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Originally Published on

Every fall, after students return to high school and college, there are tragic news stories about those who die of alcohol poisoning. These tragedies could often be averted if teens were better prepared to call for help.

When we speak with teens in our classroom prevention workshops, they often express concern about what to do at parties when peers are highly intoxicated. Yet while they express concerns about their friends, they also express fears that if they call adults for help they will get in trouble, or if they call 911 for an ambulance they will get arrested. Another common worry is that the intoxicated friend will be mad at them the next day for “getting them in trouble.”

These fears can be overwhelming and make it difficult for teens to reach out for help in a time of crisis. It is vital that caring adults convey to young people a clear message: Alcohol poisoning is a serious medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention. While underage drinking is not condoned, if they or someone they are with is in need of medical attention, they should call 911 and involve adults without the fear of punishment.

Teens are at higher risk for alcohol poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is when the quantity of alcohol in the blood is so high that it threatens respiration. Teens are at a much higher risk of alcohol poisoning than adults because they metabolize alcohol less efficiently. Teens get drunker faster and stay drunker longer on less alcohol.

Binge drinking (defined as 4-5 drinks in a single sitting) and playing drinking games, both common among teens, cause blood alcohol content to rise to dangerous levels in a short amount of time. The liver has no time to catch up, which creates a backlog of alcohol in the bloodstream. It is also important to note that drinking after the use of any kind of drug, prescribed or illicit, can increase the risks of alcohol poisoning.