Addressing binge drinking

Editor's note: A 20-year-old college student learned the hard way that partying too much can possibly kill you when he blacked out at a party after engaging in a 'shot contest.' Editorial Advisor Art Hsieh says EMS providers can help to identify binge drinking behavior through simple interventions that take only a minute to complete.

I would hazard a guess that all of us have managed patients whose condition was caused by overdosing on alcohol. I've always thought that if it weren't for alcohol and tobacco, we EMSers would be out of a job, as well as much of the health care system!

Binge drinking is a serious issue that gets glossed over by images of partying college kids and general indifference by society. No pun intended, binge drinking behavior starts in middle school — by the time a child reaches high school, chances can be one in two that they have already had a drinking episode where they were incapacitated. A large proportion of teenagers killed in traffic crashes are due to alcohol ingestion. A significant proportion of "date rape" situations involve excessive alcohol use.

Here's another intriguing thought — many kids who drink do so with the explicit permission of their parents. It's not like, "It's OK to drink yourself into oblivion"…but when parents allow their child to have alcohol served at parties at their home, it's pretty much like giving the same kid a loaded gun.

A child can only see from marketing campaigns that drinking makes you popular, sexy and the life of the party. They don't see what we see — pulling mangled bodies out of crashes, or trying to resuscitate a teenager who is in cardiac arrest secondary to alcohol overdose.

As a respected member of their communities, EMS providers can help to identify binge drinking behavior through simple interventions that take only a minute to complete. The same interventions can send a powerful message at the same time — "hey, do you know that you are in my care because of your binge drinking?"

It's been shown in emergency departments that simple procedures such as administering an Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) and following immediately with a brief intervention of counseling for patients with binge drinking behavior can dramatically reduce the incidence of reoccurrence.

It's always tough to manage a child who has been seriously injured or is critically ill. We should feel the same about managing the young binge drinker. It can possibly save a life.

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