The gift of attending university is one of the most rewarding and challenging life adventures a person can experience. For many families, the college years are a rite of passage, and families that celebrate the first family member to ever attend college experience incredible pride.
University life and young adulthood are also times of new responsibility, added pressures and deadlines. Often, college is a phase of “starting over” with new friends, new social groups, and new hobbies. Many young people are learning to budget for the first time, and are suddenly fully responsible for all of the challenges of adult life, plus the requirement to maintain good grades. College is a challenging time, but it is also just plain fun to experience, with a new way of life, and yes…many parties to attend.
Holidays like spring break are well-known as a great time to cut loose and let go of the pressures of school for a while. Many students eagerly anticipate this action-packed break, as it is truly a holiday of its own. While winter break is largely reserved for family, spring break is often a time of planned friend time, road trips, beach vacations, dancing, flirting, and letting go of deadlines for a bit. This often involves alcohol for many people.
“I can only imagine what it’s like to be a teenager today, where every move is documented, with every outfit there’s a picture, with every mistake … a public record. To wake up every morning with that type of social pressure is unfair. But to me, what’s more unfair is that there’s not enough discussion around it. There [aren’t] enough resources focused towards that stuff.” – Chris Herren, Heroes in Recovery.
Any glance at Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat will reveal that many young adults drink to excess. Nothing can destroy a good time like a serious health crisis or accident. Before any celebration that includes alcohol, it’s important to be aware of the dangers of drinking, and know what to do to prevent a tragedy.
When Does Drinking Become a Problem?
Many young adults drink alcohol at some point. The legal drinking age in the U.S. is 21, but most young adults know how to find alcohol well before that age. In fact, 87.6% of individuals under the age of 18 have reported drinking alcohol at least once in the past.1 At the legal age, there is generally nothing wrong with having a drink on occasion, but it can be easy for “a drink or two” to turn into more, and even easier to fall into serious danger after that.3
If you are a college student, even if you drink very little, chances are that those around you will not drink in moderation. It is important to know when alcohol poisoning has taken effect, because the symptoms may be subtle.
Approximately 1,825 college students never reach their 25th birthday due to alcohol-related accidents and injuries. These injuries range from auto accidents, violent situations, accidents while goofing off, to any number of devastating situations. One prominent cause of these deaths and serious injuries is alcohol poisoning.2
Alcohol poisoning is no joke. It can lead to death. Serious complications of alcohol poisoning include brain damage, hypothermia, severe dehydration (which speeds up heart rate and lowers blood pressure), and choking. Often, an individual does not appear to be close to death when alcohol poisoning has taken effect. A person in the midst of this real medical crisis may appear passed out, may be vomiting, or may even be sitting up in a blackout state.
So how many drinks does it take to reach alcohol poisoning? The answer is not simple. An estimated five or more drinks for men (within two hours), or four drinks for women (within two hours) make up the medically accepted average to reach alcohol poisoning. This average does not account for previous drinking habits of the individual, the height or weight of the individual, or that individual’s metabolic ability, daily diet, or any underlying health conditions. So, in essence, there is no strict measurement that can prevent alcohol poisoning. The only real prevention is to not binge drink.3
Let’s return to that magic number: five drinks for men, and four drinks for women (all within two hours). This also happens to be the same amount of drinks that make up one episode of binge drinking, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Yet the NIAAA also found that nearly half of all college students binge drink, especially during spring break. Men reported drinking an average of 18 drinks a day during spring break, while women reported drinking as many as ten drinks per day during spring break. Fifty percent of men and 40 percent of women drank until they became sick or passed out at least once during their spring holiday.4
Look out for these signs of alcohol poisoning, and you just may be able to save a life:
- Pale skin
- Passing out
- Irregular breathing
- Low body temperature
- Clammy skin
- Inability to be woken up
These symptoms may be funny for some, or even opportunity for pranks or Snapchat photos, but they are actually signs of serious and deadly blood alcohol levels. These symptoms require immediate medical attention.
Knowing these signs is half the battle. A supportive circle of friends helps. Friends who help boost each other’s self-worth, help each other stay safe and healthy, and encourage positive goals may actually help you live longer and healthier.1 A supportive friend group can help each other stay safe in drinking situations by planning ahead, and can help curb peer-pressure by offering a number of fun (yes, fun!) activities. Water sports, diving, hiking, biking, snorkeling, and sight-seeing are all activities that are better accomplished sober (or without a hangover). Although drinking is a popular activity, it is very possible to make positive memories that can be cherished forever without alcohol– and it just may save your life, which is what really matters.
1. Michael’s House Treatment Centers, The role of peers in addiction recovery. www.michaelshouse.com/addiction-recovery/role-of-peers/
2. Forbes Magazine, Spring break’s greatest danger www.forbes.com/sites/roberglatter/2014/02/11/spring-breaks-greatest-danger/#5d64752f6d
3. Mayo Clinic. Diseases and Conditions: Alcohol Poisoning. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-poisoning/basics/definition/con-20029020how
4. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Drinking levels defined. http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking