By Dr. Jan Hittelman
Q: I had a disturbing conversation with a friend about a parent’s experience with alcohol poisoning. The child had already been in trouble with the police, over alcohol use; and had passed out drunk again, when the parent was called to pick up the teen. The parent did not take the teen to the Hospital because the parent was afraid that the police would be involved again. I’ve known several teens in the past, whose lives were most likely saved by prompt medical attention. Is there any assurance that we can give parents that Medical Care asked for by a parent or guardian is not subject to reporting, so that they will do what is right for the child?
-Parent of 2 Teens
A: In June 2005 the Colorado General Assembly passed a series of laws (House Bill 05-1183) that include protections for the minor and up to two additional persons from prosecution if they call 911 to report that the minor is in need of medical attention due to alcohol consumption, give their names, stay on the scene and cooperate with medical and law enforcement personnel when they arrive. You can read the exact language of the law by clicking on: www.state.co.us/gov_dir/leg_dir/olls/sl2005a/sl_282.htm
These laws were enacted due to “incidents of death related to underage binge drinking”.
The danger of not taking someone who is suffering from alcohol poisoning to the hospital is that they can die. Alcohol is a depressant and when too much alcohol is ingested, there is a risk of slowing down the respiratory system and the person simply stops breathing. Tragically a parent would simply assume that they’re “sleeping it off”. It is important to be safe not sorry and seek medical attention.
When Gordon Bailey died from alcohol poisoning several years ago at a C.U. Fraternity, his parents were interviewed. Surprisingly they indicated that they themselves did not really understanding the fatal nature of alcohol poisoning and were haunted that they never sat their son down and educated him about this. The good news is that you can. After educating yourself on the subject, be sure to educate your children. And don’t wait until they’re in high school. These conversations should begin no later than the beginning of middle school, if not earlier. It is important to revisit this and other potential self-harm behaviors (other substance abuse including cigarettes, sexual behavior, bike helmets, seat belts, and other risk behaviors) frequently as your child develops and matures.
Ironically the two most dangerous drugs on the planet are the two that are legal; cigarettes and alcohol. This sends a very confusing message to our children. Particularly because parents and our general culture model the use of these two drugs far too often.
If you are aware that your child is regularly abusing alcohol, it is critical to intervene.
Depending on the seriousness and chronicity of the alcohol abuse, some of the interventions that may be necessary include: Alcohol classes, driving restrictions, substance abuse treatment, and attending Alcoholics Anonymous.