I heard recently that alcohol makes students think they are ten feet tall and bullet-proof. I contend that as many students get older, alcohol chops them down to size and that some of their perspectives are shot full of holes.
Kristina D., Manhattan College senior
I often see students making choices without first thinking about the consequences. They do not seem to have the strength to withstand their immediate impulses. They need to develop the skills to look beyond the immediate gratification.
Charlie J., SUNY Cortland senior
Many people drink to become more social, but end up incoherent. Many people drink to diminish their problems, but only see them multiply. Many people drink to be the life of the party and end up being the fool. Many people drink to make themselves feel better, but wake up feeling worse. Many people drink to add pleasure to their lives, but only end up hurting themselves and others.
Christina D., Keene State College junior
Chapter 4. Risks... so what's the big deal
We would all like to have our cake and eat it too – and not gain weight, either! Those of us who drink would love to enjoy the pleasures alcohol can provide but not face the risks inherent in getting impaired. The reality is, however, that as we drink and increase our level of impairment, we increase our risk for impairment problems. The more often we get impaired, the more often we risk experiencing impairment problems.
Numerous research projects conducted around the country support the premise that most students do not consume alcohol at a high-risk level. For instance, the results of the 2013 Core Survey,5 a statistically reliable and valid research instrument administered to over 160,000 randomly selected college students across the country, indicate that nationally, the average number of drinks consumed per week by college students is 4.6 drinks.
This is consistent with separate surveys conducted on many other U.S. campuses. Even though most college students are not experiencing alcohol problems, there is a high-profile minority of students who consume at a high-risk level which results in a number of problems for them and their peers. Here are just some of those problems revealed by the 2013 Core Alcohol Survey. During the year prior to the survey
60 percent had at least one hangover
51 percent reported vomiting after drinking
26 percent missed a class due to drinking
22 percent reported driving while under the influence of alcohol
29 percent got into a fight or an argument while drinking
8 percent reported having been taken advantage of sexually while under the influence of alcohol
33 percent reported having a memory loss (blackout).
A University of Wisconsin-Madison study included 954 college students who were heavy drinkers. In the 28 days before the start of the study, male participants drank an average of 81.8 drinks per month and female participants drank an average of 58.7 drinks per month. In the year before the study, 52 percent of the males and 50 percent of the females had experienced an alcohol-induced blackout. During the two-year study, 30 percent of males and 27 percent of females reported visiting an emergency department at least once. Their injuries ranged from broken bones to head and brain injuries. Students who experienced frequent alcohol-related blackouts (six or more in the prior year) were 70 percent more likely to be treated in an emergency room than those who consumed the same amount of alcohol but did not experience blackouts. The cost of emergency room visits by students who experienced blackouts ranged from $469,000 to $546,000 per university, depending on its location.6
It is critical to emphasize once again that although these statistics indicate that drinking is taking a serious toll on many students, most students are not experiencing these problems on a regular basis. Since most students do not drink at a high-risk level, then most students do not experience blackouts, most students do not miss class due to drinking, and most students do not drive under the influence of alcohol. It is a minority of students who are drinking heavily and not only experiencing these problems, but also disrupting the lives of students who are making healthier choices. These heavy drinkers also intrude on the safe environment desired by the majority of students. Later you will see why it would be helpful to get involved in campus alcohol and other drug education and abuse prevention efforts.
I hear many students claim, “When I get out in the real world, I’ll cut back on my drinking.” It scares me to hear so many students deluding themselves. The college campus does not have a protective dome surrounding it. Campus hangovers are just as painful and debilitating as off-campus hangovers, the rapes that occur on campus are no less traumatic than street rapes, the sexually transmitted infections contracted on campus are just as damaging as those contracted off-campus. Granted, campus life is different than the so-called work world. But, the campus is the real world. There are different responsibilities and stresses, but it is real. Don’t let your professors or college administrators, or your peers for that matter, minimize your college life by referring to it as somehow less than real.
My mind became as dark as the night. I was at the party and the next thing I was back in my dorm, in the girls’ bathroom no less, throwing up. That’s all I remember. I’m not quite sure what happened between the party and then back in the dorm.
Mike L., Plymouth State College sophomore
At breakfast my friends laughed at me when they first saw me. Then they told me about what a fool I had made of myself. I didn’t remember any of it.
Chris C., University of Massachusetts sophomore
I can remember when I experienced a blackout after a long afternoon of drinking. Apparently I made a blatant remark about a girl’s physical features and she was embarrassed and upset. I had no recollection of it until her friends told me about it. I was so disappointed in myself. I couldn’t believe a remark like that could come out of my mouth. I eventually apologized for my behavior.
Raphael D., Boston University junior
Alcohol-induced amnesia is referred to as a “blackout.” Do not confuse this with passing out or fainting. While the blackout is happening, the drinker is conscious but unaware that he or she is in a blackout. Although obviously impaired, the drinker appears to function ordinarily, but after sobering up cannot recall some of the people or events from the night before. It’s usually not until the next day when the previous night’s “war stories” are being shared in the dining hall that the drinker realizes a blackout occurred. It is difficult to research this phenomenon because we don’t know when or how someone enters a blackout. Apparently, the neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for maintaining memories cease functioning. We don’t know how much or how often a person needs to drink in order to experience a blackout. We do know that drinking large amounts of alcohol quickly and/or drinking on an empty stomach are contributing factors. We also know that most, but not all, alcoholics have experienced blackouts. More importantly, we know that you do not need to be an alcoholic to experience a blackout. A blackout places you at risk for a serious impairment problem and indicates that a serious alcohol problem has developed or is developing.
One other point regarding blackouts: many people mistakenly say, “I never get so wasted that I have a blackout.” You do not need to be “totally wasted” to experience a blackout. Slight impairment alone can contribute to a blackout.
STUDENT VOICES: Blackouts
I was always getting loaded. I’d get up the next day and drink a beer to cure the hangover.
I get up around noon. I usually take four Advil. Then I struggle over to the dining hall. Some of the people there look like they were in a train wreck. I can’t believe we’re all doing this to our bodies.
Dennis D., Keene State College sophomore
This year I’ve stuck with my two drink limit. I have a better time at parties, I’m not hung over, I remember who I met the night before, and my grades have gotten much, much better.
Wendy R., Plymouth State College senior
The Germans call it wailing of cats (Katzenjammer), the Italians out of tune (stonato), the French woody mouth (gueule de bois), the Norwegians workmen in my head (jeg har tommermenn) and the Swedes call it – my favorite – pain in the roots of my hair (hont i haret).7 If you have experienced a hangover, I’m sure you can relate to any or all of these descriptions of a hangover.
Basically, a hangover is the body’s way of telling us we have had too much to drink. Alcohol not only irritates the digestive system, it also dehydrates the body. It is important to rehydrate after a night of alcohol consumption. Be careful though – there is evidence that rehydrating too quickly can actually worsen the headache due to the erratic changes in body fluids. In addition to the alcohol, congeners, the by-product of the fermentation process, also contribute to hangovers. Although alcohol is eliminated from the body at an average rate of one-half ounce per hour (one drink), the congeners take much longer. These substances provide the unique flavor, aroma and color to various alcoholic beverages, but they are toxic. If you drink, when considering what type of alcoholic beverage to consume and the hangover potential, keep in mind that vodka and gin are low in congener content, blended scotch has about four times the amount of congeners as vodka and gin, while brandy, rum and pure malt scotch have six times more. Bourbon contains approximately thirty times the amount of congeners than vodka.
There are no real “cures” for a hangover. So-called cures simply relieve only some of the discomfort and stress of the painful symptoms of the hangover. Even so, there are many bizarre suggestions for curing a hangover. Voodoo legend suggests that you should stick pins into the cork of the bottle from which you drank. The Norwegians drink a glass of heavy cream, the Russians prefer salted cucumber juice, and the Swiss use brandy with peppermint. In one way, none of these work, and in another, all of them do. The reason: the most powerful hangover remedy is belief in the curative value of whatever you do, whether it is steaming in a sauna or sticking your head in a freezer.8 Physiologically, however, we find that none of these actually “cure” the hangover. By the way, do not mix alcohol with aspirin, ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatory drugs. This combination can cause serious damage to your stomach. Also do not mix alcohol with acetaminophen, the medicine found in Tylenol. This combination can cause serious damage to your liver.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that people experiencing a hangover tend to be anxious and on edge. Some students have learned they can relieve this anxiety by having a little “hair of the dog that bit them.” This means curing their hangover by taking a drink in the morning of whatever it was that caused it. “A little hair of the dog” may seem like a viable solution, and here’s why: Picture yourself standing in a pool of water that is about chest high. Hold a ball in your hands, depress it underwater, then release it; it will rebound above the waterline. Depress it even further and it rebounds further. It’s the same with alcohol and the central nervous system. If I depress my central nervous system with the depressant drug alcohol and then stop, it will rebound – not back to normal, but to a level of high anxiety. What can I do to relieve this anxiety? Have a drink of the depressant alcohol. We should, however, be very clear about this: drinking to cure a hangover is an indication that alcohol has become or is becoming a problem in your life.
Why don’t we recognize the use of “a little hair of the dog” as problematic behavior? Probably because society, and in particular the alcohol and restaurant industries, have normalized this addictive activity. Champagne breakfasts and brunches, complete with champagne and many other drinks like Bloody Marys, screwdrivers, and mimosas are considered socially acceptable, even though they encourage the development of addictive behavior patterns.
STUDENT VOICES: Hangovers
At first we didn’t want to call the hospital, but we could hardly feel her pulse. Later the doctor told us that she was very close to dying.
Jessica S., Keene State College junior
He was my best friend and now he’s gone. Damn it. I wish I would have done something to prevent it.
What exactly is alcohol poisoning?
Michael K., Keene State College, Junior
A student on my campus died from alcohol poisoning. His friends told me they thought he was just sleeping it off. They feel horrible! How can you tell if someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning?
One serious concern about alcohol consumption which sometimes falls through the cracks when it comes to alcohol education and abuse prevention, is the reality that heavy alcohol consumption can kill. This is not meant as a scare tactic – however, death due to heavy alcohol consumption is a reality. It is a tragic reality that hits students and their families and friends too often, every semester, throughout the country. Just a few of these tragedies include a University of Albany student who, in 2014, lost his life after being rushed to the hospital due to overdosing on alcohol at an off campus party. That same year, a West Virginia University student lost his life after being found unresponsive in a fraternity house. Police reported there was evidence he had consumed alcohol that night. It also was reported that others at the frat party “challenged” him into drinking a large amount of alcohol. In 2013 a University of Minnesota student was found by the Mississippi River after he had died of hypothermia with acute alcohol intoxication contributing to his demise. As part of a twenty-first birthday celebration in 2012 a University of California Chico Mason lost his life after drinking 21 shots for his 21st birthday. These are just a few examples of how dangerous high-risk drinking can be.
Alcohol is a depressant drug. When large volumes are consumed in a short period of time, such as when chugging or participating in drinking games, it can depress the central nervous system so much that the messages from the autonomic nervous system that control your basic survival functions – heartbeat and breathing – slow down, sometimes so slow we stop breathing and our heart stops beating.
How much alcohol does it take to kill someone? The answer varies with each individual and with different circumstances. As you can see by the tragedies described previously, some people can die from a BAL of .31 percent while others can consume more alcohol before reaching a deadly BAL. We know that a BAL of .25 percent and above puts us at much greater risk for falls, traffic crashes, asphyxiation from choking while vomiting, and other serious incidents. The risk for death from alcohol poisoning starts around here, too. The higher the BAL, the greater the risk for death due to alcohol poisoning. At .30 percent you may pass out. The BAL that would cause someone to pass out is dangerously close to a deadly BAL. At .35 percent you could stop breathing, and at .40 percent you could fall into a coma, cause possible brain damage, and be more likely to die from alcohol poisoning.
Step Up. Be a leader. Make a difference.
Most problematic behaviors on college campuses, in particular alcohol poisoning, also involve bystanders. Step UP training provides a framework explaining the bystander effect, reviews relevant research and teaches skills for intervening successfully using the 5 Decision Making Steps, and the S.E.E. Model (Safe; Early; Effective).
The Step UP program indicated that a survey at three Universities (The University of Arizona, University of California, Riverside and University of Virginia), revealed that students are encountering multiple situations where bystander intervention would be appropriate including, among other things, alcohol abuse, hazing, eating disorders, sexual assault and discrimination. Almost 90% stated a problem could have been avoided with intervention and up to 85% of student-athletes indicated they would like to learn skills to intervene. The bottom line is many, if not most of these unfortunate results are preventable. You can learn strategies and techniques to intervene directly or indirectly in both emergency and non-emergency situations through the Step Up program. For further information: www.stepup.org. In the meantime, here are some tips for dealing with an intoxicated person:
Helping an intoxicated person
The doctors told us that if we waited any longer our friend could have died.
Jenn A., Penn State University junior
If the person is vomiting, have him/her either sit up or lie on his/her side in the fetal position to avoid choking.
If the person has cold, clammy, pale or bluish skin, call medical personnel immediately.
Passing out is a sign of a potentially serious situation. If you can’t wake up the person call 911 or your college emergency service, or get them to the hospital. Do not assume the drinker will simply sleep it off.
In cases where there is erratic breathing (less than 8 breaths per minute or more than 10 seconds between breaths), get to the emergency room immediately.
In the meantime, do not give the drinker coffee, liquids, food, or a cold shower. Also do not force the person to exercise.
If in doubt, get assistance immediately. While seeking assistance, if possible, try to have someone stay with the drinker. This can be a life and death situation.
There are a number of reasons students do not seek help for their friends who may be at risk for deadly acute alcohol poisoning. One, they are afraid the drinker will get in trouble with college officials or the police. Keep in mind, the minor inconvenience of dealing with some later campus judicial action is nothing compared to the pain of the tragedy you may prevent. By reporting your concern about the intoxication level of your friend or acquaintance to the police, medical personnel or college officials, you could save his/her life. There are many other reasons why students fail to report someone who is experiencing alcohol poisoning that are addressed in the Step UP program.
I know some people who have been here five or six years and still drink every weekend for entertainment. I think this is why they’ve been in school so long.
Joe U., University of Florida senior
Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights were all I looked forward to. Schoolwork wasn’t even at the bottom of my list.
Cindy V., Keene State College junior
I was drinking big time. I received a 1.5 that semester and to top it off I got arrested and had to pay about three hundred dollars worth of fines.
Seth J., Manhattan College junior
I now realize that freshman year I was making some really high-risk choices. When I think back to my three-nights-per-week drunken stupors, I’m horrified. I cannot believe I had no clue as to the damage I was inflicting on my body. My grades suffered, I nearly got arrested and I gained twenty-five pounds. I even altered my schedule to accommodate my drinking. It scares me to think I did this.Now, because I’ve cut back drastically on my drinking, my grades have significantly improved, my attitude is health oriented and I completely lost my beer weight.
Yvonne J., Franklin Pierce College junior
My Dad always told me to profit from others’ mistakes. But I needed to learn myself. And it cost me. My freshman year is just a big blur. Academically I, shall we say, was not fully engaged. It took me a couple of years of lousy GPAs to learn what was more important – partying or good grades.
Carla A., Pennsylvania State University senior
I used to party throughout the week. After my freshman year, I cut down. I’m lucky I didn’t get kicked out. My GPA was 1.4, but the forgiveness policy helped me get it up to a 2.0. What a shock. I was an honor roll student in high school.
Mike M., Keene State College senior
Academic failure is one of the most common consequences of alcohol use. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) Task Force on College Drinking reports about 25 percent of college students report academic problems caused by alcohol use, such as earning lower grades, doing poorly on exams or papers, missing class, and falling behind.9 A national survey of nearly 94,000 students from 197 colleges and universities conducted over three years found in the third year that students with an A average consumed a little more than 4 drinks per week, B students had 6 drinks per week, C students averaged almost 8 drinks per week, and students with Ds or Fs consumed almost 10 drinks per week. Other studies also found a direct relationship between drinking on campus and poor academic performance.10 Yes, there are students who can “party hard” and still maintain an A average, but they are the exception to the rule. Most students who drink at a high-risk level experience academic problems.
People who party several times per week are more likely to fall behind on school work causing a drop in GPA for a number of reasons. High-risk drinkers tend to oversleep and miss more classes due to their drinking. Even while attending class they may sleep or lack the necessary attention, after all, it’s quite difficult to sit through an hour-and-a-half lecture while dealing with a severe hangover. It’s also difficult to keep up with schoolwork when your primary concern is which party will have the most kegs. About one quarter of college students report academic consequences due to their drinking including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on papers or exams and receiving lower grades.
Finally, and most importantly, many students believe that as long as they don’t drink the night before an exam, alcohol consumption will have no impact on their test-taking ability. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Here’s why: our brains are made up of millions of nerve cells that transmit messages through an intricate series of chemical and electrical impulses. The sensitive chemical balance necessary to keep this neurological network operating is disrupted by the presence of alcohol. And this chemical imbalance caused by the alcohol remains even after the alcohol is metabolized. Research indicates that this chemical imbalance can last for up to thirty days after the alcohol has been metabolized, even when a person is completely sober.11 This imbalance impairs our abstract thinking skills. Those are the skills needed to bring two separate thoughts together in order to develop a third concept. So, the bottom line is drinking can possibly impair our abstract thinking skills, resulting in impaired test-taking ability even thirty days after consuming alcohol.
STUDENT VOICES: Missed Class
Driving Under the Influence
One instant can change your life. It can impact your life FOREVER. The person must deal with the consequences for the rest of his or her life.
Jennifer S., Boston University first-year student
I rationalized a near fatal car accident at age 18 on excessive speed, not alcohol.
I realized while watching the DUI video that my friends and I have not only risked our own lives, but also other peoples’ lives, too.
I have fought with so many drunk people. It’s so frustrating. They don’t see that you’re trying to help, not ruin their good time.
Cheryl C., New England College senior
Then my sister got a DUI. My mother was real disappointed. How can my mother contradict herself like that? She says, “It’s OK for her to drink and drive because she’s older and has a lot more experience.” How can you be an experienced drunk driver?
My friends and I have gone out and had some drinks and we drove to and from the locations. We would make sure whoever was driving would not drink a lot and that they were OK to drive.
John Z., Massachusetts Institute of Technology junior
I always keep a reserve of ten dollars in my shoe when I go out on a date. Just in case he drinks when he is driving, I can get a cab home.
My friends and I are going to have to do a lot of changing when it comes to drinking and driving. We are going to have a real designated driver, one who does not drink at all. Or we will take public transportation.
Jeff Z., Massachusetts Institute of Technology sophomore
During the time it takes you to read this book, approximately ten people will die – approximately one every twenty to thirty minutes – due to an alcohol-related car crash. And chances are that many of these victims will be college students. In spite of all the educational programs now being conducted, all the prevention programs now implemented, all the increased enforcement of DUI laws, more than 20 percent of college students still report driving while under the influence of alcohol.12 On the brighter side, this represents a significant reduction in drinking and driving by college students from ten years ago when over 30% reported doing so. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for young people ages 15-20. In 2008, 5,864 young people ages 15-20 died in motor vehicle crashes. Alcohol was involved in 31 percent of these deaths and 25 percent of these drivers were legally drunk at the time of the crash.13
The designated driver program has undoubtedly saved many lives. But as indicated in the above statistics, the designated driver program has had a limited impact. Perhaps one reason for this is that on the college campus, a dangerous practice is basing the selection of the designated driver on the person who drank the least! And look who’s deciding who is the least drunk – all the drunks. How can they judge? If you are the designated driver, don’t drink. If you have decided to use a designated driver, do not get into the car if that person has had even just a few drinks. It’s not worth the risk. Choose a safer alternative – take a cab, call a friend, walk, or even stay at the party.
Contrary to what many high-risk drinkers would like to believe, you do not drive better while under the influence of alcohol. You may think you do, because you know you take extra care while driving. But your perception of your driving performance is also impaired. Research indicates that the greater your impairment, the higher your risk of an impairment problem, especially the problem of an alcohol-related car crash.14
What more can be said about this continuing problem? The education and prevention programs are working only minimally. One of the difficulties is that when you need to make one of the most important decisions of your life – to drive or not – you may never be less capable of making that decision than if you are under the influence of alcohol. Also keep in mind the choice to have a designated driver is not a license to drink uncontrollably. Using a designated driver will lower your risk for an alcohol-related car crash, but will not lower your risk for the numerous other dangers associated with high-risk drinking.
STUDENT VOICES: Driving While Impaired
Personally, I have always worn a condom but I did not necessarily care about who I was sleeping with.
Although people say they are aware of how you get AIDS, and they say they are scared, it’s amazing that they seem not to think about it when they are drinking. They’re out drinking and having a good time, then they have sex with someone they don’t even know.
Jennifer T., Rivier College senior
It’s quite scary because you never know when someone you know will have AIDS, or maybe even yourself. And when you’re drunk, the last thing you think about is safe sex.
I’m afraid my friends are going to learn the hard way.
Jess T., Pennsylvania State University sophomore
Doesn’t it scare them with so many STDs in the world? How can people risk their lives for one night of enjoyment? I don’t know how many times I’ve heard my friends talk about one night stands and then they just laugh about it. How can you laugh about something that could take your life? And, of course, all these one night stands are alcohol-related.
Ryan A., Keene State College senior
I know a few girls that have gone to have themselves tested. I was shocked.
It’s sad to see a young girl right out of high school fall into the trap. The young freshmen come to school not knowing anyone and it’s usually their first time away from home. They meet some guy that’s more than happy to keep pouring beer into them. Thesegirls think the guy is just being nice or he likes them. Maybe. Then at the end of the night you see “Daddy’s little girl” stumbling home in the arms of a satisfied predator carrying his prey.
Mike M., Keene State College sophomore
During my sophomore year I went to a party and I had never had a real drink before. Sure, my parents gave me a sip of wine here and there, but it was my first REAL PA RTY. You know what I mean. My friends started handing me bottles of Southern Comfort.Soon I was loaded. I couldn’t even see. Well, to make matters worse, that was the night I lost my virginity and I don’t evenremember it. Yes, every female’s worst nightmare.
The thing I hate to see the most is a drunk female throwing herself at some guy. And people wonder how date rapes happen, not that I am blaming the females. It just gets so confusing when booze is involved.
Chris T., Plymouth State College junior
If we were to believe all the statements and images presented by the alcohol advertising industry, we would view alcohol as a necessity for a successful, pleasurable sex life. Some people do believe that alcohol increases your sexual desire and improves your performance. But, physiologically speaking, alcohol has the opposite effect. Research strongly indicates that alcohol contributes to sexual dysfunction in men. As Shakespeare noted in the tragedy Macbeth, alcohol “provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance.” In one study, the ability of college men to achieve an erection while watching erotic films was impaired at blood alcohol levels below the legal intoxication point.15 In much the same way, alcohol decreases the sexual pleasure of women. This is due to the fact that too much alcohol can reduce vaginal vasocongestion during sexual activity. The conclusions of this research are inescapable: Increased alcohol consumption negatively affects the ability to perform and/or enjoy sexual activity.
Prior to college, most typical students have limited drinking and sexual experience. And, the college environment typically provides college students—more so than most other groups—opportunities to combine drinking and sex in ways that could provide wonderful life long memories and relationships but could also jeopardize their mental and physical well-being. Just like music and lighting, alcohol may enhance or establish a romantic mood. But, due to its disinhibiting action, high-risk alcohol consumption also contributes to increased sexual promiscuity on our campuses today. Between 35 and 70 percent of college students report engaging in some type of sexual activity primarily as a result of alcohol. For example, at Dartmouth, 46 percent of students admit that, while under the influence of alcohol, they had sex they would not have engaged in had they been sober.16
Combining alcohol and sexual activity with others could be an exceptionally deep and rewarding experience. It could also be a recipe for a disaster. Heavy drinking in college students often leads to risky sexual behavior such as having many partners and the non-use of condoms during sexual practice.17 Students engaging in unplanned sexual encounters as a result of alcohol consumption risk a number of assorted problems ranging from embarrassment, guilt, and other emotional difficulties, to pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Sixty percent of college women surveyed who had acquired sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS and genital herpes, reported being under the influence of alcohol at the time they had intercourse.18
Sexually transmitted infections and diseases can have a dramatic impact on the lives of the victims. If you want to avoid an STI or STD, the safest way, obviously, is abstinence. Abstinence will also help you avoid many of the other challenges associated with such an intimate experience. However, if we consume alcohol, one of the first things impaired is our judgment. It relaxes us and has the potential to cloud our judgment, especially when it comes to sexual activity. When under the influence, we are more likely to take risks, such as having sex and having it unprotected.
If you are sexually active there are some precautions you can take. First of all, talk to potential sexual partners about past sexual history and their use of protection. This is particularly difficult when under the influence of alcohol, so having this conversation while sober is important. Second, have a plan on how to protect yourself – using latex condoms, limiting the type of sexual activity, etc. – and stick to it. Third, having only one sexual partner without an STD is also lower risk. Fourth, do not use intravenous drugs or, if you do, do not share needles.
State Dependent Learning
We usually do shots before the party. You know, it kinda takes the edge off and makes me more sociable.
Tina L., University of Delaware first-year student
For most people, drinking alcohol gives them the confidence to be more friendly and outgoing.
Johnson T., James Madison University senior
Nine times out of ten, my boyfriend was impaired when he spent the night. The first time he told me he loved me he was drunk. He could never say it to me when he was sober. It took me about four months, but I finally got a clue and dumped him.
I like that three-beer, socially-happy mood.
All it takes is self-confidence. If you believe in yourself and your friends, you don’t need a few beers before you dance. If you are self-confident you will be able to do the same things sober as if you had been drinking. And just think, you’ll be able toremember how much fun you had instead of other people telling you how much fun you had.
Adam C., North Carolina State University senior
Research conducted at Mississippi State University indicates that one of the five primary drinking factors for college students is relational – that is, they report drinking helps them meet and socialize with others.19 This is not surprising. As teens we often feel insecure and sometimes our inhibitions make it difficult to socialize. This difficulty is a normal part of human development. But, teens learn that the depressant effect of alcohol lowers their inhibitions thereby increasing their willingness to interact and socialize with others. Consequently, as students continue to drink alcohol to help them socialize, many then develop a reliance upon alcohol to help them socialize while in high school or during their college years. State dependent learning refers to the reliance on alcohol to help them socialize that eventually develops. There’s a problem here, though. The social skills developed while impaired do not transfer very effectively into the sober state. Therefore, the difficulty with socializing while sober continues. The more we socialize while under the influence of alcohol, the more we rely on alcohol to assist us in this socialization. This reliance can continue through college life and beyond.
Some of the students who took the challenge to abstain from alcohol at parties (described in the Party Time chapter), experienced and described first-hand their own state dependency. Here are some examples:
I felt a little uncomfortable because I wasn’t used to being sober at a party. Usually when I drink at a party I become a lot more outgoing than I usually would be. When I become intoxicated I find myself talking to people I normally wouldn’t talk to, or even find myself dancing and other things I wouldn’t normally do.
We did have a good time but we felt we would have had more fun if we had some beer. Maybe not to get overly drunk, but to get us in that three-beer, socially-happy mode. I was talking to this other girl who was a bit tipsy. She was in one of my classes. When we were in class the next day she said hello but was nowhere near as friendly as the night before.
I was not feeling quite as friendly as the rest of the people. After a few drinks I would normally talk to people I hardly knew or even carry on conversations with strangers. To be honest, without any alcohol in me I did not talk to anyone but the people I came with.
My friends were amazed to find out I was not the Dancing Queen I usually am. Our favorite songs were blaring all night long but when my friends began to dance and urged me to follow, I quickly declined. I felt very self conscious.
Alcohol assists people in meeting others, engaging in sex without inhibitions or guilt, and escaping the necessity of working through a relationship.20 Most studies identify the relaxing of inhibitions in sexual encounters as a primary reason for drinking heavily. However, alcohol also has the potential to interfere with one’s ability to be intimate, both physically and emotionally. Although it may initially enhance communication between two people, a resulting relationship may become state dependent. If you have chosen to become intimate with another person, monitor your reliance on alcohol as part of your relationship. If alcohol seems to be essential for intimacy, then you are missing out on a truly intimate relationship. If you do consume alcohol, monitor its involvement in your social life. Get out and meet people in other circumstances. The final chapter in this book, Success, describes some interesting alternatives to parties for meeting people.
STUDENT VOICES: Risky Sexual Activity
My roommate came home at three in the morning, banging on the door to be let in. She was out with a guy and they both weredrinking. He was being rough with her and she fell running away from him. She had split her hand open and it was bleedingeverywhere. The next day she went to the doctor and she ended up with a broken hand.
My roommate came home after a party one night with bruises on her back from some guy.
I witnessed three fights at a party this weekend. One of the fights was between two girls that were so drunk they could hardly evenstand, much less fight. The second fight was between a guy and his girlfriend. He threw her up against the wall. The third fight was between a guy and the guy who threw his girlfriend up against the wall.
Violence erupts on and around the campus in many ways: residence hall confrontations, bar room brawls, party fights, acquaintance rapes, sports related riots and hate crimes are just a few examples. All tend to have one thing in common – high-risk alcohol consumption:
43% of dating college women report experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviors including physical, sexual, technical, verbal or controlling abuse.21
95% of all violent crime on college campuses involves the use of alcohol by the assailant, victim or both.22 As a matter of fact, the Campus Violence Prevention Center, a research center at Towson State College, reports that alcohol is a factor in up to 90 percent of violent campus crime.23
Each year, more than 600,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.23
Alcohol and vandalism often go hand in hand. One in ten students report engaging in vandalism due to alcohol, and almost a quarter of heavy drinkers engage in vandalism. Residences and other campus buildings near bars often bear the brunt of alcohol-related vandalism.24
Binge drinking is estimated to increase the probability of our violence measures: Arguments by 21.1%; Property damage by 10.2%; Involvement with police by 5.5%; Injury by 13.2%.25
Each year approximately 61 out of every 1,000 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of a violent crime; violent crime is defined as rape or sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault.26
Studies estimate that 50%-80% of violence on campus is alcohol-related, so it is reasonable to expect that a reduction in drinking behavior will help to reduce both violence and student victimization.27
Many people believe that campus violence is caused by outsiders entering the campus, thereby impacting the campus environment. However, 70 percent of violent campus crime is perpetrated by students, not outsiders.28 The question researchers continue to ask is “Why?” Is there something biochemical that creates violent tendencies? A better understanding is needed of the pharmacological effects of alcohol on the decision-making involved in aggressive interactions. Although much has been discovered about the relationship between alcohol use and violence, still more research remains to be done. Do we, as human beings, have an inherent violent nature that is triggered by alcohol? Or is it simply the disinhibiting effects of alcohol that cause us to do things our natural social conscience usually prevents us from doing? More understanding of alcohol’s effects on people with different propensities toward aggression is needed. Individual differences in hostility, anger, impulsiveness, agreeableness, and alcohol expectancies are important, but it still is not clear how and why people with these characteristics seem to be more likely to engage in intoxicated aggression. A fuller understanding of these processes will help in the development of more effective prevention strategies.
Regardless of the reason, we know that alcohol consumption is often associated with violence. If your drinking tends to result in aggression or violent acts, then reevaluate the role alcohol is playing in your life. Is the risk of serious physical harm to you or someone else worth the fleeting pleasures of alcohol consumption? The same is true for your friends and/or special relationships. Is violence a usual result of an evening of drinking with them? If it is, then discuss it with them. If it continues, reevaluate the importance of that friendship or relationship.
Our fraternity lost the lawsuit. It seems like we will be paying forever.
I was thrown out of the residence halls and then suspended from the college. I am taking classes at night now so I can get back in good standing with the college.
The risk of running into trouble with the law increases significantly when a student engages in high-risk drinking. There have been laws regarding alcohol on the books for some time. For example, it has been illegal to consume alcohol if someone is underage. It is illegal to sell alcoholic beverages to someone who is underage. Disorderly conduct arising from intoxication has traditionally been considered a legal offense as well. However, historically the law has regarded college life as somewhat distinct from mainstream community life and has carved a de facto free space for high-risk drinking. It is not that the law condoned high-risk drinking, it is simply that the law functioned to overlook many of the problems associated with high-risk drinking. In many ways, the law showed a prominent symptom of alcoholism – the law was in denial about the real issues associated with high- risk alcohol use on college campuses.
In recent times the law has changed dramatically. Courts and prosecutors now view high-risk alcohol use by college students as a prominent problem. Thus, students now face increased risks of running afoul of the law if they engage in high-risk drinking. These risks include:
criminal prosecution for various alcohol-related crimes including disorderly conduct, DUI, use of a false identification, serving or facilitating the use of alcohol by a minor, etc.
discipline in the college judicial systems
loss of opportunities to sue people who cause injury to a student because the victim was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the injury
civil liability for injuries arising from high-risk alcohol use
notification of a student’s alcohol use to parents and other parties
loss of opportunities in professional schools and legal problems with professional boards that offer certification in fields such as law, medicine and accounting
loss of licenses or the inability to obtain state licenses
To give you some idea about how serious the law has gotten about high-risk drinking on college campuses, it is worth looking at a couple of prominent situations that have serious implications for the future. A first-year student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology died of an overdose of alcohol. The students who furnished the alcohol to the first-year student, who was underage, were pursued by criminal authorities. In other cases, students who supplied alcohol to fraternity brothers were held civilly responsible for injuries to other students. Florida has enacted a law which prohibits a student who has been injured to recover anything if that student was heavily involved in alcohol use. Also, parents may be held responsible for their college-aged student’s activities. This can arise through the use of a family automobile and, in some cases, states now have laws which penalize parents who provide spaces for underage students to consume alcoholic beverages unlawfully.*
In the generations that preceded, there was an unspoken “right” to drink on campus. Today, like it or not, the law has changed and a student who engages in high-risk drinking is much more likely to encounter the law in a negative way with long lasting, perhaps damaging, future consequences.29
Responsible Party Hosting
As the host of a party you can be responsible to your guests by helping them minimize their risk for the problems listed in this chapter. In so doing, you will also be minimizing your legal responsibility for the injuries or damages that might occur as a result of your guests’ drinking. You can have a wonderful time hosting a party as well as minimize the risk of alcohol-related problems for your guests, and in turn for yourself, by following a few responsible hosting tips:
Arrange for reliable sober monitors that can watch out for guests who may be consuming at a high-risk level. They can also help diffuse potentially dangerous situations that may arise.
Collect car keys when guests arrive. This necessitates that later, guests get a second opinion on whether they are sober enough to drive. Promote the use of designated drivers and be prepared to arrange for taxi rides or public transportation.
Stop serving alcohol an hour before the party ends. As the party draws to a close, provide coffee and food. Remember, however, that coffee and/or a cold shower does not sober up anyone, it simply wakes them up. Only time allows someone to sober up.
Mix and serve the drinks yourself or designate a bartender instead of having an open bar. Avoid serving doubles. Use standard measures when mixing drinks.
If serving an alcoholic punch, use a non-carbonated beverage such as fruit juice as a mixer.
Always serve food. Cheese, meats, veggies, breads and light dips taste great and don’t increase thirst. (Pretzels, popcorn, potato chips, etc. are salty and cause people to drink more.)
Do not encourage or force people to drink. Discourage drinking games.
Always provide low-alcohol and alcohol-free drinks such as coffee, soda, fruit juices, and water.
Avoid games that involve physical activity because guests who are drinking are more prone to accidents and injuries.
*A binge is defined by researchers as five or more drinks in one sitting for men, and four or more drinks in one sitting for women. One of the problems with this definition is that it does not take into account the period of time during which the drinking took place. For the purposes of this book, whenever referring to a binge, it will refer to the aforementioned definition. The NIAAA now defines a binge as a session of drinking that results in a BAL of .08 or above. Both the definition of binge as well as the use of the term have been called into question by many alcohol education and abuse prevention specialists and certainly deserve further analysis.
Personal Challenge: Opportunities
To identify the opportunities available to you both academically and socially while on the college campus.
1. Picture yourself as a graduating senior. List your answers to the following questions:
What would you like to have accomplished academically?
In which organizations and activities would you like to have been involved?
What do you want to experience personally and socially while in college?
What do you need to do to prepare yourself for your career beyond college?
2. Reflecting on that image of yourself portrayed in the above lists, what goals can you set for yourself to accomplish in the next few months and the next year that will get you started toward what you hope to have accomplished as a graduating senior?
Was it difficult or easy to picture yourself as a graduating senior? Why? Why not?
Was it difficult or easy to identify what you would like to have accomplished academically and socially as a graduating senior? Why? Why not?
What struck you the most about yourself as a graduating senior?
Are you likely to follow through on the goals you listed above? Why? Why not?
What impact could high-risk alcohol consumption have on your ability to attain your goals?
Adapted from Activities Manual for The Education of Character, Lessons for Beginners, Will Keim (1995). Harcourt Brace College Publishers.