An ethyl coma is a severe state of loss of consciousness resulting from acute alcohol intoxication. The greatest danger of this state is the risk of depression of the respiratory centers with death by suffocation.
Respiratory centers are neuronal nuclei located in the brain stem. Through a complex system of circuits, they maintain and regulate respiration.
Alcohol at very high doses, like many other depressant drugs, causes these centers to stop working. There is a risk of ethyl coma when a person exceeds three grams of alcohol per liter of blood.
Effects of alcohol on the body
Alcohol has multiple effects on the body. Generally, the most talked about is usually disinhibition, although it is far from the only one.
According to Rodrigo Arias Duque, doctor in Clinical Psychology, “the psychophysiological and pharmacodynamic action of alcohol is fundamentally depressive, due to the reduction of synaptic transmission in the human nervous system.”
The different effects intensify as the person drinks more, and the alcohol they consume may be directly proportional to their level of concentration in the blood.
Let’s look at how alcohol affects the brain below to get an idea of how harmful it is to consume it regularly and in large quantities.
Acts as a GABA agonist
The GABAergic system (GABA) is the main inhibitory system in the brain. Its activation causes relaxation, sedation, sleep. Alcohol has been found to have an agonistic effect on it. That is, it activates this system just as the molecules that naturally belong to it would.
Inhibits glutamate receptors
If GABA is the main inhibitor of the central nervous system, glutamate is the main exciter or activator. Here alcohol has the opposite effect: it works by turning off these activating pathways.
Acts on the opioid system
The opioid system is the one that protects against pain (physical and psychological). In it, endorphins are found, also known as the ‘molecules of happiness’. The effect on this system is the same as on GABA: it enhances its effects.
The consequences are the feelings of euphoria and pleasure, the lack of worry and pain. The search for these sensations is one of the reasons that drive chronic alcoholism.
Trade the reward circuit
The reward circuit is the neural network that enables motivation to perform actions. The effect that alcohol has on this network can lead to addiction.
What to do in case of an ethyl coma?
If in doubt, it is best to call the emergency service. Especially if the person does not know exactly if he is unconscious or not, but has ingested large amounts of alcohol and begins to be absent.
In case the person is unconscious, it is advisable to do the following:
- First of all, it is necessary to move it to a safe place.
- Although it seems obvious, we must make sure if it is conscious or not. To do this, we can call the person by name, and gently shake them by the shoulders. In this way, we can check whether or not it responds to stimuli (voice and touch, in this case).
- Likewise, we have to make sure that the person breathes.
- You have to keep it warm, to avoid hypothermia.
- We gently place the person on their side, never face up or face down. In this way, if the person vomits , the risk of drowning will be lower.
What should not be done in case of an ethyl coma?
Vomiting should never be induced in an unconscious or non- lucid person. There is a high risk that, when vomiting, some of the content passes into the respiratory tract, causing suffocation or pneumonia.
Of course, you should never hurt the person to bring him out of unconsciousness or to check if he responds to stimuli. Therefore, it is necessary to avoid the blows and sudden movements.
Instead, techniques such as pressing the nails or pinching the neck muscle can be used. Still, it is important to remember that you should first try to wake her up by calling her name or gently shaking her.
Nor should the person be bathed in cold water to regain consciousness. These measures are often applied in movies, but in real life they are not the best way to help a person.
Treatment of ethyl coma
An ethyl coma is considered an emergency. Therefore, the main goal of treatment is to reverse the effects of alcohol on the brain. To do this, the following are usually used:
- Hydration through serum.
- Control of vital signs.
- Use of drugs with antagonistic effect, such as flumazenil.
- In some very serious cases, it may be necessary to give oxygen (oxygen therapy).
The most important thing to avoid an ethyl coma or any other consequence of excessive alcohol consumption is to avoid it or, at least, reduce its intake. Likewise, it is advisable to maintain good hydration (with water) and avoid consuming alcohol on an empty stomach.
Remember, if you are near someone who could be suffering from an ethyl coma, do not hesitate to call the emergency service and take into account the advice that we have indicated here.