Alcohol poisoning kills: Know the signs

A student encourages her peers to get familiar with the dangers of binge drinking and the life-saving resources they can utilize should an alcohol-related medical crisis occur.


Temple students recently returned to campus for the fall semester, and with it came the resurgence of young people going out, partying and engaging in social drinking. 

Evan Mayorga was at an off-campus house party during Labor Day weekend to celebrate the first week of the semester when the hosts suddenly asked everyone to leave. The party began around 5 p.m., and less than two hours later, two partygoers were found unconscious inside, prompting the unexpected shutdown. 

“Especially after that instance, I feel like the frequency [of drinking] should be a little bit of a concern,” said Mayorga, a senior acting major. 

In 2021, nearly half of full-time college students drank alcohol in the month prior to being surveyed, and 27.4 percent of them engaged in binge drinking, consuming at least four and five drinks on one occasion for women and men, respectively, according to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. While alcohol use is a normalized aspect of campus culture, it is important for students to understand how dangerous it can be.

Binge drinking leads to serious consequences, like alcohol poisoning, which occurs when too much alcohol is in the bloodstream, and the brain responds by shutting down basic life support functions, like breathing, heart rate and body temperature regulation. Students who drink should familiarize themselves with what to do and what life-saving resources to utilize should an alcohol-related medical crisis occur. 

“[Drinking is] expected because we’re college students, we want to have fun and stuff like that, but I think sometimes it gets a little bit excessive,” Mayorga said.

On average, six people die of alcohol poisoning every day in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, if students are aware of the signs of alcohol poisoning and campus resources available in the event of a medical emergency, it doesn’t have to be fatal.

Some signs of alcohol poisoning include the inability to stand or remain conscious, slurred speech, mental confusion and vomiting, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 

Students should immediately seek medical attention if these symptoms are present, or they could face serious health consequences, including asphyxiation, seizures and permanent brain damage.

Some students may feel apprehensive about seeking help for fear of getting in trouble for underage alcohol use or breaking residence hall alcohol policies. However, Temple has a longstanding medical amnesty policy, which states no student will face disciplinary action for pursuing medical attention for drug or alcohol-related health complications. This guideline applies to both the intoxicated student and the student calling for assistance. 

Students can call Campus Safety at 215-204-1234 for medical assistance, either for themselves or for others who are in a dangerous position, said Megan Patrick, the assistant dean of students.

“The basis behind medical amnesty is really that we want students to be as safe as possible,” Patrick said. “And so we want students to be concerned about themselves, but also about others and other members of the community.”

Temple also offers “Drinking 101: What to do when your friend’s had too much,” a university-provided online guide for students to follow in the event they or someone they are with has had too much to drink. 

The guide, written with input from a Temple University Hospital doctor, explains that if someone is presenting signs of alcohol overdose, they should be taken to a hospital immediately. While waiting for medical attention, the intoxicated person should be watched closely to ensure they are consistently breathing and their neck and head are positioned to not obstruct their airway. 

Additionally, students can practice precautionary measures to ensure they are drinking as safely as possible and avoid significant danger from the start. 

“I feel like some people run into the problem of not really eating enough or forgetting to eat and then just kind of go straight into drinking, and that’s what leads to the poisoning because they’re not trying to protect themselves beforehand,” Mayorga said.

To help promote alcohol safety, students should avoid drinking on an empty stomach and mixing drugs and alcohol, said Jerry Stahler, a geography and urban studies professor who has worked in the addiction field for more than 30 years. It’s also important to drink in a secure environment and always stay with a group of friends, he said.

“There’s a lot of really bad things that can happen with too much alcohol use,” Stahler said. “No matter where you are on the alcohol use scale, however much you drink, always keep in mind less is better.”

With medical amnesty in place and the signs of alcohol poisoning in mind, students can protect themselves and their friends from potentially deadly circumstances. Given these resources, fears of embarrassment or discipline should not be barriers to reporting dangerous situations. 

Alcohol consumption is an inescapable facet of college life, and though safety while drinking is never guaranteed, students can be alert and make appropriate choices to foster a safer environment for everyone.

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