Bitter swill to swallow

Am I poisoned or just drunk?

Hey freshman, we all know you can’t drink until you’re 21, but you should still know the difference between being drunk and having alcohol poisoning.

Hey freshman, we all know you can’t drink until you’re 21, but you should still know the difference between being drunk and having alcohol poisoning.

I know that without beer, I would miss out on lots of enlightening things. Like stripping down to my underwear and stealing bases in the middle of the night or displaying my ostrich-like grace as applied to interpretive dance. While alcoholic beverages contribute valuable humiliating moments in my life, there is a darker side.

Take, for example, 22-year-old Tyler Maggert. Egged on by his buddies, a then 17-year-old Maggert downed close to a half gallon of brandy and several beers.

“I was 17, I had [the alcohol], and I was with a friend who thought he could drink more than me,” he said.

Initially, turning his body into a distillery meant good times.

“I felt great,” he said. “Fan-fucking-tastic. I didn’t know where I was, though, and I wasn’t aware of anything beyond about 4 feet. There could have been a bear, and I wouldn’t have cared as long as he was 6-feet away.”

This all fits heavy alcohol intoxication perfectly.

Incoming freshman are too young legally to know about this firsthand. But people should know the difference between intoxication and alcohol poisoning.

The downside of drunk

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning depend on body size and how often a person drinks, but slurred speech and lack of inhibitions come up first—even inhibitions that determine attitudes toward, say, bears. This is caused by nerves in the brain and spine shutting down. According to Dr. Jennifer Wilson, emergency room physician at Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center, drinking too much transforms this shutdown into a coma.

Another thing to watch for is interactions with other drugs. Wilson says Valium and Xanax particularly magnify the effects of alcohol.

One of the biggest dangers of alcohol is its ability to mask other problems. For example, if a drunk person bounces his head off a table, it’s difficult to know if his behavior stems from intoxication or a concussion.

Drunk folk are more likely to tolerate things like oxygen starvation than sober people. Wilson said that drunks often will tilt their heads back and restrict the airway. This can lead to lower blood-oxygen content and, if unchecked, a condition medical professionals call death.

Another hazard is the Mallory-Weiss tear: When you puke violently enough, long enough, you can tear your esophagus. This causes blood to run into the stomach, making you puke some more. This isn’t usually life-threatening, but it will make the hangover just that much more unpleasant.

Likely suffering from a Mallory-Weiss tear, Maggert spent most of the next day puking up black stuff.

“I literally passed out puking,” he said. “I even told God I would never drink again if I could live through the night.”

Wilson stresses that the best thing to do for alcohol poisoning is to call professionals. She says many partiers don’t go to the hospital because they’re embarrassed.

“If you’re even asking [if someone has alcohol poisoning], bring them in,” she said. “We’re totally non-judgmental and see this sort of thing all the time. I’d rather take care of 100 people who are just drunk than to let one person get really hurt.”

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning

Confusion, stupor



Slow or irregular breathing

Blue-tinged skin or pale skin

Low body temperature (hypothermia)


It’s not necessary for someone to have all of these symptoms before seeking help. If you suspect someone has alcohol poisoning, call 911 or have a sober driver take the person to the nearest hospital.

*Information from the Mayo Clinic