Preview Chapter 4: Risks... so what's the big deal
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
We all would 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 1998 Core Survey,5 a statistically reliable and valid research instrument administered on more than 60 campuses to over 30,000 randomly selected students across the country, indicate that approximately 56 percent of students either don’t drink or average one drink per week. Another 21 percent average between two and five drinks per week. 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. Here are just some of those problems:
63 percent had at least one hangover, 45 percent had at least two hangovers, and 34 percent had three or more hangovers
53 percent reported vomiting after drinking
33 percent missed a class due to drinking
34 percent reported driving while under the influence of alcohol
30 percent got into a fight or an argument while drinking
12 percent reported having been taken advantage of sexually while under the influence of alcohol
31 percent reported having a memory loss (blackout).
Between 1987 and 1992 the number of emergency room admissions for alcohol poisoning in campus communities jumped 15 percent. At one school, cases of alcohol poisoning doubled during the same time period.6 Regrettably, there’s not much evidence indicating a significant decrease in these problems today.
It is important 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, most students do not drive under the influence of alcohol and most students do not experience more than two hangovers in a year. 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 is important for you 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 AIDS contracted on campus is just as deadly as that contracted off-campus. Granted, campus life is different from 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.
This chapter also contains information regarding alcohol poisoning, sex under the influence, driving under the influence, academics and more.
College Drinking Series
and access to
Beer, Booze and Books Online
Your $18.99 registration fee provides you with FIVE months access to the College Drinking Series
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
A blackout is a form of alcohol-induced amnesia. Do not confuse this with passing out or fainting. While it 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 has been 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 for some reason cease functioning. We don’t know how much or how often a person needs to drink in order to experience a blackout. However, we do 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” in order to experience a blackout. Slight impairment alone can contribute to a blackout.
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. 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, the congeners take much longer. These substances provide the unique flavor 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 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 your hangover by taking a drink 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.