The start of the school year means a return to the bottle for many UW-Madison students. The alcohol binges kick off again, and hangovers are not the only things 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 said they binge-drink.
Dr. Sue Gill, a psychologist at University Health Services, said the research found people who drank five drinks or more suffered from poor academic performance, unwanted sexual contact, relationship conflicts, unintended injuries, guilt, regret and compromised values.
“Research showed that when people had five or more drinks, they had negative consequences,” Gill said. “It really didn’t have to do with how drunk the person [appeared].”
Alcohol affects the brain in multiple ways. Starting with the frontal lobe, the area of the brain responsible for judgment, personality, and inhibitions, alcohol’s effects grow as more is consumed. As drinking continues, alcohol affects the back of the brain, impairing motor control and balance, until it finally affects the brain stem itself, the control room for such bodily processes as heart rate and respiration.
Wendy Janosik, a counselor at UHS, often advises students dealing with drug and 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 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.”
Janosik said students commonly do not know how to use alcohol and don’t think to ask, which leads to a wide range of physical, emotional and even academic consequences.
In the fall 2000 semester alone 36 students were taken to detox from residence halls because they had too much to drink.
Because police can arrive the quickest and are trained in stabilizing such situations, their involvement is always necessary.
According to Sgt. Joe Hornbeck, officers immediately assess the scene and decide 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,” Hornbeck said.
It’s important that students not make the assumption that someone who has “passed out” will just sleep it off, Hornbeck said. If a student were to come across someone passed out on the street or at a party, the student should call for help immediately, he said.
Someone who has passed out is in danger of alcohol poisoning or the possibility of choking on their vomit. A person lying on their back could vomit, which could enter the lungs and cause asphyxiation.
Alcohol poisoning is another dangerous consequence of too much boozing. Symptoms such as a lack of response when spoken to, not responding to pain, not waking up or slow, labored or abnormal breathing all point to alcohol poisoning.
While asphyxiation and alcohol poisoning may be the most immediately dangerous effects of alcohol, alcohol abuse is also a serious problem on campus. If someone feels they or a friend has an alcohol problem, the person should contact the campus counseling center. Students also can be directed to a therapist or other educational resources.