Thursday, 27 June 2013

'Preloading' and the 'tactical vomit' ... really?

Just when I thought I had heard everything I visited a school recently and was asked what I thought about the 'benefits' of a 'tactical vomit' ... now maybe I missed something when  I was a teenager but I had never heard of this ... Asking around I have spoken to a number of my peers who had a vague idea of what these young people were talking about but all were surprised when I told them it was 15 year olds who were describing the practice and were completely staggered when I told them the context in which this was currently being carried out.

The website 'Urban Dictionary' (not a particularly pleasant site and certainly isn't up there with the Oxford English Dictionary!) defines a 'tactical vomit' as the following "the point in a night of heavy drinking where one forces themselves or chooses to throw up in order to feel well enough to continue drinking and keep up with the nights festivities - usually done after large amounts of drinking ...". There are other definitions available on the web, many of them extremely offensive, but essentially what we're talking about here is the notion of 'self-stomach pumping'.

I asked one of the young people who asked me the question about a 'tactical vomit' to send me an email describing the practice in terms of her social group - this was one Year 10 girl's response:

"Before we go out to a party for the night we usually meet at someone else's house and have a few drinks beforehand. Sometimes someone drinks too much and it gets to a point that we know she won't be able to get into the party we're going to because she looks too drunk and the parents or security guards wouldn't let her in ... That's when we would have a tactical vomit - she would go into the toilet and stick her fingers down her throat or drink a glass of salty water to throw up and sober herself up. After a bit of time she'll feel a little better and we can go to the party and get in."

Once again, I'm not sure whether it's just that I'm getting older and more conservative in my views, but this just seems really bizarre to me! Not only is it potentially extremely dangerous (vomiting can be life threatening) but maybe more important to some young people, it just doesn't seem to make economic sense ... why 'preload' with alcohol if you're only going to throw it up before you go out to do the actual partying for the night?

It's also incredibly important to remember that vomiting does not sober you up. The reason you are drunk and feeling unwell has nothing to do with what is in your stomach - you are drunk because the alcohol has reached the brain. Emptying the contents of your stomach will certainly prevent anymore alcohol from reaching the brain and increasing intoxication levels but it certainly will not sober you up.

So why do some people feel as if they have sobered up when they have thrown up?

After talking with a few doctors and other health professionals it seems that the answer is fairly simple. When you throw up, putting the body under sudden and/or physical stress, endorphins and adrenaline are released. Endorphins are often described as the body's natural pain killers (or your 'own private narcotic'), and adrenaline boosts the supply of oxygen and glucose (energy) in your brain and muscles. This makes you feel pretty good (or at least a little better) for a short time. Unfortunately, your body does not keep releasing these chemicals and the effect wears off pretty quickly. If you combine this with the fact that by emptying the contents of your stomach you have decreased the amount of toxins (alcohol) in your body, vomiting may make you feel a little better for a short time but it certainly does not sober you up.
 
Someone I respect greatly who presents to parents across the country used to say that you can do everything right to keep your kids safe and it only takes one thing for everything to go wrong - 'bad luck'! On the other hand there are adolescents across the country who take part in unbelievably dangerous behaviour every weekend who get through it all due to 'good luck' ... Tactical vomiting is dangerous behaviour but many will play around with the practice and survive simply because they were lucky!

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