Twenty-six episodes of ‘The A-Files’ air throughout Alcohol Awareness Month on YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Alcohologist.com and AddictedMinds.com, among other web and social media sites. Episode O looks at overdose. There are two types of overdose concerns with alcohol. The first is an overdose with the drug, alcohol, the second is a fatal drug interaction with other drugs, including prescription and over the counter remedies. Neither has a warning sign except what you’re getting now.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant drug. Several times each year the news headlines capture the tragedy of a binge episode death. A teen, a college student, an otherwise productive and smart adult will go down a path of dangerously high consumption. Six people die every day from drinking too much, too fast, shutting down the central nervous system. Three of four are men, three of four are between the ages of 35 and 64 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These are poisoning deaths, not death from the disease of alcoholism.
Impairment from intoxication begins at a blood alcohol concentration of .02. That’s the first drink. Intoxication escalates from there… with .08 the legal limit permitted for driving in the U.S. Commonly, charts peg the pass out dosage of alcohol between .02 and .03 BAC and death as likely at .40. The fact is, it can happen lower or higher than that, depending upon the person’s general health and tolerance. Singer Amy Winehouse died at .04, a college student in Arizona recently died at .032, I’ve been in the E.R. with a BAC of .612 and survived. You simply won’t know which drink puts you in a coffin until you take it.
The other side of the equation, which can happen at dramatically lower levels of intoxication, is overdose from combining alcohol with other drugs. Even moderate drinking has the potential to interfere with 210 commonly used meds. Many popular pain medications — and cough, cold, and allergy medications — contain more than one ingredient that can adversely interact with alcohol (see related story). Alcohol interactions range from nausea and vomiting and dizziness; to irreversible – and potentially fatal – internal bleeding, liver and heart damage. One of the most common causes of severe liver damage is a combination with acetaminophen, available over the counter as Tylenol. Other serious alcohol interactions are associated with herbal remedies such as St. John’s wort, valerian and lavender. Alcohol IS a drug, fatal on its own or in combination with other ones.