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Alcohol Poisoning: 3 Things to Expect During Your ER Visit

Several years ago, when I was first trying to get sober, I went on a terrible drinking binge. A really, really terrible one.

I drank around the clock for two solid weeks. I stopped eating. I reached for a beer as soon as I woke up and drank until I passed out. All I did was sit on the couch and drink while tears poured out of my eyes.

I was terrified of going to the hospital – I’d had some pretty bad experiences there – but I was even more frightened of brain damage caused by alcohol poisoning and too little food. So, I finally called a friend and asked him to take me to the emergency room.

It was one of the best decisions I ever made – one that literally saved my life.

Face Down Your Fears

The definition of alcohol poisoning is “the ingestion of a lethal or potentially lethal amount of alcohol.” Drinking too much too quickly can affect your breathing, heart rate, body temperature, and gag reflex. Without medical intervention, alcohol poisoning lead to coma and death.

If you’re drinking copious amounts of alcohol like I was, your chances of alcohol poisoning are high. Going to the hospital is a scary thought, but choosing not to go could lead to your death. While I can’t remove all your fears, I can help to shed some light on what happens when you go to the emergency room.

Let’s take a look at three things you can likely expect once you get there:

  • #1 – You will undergo a medical evaluation and a doctor will take steps to stabilize you.

    alcohol poisoning treatment at hospitalWhen you’ve been drinking a great deal, especially if you haven’t been eating very much, your body’s probably malnourished and dehydrated. Doctors will likely perform lab tests to check for any deficiencies, then give you IV fluids and other nutrients as needed. When I was in the emergency room, I remember my physician asking if I’d been taking a thiamine supplement. I thought it was an odd question at the time, but I later learned chronic alcoholism is linked to the development of Wernicke–Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS). WKS is caused by a severe acute deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B1) and can result in an inability to make new memories, permanent brain damage, and numerous other mental and physical effects.

  • #2 – You could be assessed by a mental health professional.

    If available on staff, a mental health professional may be called in to speak with you. He or she will likely ask if you feel suicidal or if you feel like hurting yourself or others. It’s important to be honest. No one is judging you; these people are professionals and it’s their job to help you. When I was in the hospital, I could honestly say that I didn’t want to harm myself – I was there because I wanted to live!

  • #3 – Your doctor may recommended that you to check into medical detox.

    Most hospitals have some kind of detox unit where patients are able to medically (and safely) cleanse their bodies of alcohol. Once there, medical staff will administer medications like Librium to lower your anxiety and minimize your risk of seizure. If you’ve been drinking a lot and for a long time, you probably already know it’s incredibly dangerous to go “cold turkey.”
    Most medical detox programs offer different levels of therapy. The one I went to frankly didn’t provide much one-on-one counseling, but they assured my medical safety as I detoxed off of alcohol. I kept telling myself I’d much rather be uncomfortable for a little while than to be dead. So don’t give up! You can do this.

Before You Go to the Hospital…

Before you go to the emergency room, make sure to let your significant other, parents, roommates, or neighbors know you’ll be gone for a few days. That way they can take care of any day-to-day needs things like notifying your job or pet care, and you can focus on healing.

It’s a scary move to make, but it’s the right one for your health. And remember, nothing matters more than saving your own life!

Additional Reading:   Are the Effects of Drinking Too Much Reversible?

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