Drinking, drunk, dead

The things you didn’t think about that might just save your life

Let’s face it: College students drink. And we could all admit, if we really wanted to be honest, college students drink too much.

We’ve all heard the speeches, the “don’t do it” lectures. We know college students aren’t just going to stop drinking. But I wanted to get the word out to those who decide to make drinking part of their college experience. I talked to one of my nursing professors from last semester and Nursing Laboratory Coordinator Pamela Smyth. I’ve always thought Smyth is one of the most down-to-earth, approachable teachers I’ve had in my program, and she really cares about her students. Because of this, students often talk to her about their weekend plans or what they did the weekend before, full of drunken details.

Though Smyth is very relatable, she often worries about her students. The dangers of drinking hits close to home for her. Her son was hit and killed by a drunk driver walking home from a party, and she feels if the driver hadn’t been intoxicated it could have been avoided and if her son hadn’t been drinking he could have been more aware of his surroundings. So if you’re going to drink, that’s OK, but here’s some advice from a nurse and instructor who knows her stuff, knows students will drink, but wants to ensure there are no regrets.

How much is technically too much?

“Anyone drinking more than one drink an hour. That exceeds your body’s capability of processing it. I hear about these students who go out for their 21st and they have 21 drinks in a short period of time and that’s way too much.”

What are the signs of alcohol poisoning?

“When someone experiences confusion, vomiting, cold, clammy skin and slurred speech. Those are the top four I would look for. A lot of young people think that confusion and slurred speech are a normal part of drinking. But that’s a sign you’ve gone too far.”

What do I do if my friend is conscious but really far gone?

“Take them to the emergency room. People will be combative. If they are underage they will be concerned about an MIP. But that doesn’t compare to being dead. If they are drunk and you are not, you have to recognize they are not capable of making the right decision and you need to make it for them.”

What do I do if my friend is unconscious? Can’t they just “sleep it off?”

“Take them to the emergency room. This is why. A person can drink too much too fast and pass out, but there is an increasing level of alcohol going into the bloodstream being metabolized. They could go from merely passed out to dead in the process of the sleeping. You can check on them, but they can vomit and aspirate. It’s just too dangerous of a situation.”

What if they get mad at me for taking them to the ER?

“So often we don’t want that person to be angry the next day, but you really have to look at the big picture—their welfare.”

What if someone at my party is being combative?

“If you are concerned about your own safety, call the police. Being combative means they’ve had too much to drink.”

What about date rape? How can I protect myself and what are some of the signs I’ve been drugged?

“My daughter’s husband’s brother’s ex-girlfriend just got raped by three people she trusted that she knew since she was five years old and went to high school with; she’s really seriously hurt. She will need surgery. Pick someone who will be sober and will watch you until the next day. People can slip stuff in your drinks at the bar. Some signs are confusion, dizziness and light headedness. Some of the students were telling me that they make something you can check your drink with. You have to be thinking about your safety. They [rapes] go on a lot more often than people are willing to talk about.”

How do I know my friend really has an alcohol problem?

“They need professional help if you are noticing a behavior change. Things like not taking care of basic needs. If he or she is not going to class, not bathing and dressing on a regular basis, not taking care of bills, drinking everyday, passing out on a regular basis or drinking instead of eating—if you know someone well enough and you see a change in them—you know it’s time to do something. Alcoholism is an illness. We don’t judge people for having an illness, but we still want to encourage them to get the help they need. College is a stressful time in life, and it’s not uncommon for people to use alcohol to deal with that.”

What resources are there to help?

“I think you can get counseling from Birkham Health Center.”

Any final thoughts?

“My wish is that nobody would drink to that excess. It’s not realistic, but even if they make sure someone is with them that is sober. And that people would not be afraid to say, ‘OK, this has crossed the line; you need to go to the emergency room.’ Sometimes it takes someone in the group to be able to stand up to people. You can’t just say put them in bed, let them sleep it off and hope they wake up. That happens a lot more often than people realize.”

Tubing and summer safety

Here’s a few extra tips from Smyth about tubing and summer parties.

Tubing Safety

“Drinking and water can be a bad mix. Always go in groups, never by yourself. Tie your tubes together so no one is off by themselves. Drink water in between alcohol. And sunscreen seems like a little thing, but there’s the risk of skin cancer. Make sure that someone in your group is sober. Anytime a group of people is drinking, someone should be sober to keep an eye out.”

Drinking safety

“This summer people are going to be outside in the heat and they will be drinking alcohol because they are thirsty. If you are dinking and you’re outside, make sure you have a glass of water in between each alcoholic drink.”