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Alcohol Poisoning: How To Immunize Your College-Bound Kid

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Are you the parents of a high school senior heading off to college this fall? Right now you may be focused on graduation deadlines and financial aid forms, but there is another critical issue on the horizon. College parties put your son or daughter at risk for alcohol poisoning, something that may prove more of a challenge than Biology 101. Just like you vaccinated your son or daughter against childhood diseases, take time to immunize against this present threat to health and safety.

Alcohol poisoning: The basics

Alcohol poisoning occurs when someone drinks more alcohol than the body can metabolize. Because alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, in large doses it slows breathing, heart rate, body temperature, and gag reflex; it can put the drinker into a coma and prove fatal.

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include

  • vomiting

  • confusion

  • slow breathing

  • unconsciousness

  • seizures

Unsupervised drinking at college parties means that sometimes young people ingest large amounts of alcohol and are collectively intoxicated, so they may not intervene when another teen displays the above symptoms.

Also, because teens don't want to get in trouble for underage drinking, they often do not seek medical help for friends who clearly have had too much to drink. Erroneously thinking their friends can just "sleep off" the effects of the alcohol, they may leave them in a room "passed out," only to find them dead in the morning.

The statistics

A new study by the CDC has found that more people die of alcohol poisoning than you may think. Approximately 2,200 people die each year from ingesting too much alcohol for their bodies to handle. The most alcohol poisoning deaths occur in Alaska; the fewest in Alabama.

Although the CDC reports most of these deaths occur in men aged 35-64, that should not obscure the fact that many college students are drinking far more than is safe.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that 80% of college students drink alcohol and that about half admit to binge drinking. Nineteen percent of college drinkers become alcohol dependent, and 25% experience academic fallout from their drinking behavior. Nearly 700,000 are victims of violence perpetrated by someone who has been drinking, and about 1,800 die in alcohol-related car crashes.

A website called Compelled to Act publishes a chilling semiannual report listing names and anecdotal information about students who died from alcohol-related causes, including poisoning.

Lastly, the Huffington Post reports that 57 students lost their lives to alcohol poisoning across the country in the 2014 fall semester.

Inoculating your teen

So how do you immunize your teen against alcohol poisoning? How do you vaccinate against peer pressure and misinformation in a brand new, often overwhelming setting?

  1. Be honest. Acknowledge that you know there will be both opportunities and invitations for your child to drink once college begins. Reiterate it is illegal to drink at his/her age, and yet you recognize some social settings will include underage drinking.

  2. Give information. Explain what alcohol poisoning is, describe the symptoms, and highlight its dangers.

  3. Provide exit strategies. Together with your child, devise at least three ways he or she can get out of uncomfortable situations.

  4. Develop resources. Make a list of resources your teen can use if necessary. The university counseling department is one useful resource. A local psychologist is another option, if your teen needs to talk to a professional.

  5. Phone home. Make sure your teen knows your help is always just a phone call away, and that you will assist through any crisis, without asking questions or passing judgment until the crisis is settled.

Commission your teen, as well, to look out for situations in which someone may be headed toward alcohol poisoning and to intervene. It may save someone else's child's life.

You have great dreams for your child's college years. You've spent months helping with admission forms and scholarship applications. You've toured campuses and listened to daydreams about possible career opportunities after graduation. Don't neglect to inoculate your son or daughter against something that, in a few short hours, could end all of that. Talk to your teen about alcohol poisoning.