institute of Social Research at the University of Michigan conducts an ongoing study, known as Monitoring the Future, of the behaviors, attitudes and values of American youth pertaining to alcohol and drug use and abuse.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the National Institutes of Health, sponsors Rethinking Drinking, an online resource designed to help you evaluate your drinking behaviors and make informed decisions based upon your evaluation.