The start of the school year means many UW-Madison students are returning to the ever-popular campus alcohol craze. However, hangovers are not the only thing worrying administrators and students.
Binge-drinking, defined by the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study as four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men, is an all-too-common occurrence at UW. In a 1999 study, 67.4 percent of students admitted to binge-drinking.
Wendy Janosik, a counselor at UHS, often speaks with students dealing with alcohol problems.
“[Students] always overuse, and that happens by the nature of the drug because the first area of the brain that the alcohol impacts on is your judgment area,” Janosik said. “As you drink you don’t realize how drunk you’re getting or that your hearing and coordination is impaired.”
Last fall semester alone, 36 students were taken to detox from the residence halls because they had too much to drink.
Scientifically, alcohol is a very powerful drug that affects the brain in multiple ways. The effects begin with the frontal lobe, the area of the brain that is responsible for judgment, personality, and inhibitions. As someone consumes more drinks, alcohol’s effects move to the back of the brain and affect motor control and balance. Finally, the drug affects the brain stem, where the brain controls bodily processes such as heart rate and respiratory centers.
Because police can arrive quickly and are trained in stabilizing such situations, their involvement in situations involving drunken students is always necessary.
Sgt. Joe Hornbeck said when officers arrive on scene they differentiate between whether the person is intoxicated or incapacitated.
“An incapacitated person is someone who’s drank so much that they’ve lost the ability to protect themselves, care for themselves, to keep themselves healthy and alive,” he said.
It is important students do not make the assumption that a passed-out individual will just sleep it off, Hornbeck said. If a student were to come across someone passed out on the street or at a party they should not hesitate to call for help.
Serious dangers involved with drinking too much alcohol include alcohol poisoning and suffocating on one’s own vomit. Alcohol poisoning has many symptoms, including unresponsiveness to verbal communication or pain, not waking up and slow, labored or abnormal breathing.
For those with alcohol problems, UW Counseling and Consultation Services can direct students to therapists or other educational resources. Additionally, other resources on campus, such as the RWJ Project, organize fun, alcohol-free alternatives for students and work to curb risky behavior such as binge-drinking.
Janosik said students commonly do not know how to use alcohol and do not think to ask, leading to a wide range of physical, emotional and even academic consequences.
“If there is any question at all — if they’re nonresponsive or you know they’ve had a lot to drink or you know they’ve been mixing chemicals, it’s better to have a hospital bill and them be angry with you than for them not to make it,” Janosik said.