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The College Experience: Binge Drinking

July 18, 2014  |  Falmouth Enterprise

Dr. Michael Bihari

Most recent graduates of Falmouth High School and Falmouth Academy are headed for college campuses around the country, an exciting and challenging experience. It’s important for you and your teen to understand the drinking and drug culture that is prevalent on college campuses and for you to have the knowledge and tools to help your son or daughter have a safe and healthy experience. 

Many college alcohol problems are related to binge drinking. Research shows that more than 80 percent of college students drink alcohol, and almost half report binge drinking in the past 2 weeks.

What Is Binge Drinking?

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, many college alcohol problems are related to binge drinking. Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This usually occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men—in about 2 hours.

Binge drinking accounts for most (more than 65 percent) of the alcohol consumed by youth in the U.S. Drinking this way can pose serious health and safety risks, including car crashes, drunk driving arrests, sexual assaults, and injuries. 

How Much Is a Drink?

To avoid binge drinking college students (and all drinkers) should track the number of drinks they consume over a given period of time. In the U.S., a standard drink is one that contains about 14 grams of “pure” alcohol, which is found in:

  • 12 ounces of beer, which is usually about 5 percent alcohol
  • 5 ounces of wine, which is typically about 12 percent alcohol
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, which is about 40 percent alcohol

Although the standard drink amounts are helpful, they often do not reflect usual serving sizes, particularly in a college environment. A large cup of beer, an over-poured glass of wine, or a single mixed drink could contain much more alcohol than a standard drink.

Alcohol Poisoning

Thousands of college students are brought to hospital emergency rooms each year for alcohol poisoning, which happens when a high level of alcohol suppresses the nervous and respiratory systems and the body struggles to rid itself of toxins produced from the breakdown of alcohol. Signs of this dangerous condition can include:

  • Mental confusion, stupor, coma, or the person cannot be roused
  • Vomiting
  • Slow or irregular breathing
  • Low body temperature, bluish or pale skin

Alcohol poisoning can lead to permanent brain damage or death, so a person showing any of these signs requires immediate medical attention. 

A student’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) can continue to rise even while she is passed out. After he stops drinking, alcohol in the stomach and intestine continues to enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body. It is dangerous to assume the student will be fine by sleeping it off.

Heavy Drinking and Sexual Abuse

More than 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape and more than 100,000 report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex.

Rather than presenting more statistics that in the aggregate seem impersonal, it’s worth taking a look at a recently reported incident at one of the 64 colleges and universities around the country that were cited by the federal government for not appropriately handling cases of sexual assault on their campuses, many of which are related to abuse of alcohol.

In a story, “Reporting Rape, and Wishing She Hadn’t - How One College Handled a Sexual Assault Complaint,” published in the New York Times on July 12, the paper outlined in detail the apparent assault on a student at a small liberal arts college in upstate New York. Although the focus of the article is on how the college administration handled the incident, the Times did note that drinking was involved, “She was 18 years old, a freshman, and had been on campus for just two weeks when one Saturday night last September her friends grew worried because she had been drinking and suddenly disappeared. In the early-morning hours on the campus of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in central New York, the friend said, he found her — bent over a pool table as a football player appeared to be sexually assaulting her from behind in a darkened dance hall with six or seven people watching and laughing. Some had their cellphones out, apparently taking pictures, he said.” The Times also noted that the blood alcohol level of the young woman was twice the legal limit during the early part of the episode. 

A Positive Spin

The first six weeks of freshman year is an especially vulnerable time for heavy drinking and alcohol­ related consequences because of student expectations and social pressures at the start of the academic year. Although upwards of 80 percent of college students drink alcohol and 44 percent binge drink, it’s important to share with your college-aged children that more than half of college students do not engage in binge drinking and they do not need to do so to fit in.Share your concerns with them and provide information about the issue; and, make sure they know that you are always available for support and advice.

Recommended Resources:

Underage Drinking: Access to in-depth information from the National Library of Medicine. 

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