published Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Cleaveland: An alcohol primer for students, parents

By Dr. Clif Cleaveland

Behind the glitzy ads for beer, wine and various distilled beverages stand some frightening statistics. More than 88,000 deaths annually are directly attributable to alcohol. Each death represents an average of 30 years of lost life expectancy. Ten percent of deaths of working-age Americans are due to alcohol. Acute intoxication may lead to injury, risky sexual behavior, miscarriage, and still-birth.

In Tennessee, an average of 2,064 residents die prematurely each year due to alcohol. The annual toll for Georgia averages 2,555.

Deaths may be divided into acute and chronic causes. Acute deaths include 12,460 motor-vehicular accidents, 7,500 falls, 8,179 suicides, 7,756 homicides and 1,647 poisonings. Each of these statistics had a name, loved ones and future plans or aspirations. Some people should simply not drink: age under 21, drivers or operators of machinery, pregnant women or women trying to conceive, and users of prescription drugs which may interact adversely with alcohol.

Alcohol consumption is measured in terms of a standard drink: a 12-ounce beer (5 percent alcohol), 8-ounce malt liquor (7 percent), 5-ounce wine (12 percent), 1.25-ounce 80 proof whiskey (40 percent).

Concentration of alcohol in the blood (BAC) is stated as grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood. All states, including Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama, have a common threshold of 0.08 percent (0.08 grams of alcohol per 100 ml blood) to determine impairment for driving. A BAC of 0.08 is considered intoxicated in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.

The website Bloodalcoholcalculator.org provides estimates of BAC for men and women of varying weight who consume varying amounts of alcohol in one hour. For example, a 180-pound male will have a BAC of 0.08 after consuming 4 drinks in an hour. A 120-pound female will have a BAC of 0.08 after consuming 2 drinks in an hour. Following its rapid absorption, alcohol distributes in body water. Because women have less body water per unit of weight, they more rapidly reach BAC of intoxication compared to men.

Acute alcohol poisoning results in unconsciousness and may occur when BAC exceeds 0.4. A BAC of 0.55 carries a 50 percent mortality risk. A person who loses consciousness from alcohol consumption may continue to absorb alcohol from his digestive track and attain lethal levels. Binge-drinking, the consumption of multiple drinks in a short period of time, results in such dangerous BAC levels. An estimated 50 students yearly die of acute alcohol poisoning.

The Campus Alcohol Abuse Prevention Center created by Virginia Tech is a model, online source of information for parents, students, faculty and citizens. It is an excellent starting point for high schools and colleges to begin the process of education in the responsible use of alcoholic beverages.

Some tips for students and their parents:

• If you are under 21 years of age, it is illegal for you consume alcohol. Any blood alcohol level will lead to a driving-under-the-influence charge.

• If you are over 21, you should be familiar with the consequences of DUI. You should avoid binge drinking. You should use every peaceful measure possible to prevent a friend from driving while intoxicated. You should not be a passenger in a vehicle driven by someone who has been drinking.

• If you plan to drive a motor vehicle, you should not drink any alcohol in the hours prior to taking the wheel.

• If a friend or associate loses consciousness after drinking, you must not abandon him/her. If they can be roused, engage them in gentle movements and gently push fluids, tea or coffee if available. Do not permit him to go to bed until fully alert.

• If you cannot rouse a passed-out drinker, transport him to an emergency room at once. Because vomiting and aspiration — inhaling vomit into the lungs — pose a risk to an unconscious drinker, position him on his side until help arrives.

• Do not accept any beverage unless you know what ingredients went into it.

Alcohol use is a matter of individual choice, but this should be an informed choice. Education in alcohol use and abuse must be a necessary component of education in the home, school, and workplace.

Contact Clif Cleaveland at cleaveland1000@comcast.net.

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