Can you help me figure out what happened to my friend last night?
September 29, 2018 7:12 PM   Subscribe

My friend became intensely ill after drinking last night and I'm hoping the hive mind can help figure out what happened.

Last night, my friend (I'll call her Annie; she's 27) and I met for dinner and went out dancing afterward. At dinner, neither of us could finish our food (which was odd), and we both felt slightly strange: mild headaches, slightly fuzzy vision, mild stomach discomfort. I was very thirsty and drank many glasses of water. I didn't think much of it, since I'm sensitive to food (I tend to get a bit fuzzy after carbs and salt). We joked that maybe there was a carbon monoxide leak which was making us feel strange.

We left the restaurant and headed to the bar (both feeling a lot better). The bar we attended is in a university neighborhood in a medium-sized US city. I've been there countless times for monthly dance nights; it was Annie's first time visiting this particular place. It was a fun, crowded atmosphere; lots of people drinking and dancing to old records.

Over the span of about 2 hours, we each had 3 drinks; I had 3 beers and Annie had 3 gin & tonics. We were both feeling good, but after Annie started drinking her third gin & tonic, she went to sit down on a bench near the dance floor while I waited at the bar for soda water. She sat there with her head sort of hanging down, eyes closed, looking unwell. I gave her a sip of water and soon after, she vomited twice in her lap. Just threw up right there in the bar, sitting down. At this point I helped her up and walked her outside (with the help of one of the barbacks). She had trouble walking. From an outside perspective, she looked like a very drunk person who needed help to function.

I sat with her outside on the sidewalk. She was curled up with her hood up, face down, leaning against the wall, spitting once in awhile. I asked her questions and she would have a hard time answering; sometimes moaning, shaking or nodding her head, etc. She was clearly unwell. I encouraged her to get out her phone and call a cab to take her home (where she lives with her husband and 3 young children). She successfully ordered an Uber but then cancelled it, saying that she wanted to be home but didn't want to get into a car.

Eventually I had the doorman (an acquaintance who was VERY helpful) assist me in calling her another cab and helping her into it. For some reason, this driver could not complete the trip and asked us to call another cab. While sitting in this first cab, Annie threw up again out the door (getting some vomit on the car, which she was charged $150 for today). The bar manager got her a garbage bag to hold (he was worried too, and thought it wouldn't be a bad idea to call an ambulance). We got Annie into the second cab, and then she was on her way home. Before the door closed she said to me, "something's wrong." She wanted to go home, not to the hospital.

After sending her off, I called my own cab and got home safely. (I called my boyfriend, who is out of town, and started crying because I was so worried about her). Annie and I messaged a bit once she was home. I was really glad she was able to function enough to text me. I encouraged her to wake her husband up and have him help. She told me she spent the night sleeping on the floor, covered in blankets. This morning she still felt drunk, and was stumbling and falling down. She told me today how she doesn't remember much after that third drink. She said she's never vomited from alcohol before, felt like she couldn't move any part of her body, etc. She's really embarrassed and ashamed. I keep telling her it wasn't her fault.

Other factors: she has IBS, but vomiting is not really a symptom for her. She doesn't take any medications. I've met Annie in person only twice, but we have been Instagram friends for about a year. This is not typical for her, at all.

While all this was happening, I wasn't sure what to think. The amount of alcohol she consumed didn't match up with her reaction. As we keep discussing the night, she is starting to think someone may have messed with her drink. Unfortunately neither of us noticed anyone acting sinister. She thinks she put her drink down for just a minute, but neither of us are certain. She told me that a man wanted to sit by her while she was inside on the bench, which I noticed while I waited at the bar for water, but he was not very close to her and did not seem to be showing much interest in her.

She's been talking to her friends and relatives today, and they're recounting stories of people being drugged which match up with her reaction. So I think she's convinced that's what happened. If so, I am furious. Especially this week, with the current events going on.

Does this sound like a reaction to a date rape drug? I keep encouraging her to visit the doctor today, but I'm not sure she will. I think she assumes that whatever was in her system is out now. Thanks for any help you can offer, hive mind!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (29 answers total)
Did you both eat the same foods at the restaurant?
Staphylococcal food poisoning can set in as quickly as 30 minutes after eating contaminated food.
posted by mdrew at 7:32 PM on September 29, 2018 [8 favorites]

I bet you anything it was the tonic water. As soon as I saw the question before I even saw what she was drinking I guessed that's what it might be. I used to have no problem with tonic water but I have had this exact same reaction, the first time after a single vodka tonic. Anytime I accidentally get tonic water served to me instead of club soda I can tell because this very thing happens to me. Doctors have scoffed at me for saying it, but it is a thing.
posted by primalux at 7:45 PM on September 29, 2018 [6 favorites]

Just to note, that article describes an extreme case but I don't believe that all allergic reactions to the quinine in tonic are that severe. I have also known people that have had the same reactions in my presence, but theirs have seemed to be less regular than mine are. They used to not drink tonic after those situations, but since have tried it again and been fine. Maybe it's a certain brand, I don't know. I'm not a doctor obviously, but I'm in a scientific field and I truly think that this could have been what happened with you friend.
posted by primalux at 7:51 PM on September 29, 2018

I had a similar vomiting reaction to just one drink when I had mono. The liver is so busy processing all the extra dying blood cells that it can't handle the alcohol. If she continues to feel unwell and talks to a doctor, she might ask about diseases that can temporarily impact liver function.

(But yeah, that could totally be a drug of some sort.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:04 PM on September 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

It's possible she's allergic to the quinine in the tonic, like primalux says, and it's possible she tolerated it before (or tolerated it at lower dosages -- concentration likely varies between brands) but has now developed an allergy. That's certainly not the only explanation, but it's plausible and something an allergist could probably test her for.
posted by katieinshoes at 8:08 PM on September 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Pure conjecture here, but I wonder if you had the same thing going on and you flushed it out by drinking lots of water and she made it worse by drinking alcohol. Maybe it's a coincidence that you were both having those weird symptoms earlier, but if so it's a weird coincidence.

Was the food really salty, or heavy on stuff from this list of foods that can cause dehydration? Maybe you both got dehydrated so you felt bad, and you corrected it by drinking water but she didn't, and then when she drank alcohol it made her even more dehydrated and the alcohol hit her system harder.

There are all sorts of possible causes. It sounds like she should ask her regular doctor. If she was drugged, according to this page "roofies" would be detectable in her system for between 2-8 days.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:37 PM on September 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

I wonder if it’s possible you both got food poisoning at the restaurant but she had more of the tainted food or just a stronger reaction? A lot of those symptoms sound like food poisoning and the alcohol would have just made it worse.

If she’s still feeling sick now (24 hours later) she should definitely go to urgent care.
posted by lunasol at 8:38 PM on September 29, 2018 [12 favorites]

It's a little late now, but I'd ask her to take a Benadryl and see if she feels remarkably better (if Benadryl-dopey) within an hour. That's not definitive, but I would certainly wonder if a medium-grade allergy was in place here, maybe to the tonic but maybe to something else in what you ate last night.

If the Benadryl makes no difference, I would wonder about the non-allergic immune response like food poisoning (which can take up to 36-48 hours, she could have touched/eaten something long before you saw her) or an incoming illness, which you should have some further information about soon.

The other possible "immune" issue, of course, is she's pregnant and doesn't know yet. I've taken two friends to urgent care for uncharacteristically bad drunks/hangovers that turned out, about 8-10 days later, to be the ol' uterine flu.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:50 PM on September 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Is it possible she could be pregnant?
posted by Crystalinne at 9:26 PM on September 29, 2018

For some reason, this driver could not complete the trip

It was because his passenger was seriously, alarmingly ill and he didn't want to be involved, traced, or held responsible if she died in his car or shortly after leaving it. it's surprising any driver was willing to let her out anywhere but an ER. Whether she was drugged, drunk on top of food poisoning, or sick with flu, mono, or something else, she could have died if she'd passed out or fell asleep on her back. She should follow up with a doctor even if she feels better, but you should also both have a plan in mind if something like this ever happens again.

putting someone in a cab and sending them home alone is normal helpful good friend practice if someone's regular drunk, but if they are uncontrollably vomiting they are not safe.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:34 PM on September 29, 2018 [97 favorites]

It could be a new food intolerance. I had no issue eating prawns all my life and then all of sudden, eating them induces feeling unwell (shortly after) and then an hour of vomiting where I just want to lie on the bathroom floor. Another friend had a similar new intolerance develop to mussels.
posted by AnnaRat at 9:36 PM on September 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

So a friend of mine was roofied (she was fine, we took her home) and another one suspected she was. Uncontrollable vomiting is not a symptom from what I have observed and heard from medical friends. If you think about it that makes sense. Also it can be detected up to three days later so she absolutely can go and get tested. It's a pee test. Bars often have footage and with a positive test she can got o the police and they can review it, if its the sort of police dept that does that anyway.

If it's not roofies the three options are 1) food poisoning/ allergy to tonic 2) your friend has an underlying illness or 3) your friend drank a lot more and hid it, either before you met or from a flask etc. Don't rule that out, I've definitely seen a similar thing happen when people pre-game before going out.
posted by fshgrl at 9:43 PM on September 29, 2018 [12 favorites]

Something superficially similar happened to an acquaintance a few years ago- essentially she was partying (I think she had mixed alcohol and MDMA or a similar drug) and then just was weirdly ill and out of it and passed out on the sidewalk, and people thought she'd been roofied or was secretly more drunk than the amount of alcohol they'd observed her drink.

It turned out to be a stroke. She's fine now- she had some brain fog for a while after, but no horrible symptoms, and she no longer drinks. Sorry I forget all her details but I include this so she can at least consider flagging it for assessment.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:57 PM on September 29, 2018 [6 favorites]

Does she rapidly drink 3 G&T often? Even if she’s never gotten sick from simple booze before, experience does matter.

If she commonly drinks this much this fast with only normal ill effects, that points to something like food poisoning or sickness or allergy or drug attack victim.

But if she rarely or never drinks cocktails
at that quantity/quality/speed, these seems possibly explainable due to that alone.

I don’t mean to dismiss your or her lived experience, though I think her drinking context and prior experience are fairly important in differentially diagnosing possible causes.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:28 PM on September 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

To echo SaltySaltIcid, 3 G&Ts in 2 hours sounds like a lot to me, especially if she had drank something beforehand. I'm guessing that as a mother of 3 young kids, she probably isn't drinking like that often.
And to echo others, please don't send her home in a car like that in the future. Escort her home. Into her house. Ensure that a sober awake adult is keeping an eye on her.
posted by k8t at 10:42 PM on September 29, 2018 [19 favorites]

Food poisoning was my first thought, too. There are all sorts of reasons why it might have hit her harder than you, e.g. hydration level, amount of tainted food consumed, mild pre-existing illness, etc.

But that quinine thing does seem possible, too.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:58 PM on September 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Is she taking any prescription medication that could increase the effects of alcohol?
eg, Anti-Depressants, Anti-Anxiety meds, pain medication?
posted by Murderbot at 12:52 AM on September 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Roofied and vomiting don't generally go together. I'd guess that the food was off and the alcohol made an upset stomach into a puking one, or that she's pregnant or on antibiotics.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:00 AM on September 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have a four year old and have never been so consistently run down and perpetually sick in my life - I get sick more often than my kid even. I went from "never gets sick" to having had the stomach flu twice last summer. If she has three young kids and you...don't.... It's absolutely possible you were exposed to the same thing and it hit her harder (esp if combined with any of the above possibilities). I am also much more sensitive to alcohol, I think from just never getting quite evinced sleep.
posted by jrobin276 at 2:28 AM on September 30, 2018

Did you have fish for dinner? If so, maybe Scombroid food poisoning but she should also have medical reciew.
posted by chiquitita at 3:09 AM on September 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

Feeling unwell immediately after (or while) eating, being very thirsty, having a headache, having blurred vision, having slurred speech, having a stiff neck and of course vomiting are all classic symptoms of food poisoning, which wouldn't have been made better by drinking three G&Ts (which could have contained quite a bit more alcohol than your three beers if the bartender poured with a heavy hand), the fact that she still felt wiggly the next morning is also consistent with a hard night of vomiting, fluid loss, etc. It would also be fairly typical of food poisoning if she felt more or less okay by the end of the day. On the other hand, I'm not sure what could have or would have been put into her drink that would have resulted in these symptoms. (IANAD but have had reason to read up on food poisoning recently.)
posted by slkinsey at 5:19 AM on September 30, 2018

Food poisoning is a strong possibility. Is it possible she had more to drink before you got together?

For future reference, someone who is out of it and vomiting with no clear reason should be accompanied to an ER or Urgent Care.
posted by theora55 at 7:49 AM on September 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have ideas too, but I'm not a medical professional and this was definitely a case where the ideas you really, really needed were those of a doctor. Severe symptoms like her level of unresponsiveness merit immediate medical attention. I don't mean to lecture, but you should have taken her to the ER. She was not capable of making that call. She needed you to do it.
posted by Dashy at 9:30 AM on September 30, 2018 [14 favorites]

Any chance she's on any medications which might have significantly lowered her alcohol tolerance? I would also wonder if she's running with the roofie story in order to save face, as vomiting is not a usual symptom for that.
posted by gumtree at 12:31 PM on September 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

From the OP:
Hello all, I wanted to pop back in and say thank you for your responses and your honesty. After reading through your comments and processing the situation, I see how I made a huge mistake by not accompanying my friend home (or bringing her to the hospital). Anything could have happened in those few minutes, and I was incorrect to assume that she would be safe because her family was at home. This is a reality check for me; stepping up in those scary moments is something I need to become better at. A huge thank you to everyone who chimed in.
posted by taz (staff) at 4:40 PM on September 30, 2018 [8 favorites]

SSRI drug interaction?
posted by oceanjesse at 6:45 PM on September 30, 2018

My thought is also around depression/anxiety meds. I have never in my life been a black out drunk until I got on cymbalta.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 10:03 AM on October 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

This sounds strikingly similar to a reaction I had a few years back - I'd had 3 drinks along with dinner at a happy hour and the next thing I remember I was asleep in the back of my car, then throwing up a lot. My friends found me and I continued to throw up at their house until my boyfriend picked me up and drove me home.

It was such an extreme physical reaction for what is (to me) a not-crazy number of drinks and I had absolutely no idea what had happened until this thread mentioned the tonic water. One or two of my drinks had been a gin & tonic, which I usually don't have (it was probably on special or something).

Just a curious anecdotal reference point. I want to get some tonic water now and see if it was the culprit.
posted by amicamentis at 1:58 PM on October 3, 2018

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