Story of Teen's Death Exposes Danger of Binge Drinking

Know signs of alcohol poisoning and when to call 9-1-1

Julia Gonzalez
Julia Gonzalez. Family Photo

The acute alcohol poisoning death of 16-year-old Julia Gonzalez shook the nation in 2008 when she was found dead in a park. The coroner said her blood-alcohol content showed the equivalent of 16 drinks consumed in one hour. An average-sized, healthy person generally can safely process one drink in one hour. 

Gonzalez' death was ruled accidental. Although no one has come forward to say what happened that night, it is assumed her death was the result of binge drinking gone terribly wrong.

Although, her death highlights clearly the dangers of binge drinking for others.

It is very important to know the signs of alcohol poisoning, you can you save a person's life.

Death by Alcohol

The toxicology report showed Gonzalez's blood-alcohol content at the time of her death was 0.52, more than six times the legal limit for adult intoxication in California.

"At 5 feet 2 inches tall and about 100 pounds, Julia would have had to drink the equivalent of one pint of 86-proof whiskey in an hour to register that high," said the deputy coroner. "We're not saying that's what she drank, but that's what you'd have to drink at that weight to get to that level."

A Tragic, But Common, Binge Drinking Story

Unfortunately, Gonzalez' story happens way too frequently to young, inexperienced drinkers who engage in extreme binge drinking. They get far too intoxicated to function, and then their friends think they are just drunk and passed out.

Or, in another case, everyone is underage, drinking illegally and hesitant to call for help. The legal consequences of underage drinking pale in comparison to a friend losing their life because no one called 9-1-1.

In the case of Gonzalez, it was known that she was meeting up with friends that night, but none of her friends would talk about what happened between the time Gonzalez said goodbye to her grandmother the night before at 7 p.m. and when her body was found at 5 a.m. the next morning.

What detectives piece together is that when she got into trouble that night by drinking too much, too quickly and began to exhibit symptoms of acute alcohol poisoning, her friends did not call 9-1-1.

Signs of Acute Alcohol Poisoning

There is a difference between sleeping it off and alcohol poisoning. It is important to know the signs of acute alcohol poisoning:

Signs of Acute Alcohol Poisoning
Mental confusion
Person cannot be woken up
Vomiting
Seizures
Slow breathing (fewer than eight breaths per minute)
Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)
Hypothermia (low body temperature), bluish skin color, paleness

Call For Help, Save a Life

If you feel a person may have alcohol poisoning, call 9-1-1. It could be a matter of life or death.

If you are not sure, some signs would be that the person will not wake up if you try to wake them, or if the person is breathing too slowly and is cold to the touch.

If the person is vomiting, stay with the person and do not leave. It may be unpleasant, but staying could save the person's life.

Try to sit the person up. If the person cannot stay upright, lay the person on their side, with their head turned to one side. Watch for signs of choking.

Do not give the person anything to eat or drink to try to sober them up.

Do not put them in a cold shower. Only time can sober a person up or medical help.

Sources:
National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Facts About Alcohol Poisoning (2008)
The Modesto Bee. "Huge Amount of Alcohol Killed Teen, Coroner Says" (2008)

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