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Teenage drinking - What is a lethal limit of alcohol? Having an action plan.

Police in Little Compton, Rhode Island responded to a call of driving a vehicle without the owner’s consent. The suspect was at his mother’s home. When police arrived at the home, the man, 39-year-old was extremely unsteady on his feet, seemingly drunk. On the way to the stationhouse the man slumped over and became unresponsive. At the hospital his blood alcohol level was measured at 0.578.

The Bristol Phoenix story goes on to say the Little Compton Police believe that to be the highest level recorded in Rhode Island and it’s believed to reach lethal limits. That’s a safe assumption to say the least.

I’m not sure anyone can say what the highest limit is but it’s safe to say this BAC of 0.578 could certainly be lethal. It’s surprising that it wasn’t lethal. As for the highest level I found a story from Sofia, Bulgaria in which a 25-year old driver after drinking 20 liters of beer was measured to have a BAC of 0.851. That story states a lethal limit is 0.40. Rutgers University’s Center for Alcohol Studies concludes the LD to be between 0.40 and 0.50%. It’s different for every individual and depends on the situation. This range has been determined from examining those who have died from alcohol poisoning. 

How Much is Too Much?

Scientists use the term "lethal dose" (LD) to describe the dose (or in the case of alcohol, the concentration) that produces death in half the population (LD:50). Most authorities agree that blood alcohol concentrations in the 0.40 - 0.50% range meet the requirements for the LD:50. The blood alcohol concentration is the percentage of alcohol in the blood that results after alcohol is absorbed from the stomach into the blood supply. Obviously, studies of lethal dosage cannot be tested empirically in the laboratory, so the LD:50 for alcohol is estimated from post-mortem cases in which alcohol poisoning was found to be the primary cause of death. However, there are documented cases of fatal overdoses from alcohol at blood alcohol concentrations lower than 0.40%. To place this in perspective, a 100-pound woman or man who consumed 9-10 standard drinks, respectively, in less than an hour would be in the LD:50 range. A 200-pound man would have to consume about 5-6 drinks per hour for 4 hours to reach the LD:50. Although such high rates of consumption are atypical of most situations, participating in drinking "games" or club "initiations" often involves highly unregulated alcohol consumption. Impaired judgment from intoxication, coupled with large amounts of alcohol, is a potentially fatal combination.

How do you recognize the symptoms of alcohol LD?

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning start with nausea and progress to vomiting. The person will then pass out, be difficult or impossible to awaken, not be responsive to painful stimuli (such as pinching), have slow shallow breathing and the reflexes are absent.

What is the most important step in saving the life of a young person with a LD of alcohol?

Act and act quickly. Don’t hesitate, because the problems can escalate if the person dies. It’s as simple as putting aside all of the parental, peer and legal implications and dialing 911.

Action Plan

The most difficult part of saving someone from an alcohol overdose does not occur in the Emergency Room, nor does it involve a complex medical treatment. The most difficult aspect of an overdose case is making the decision to do something. Fear of possible legal implications (e.g., for underage drinkers), embarrassment, or not having the information to make a decision can also be fatal.

If someone who has been drinking heavily persists in falling asleep, waken him or her. If the person does not respond easily, it is time to call the police emergency number (911) and ask for assistance. Do not assume that your friend will sleep it off or would prefer not to be disturbed. Getting the person home and in bed is not a solution, and may actually place the drinker at risk, because he or she is no longer being observed. If you reasonably believe that other drugs were also ingested, be sure to tell the ambulance personnel. Alcohol in combination with other drugs accounts for about a third of all drug overdose cases in the
US.

What kills you? Most likely it’s respiratory arrest.

As a teenager it’s normal to experiment with limits. But remember, alcohol can be fatal. Life is a long road that requires all the brain cells you were born with. The object is to preserve them not destroy them. When you drink do it sensibly.

Here is how drinking gets out of hand

The Consequences of Teenaged DUI Driving – Car cut in two

Drunk Driver on the Highway – The way to get arrested


Steve Lombardi
Iowa civil trial, workers' compensation and personal injury lawyer