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Will I Get My Underage Friend in Trouble If I Seek Medical Help When They Are Drunk?

By Catherine Hodder, Esq. | Reviewed by Joseph Fawbush, Esq. | Last updated on

Drinking may seem like a rite of passage among teenagers even if it is banned in all 50 states. In 1984, Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which prohibits persons under the age of 21 from purchasing or publicly possessing alcoholic beverages. There is an exemption for when persons at a young age consume alcohol as part of a religious ceremony or prescribed by a medical professional.

Despite the legal drinking age, underage drinking continues. Unfortunately, most teenagers who drink engage in binge drinking, a dangerous activity that may cause injury or death.

This article will discuss binge drinking, how to recognize alcohol poisoning, and how medical amnesty or “Good Samaritan” laws encourage young adults to report a medical emergency related to drinking without fear of legal repercussions.

What Is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is drinking many alcoholic beverages in a short period of time, bringing blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to .08%. This may equate to young girls having three drinks and boys having three to five drinks in two hours. Girls are statistically more likely to be binge drinkers than boys. That may be due to them being affected by fewer drinks.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), underage drinkers consume 90% of alcoholic beverages through binge drinking. Due to binge drinking, there is a higher risk of physical and sexual assault and alcohol problems later in life.

The problem with binge drinking, in addition to impairment and risky behavior, is that it may cause an alcohol overdose called "alcohol poisoning."

What Are the Signs of Alcohol Poisoning?

The Mayo Clinic cites the following symptoms of alcohol poisoning:

  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing (less than eight breaths a minute)
  • Irregular breathing (more than 10 seconds between breaths)
  • Shivering, low body temperature (called hypothermia)
  • Pale or blue skin
  • Inability to stay awake
  • Loss of consciousness

Alcohol poisoning can lead to a coma or death.

What To Do in Case of Alcohol Poisoning

If you suspect your friend has alcohol poisoning:

  • Seek medical attention right away by calling 911.
  • Keep them in an upright, sitting position, and try to keep them awake.
  • Keep them hydrated with water, not coffee. Coffee dehydrates.
  • If they are unconscious, turn their head to the side to avoid choking if they vomit.
  • Stay with your friend until help arrives and give them detailed information.

Medical personnel may ask how many drinks they consumed and over what period.

Will I Get in Trouble? Will My Friend?

Most states have some form of medical amnesty or “Good Samaritan” laws for seeking medical help for underage intoxicated people. Although the laws vary, they provide limited immunity to underage intoxicated persons and the person who seeks medical attention on their behalf. Under these laws, if you call 911 because you think your friend has alcohol poisoning or has become injured while intoxicated, you and your friend won’t be in trouble for being a MIP (minor in possession).

What if They Have a Drinking Problem or Problem With Drug Use?

If you worry that a friend or family member has an alcohol dependence or alcohol use disorder or even a problem with substance use, you can reach out to a health care provider for help. They are more concerned with getting them the help they need than involving law enforcement. You can also use the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) helpline for help and treatment options.

Underage Drinking Is on the Decline

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and national surveys show that there is a decline in drinking and binge drinking among young people due, in part, to more education about the consequences of underage drinking and the negative health effects of drinking alcohol.

Yet binge drinking and alcohol poisoning still occur. If your friend is not well after heavy drinking, don’t be afraid to seek medical assistance. After all, a trip to the emergency room is better than a trip to the morgue.

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