Wednesday, February 10, 2010

College Environment Poses Risk for Underage Drinking

Collegiate Times

The expensive textbooks have been purchased, new roommates have moved in, and classes are underway: American students have recently commenced a new semester at their colleges and universities. When the exciting and overwhelming influx of new friends and classes has initially dwindled down, students — especially those living in a college environment — seek opportunities to escape from the stresses of college life. In a college town, this usually equates to attending parties and various social gatherings.

Of course, the majority of college students’ mentalities would be incomplete if the presence of alcohol was not involved in the social scene. Alcohol is a ubiquitous staple in the college environment, and young adults between the ages of 18-24 years old are most at risk for abusing the judgment-impairing drug. In a time when consumption of alcohol is accepted — and almost expected — among college students, we need to remember that young adults are incredibly vulnerable to the dangers associated with over-consumption of alcohol — a term referred to as binge drinking.

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a “binge” is a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration to at least 0.08 percent or above. This pattern corresponds to consuming at least five drinks for a male adult and at least four drinks for a female adult in approximately a two-hour time span.

The consequences of excessive drinking affect virtually all college campuses, college communities, and college students: about four in five of all college students drink, including students aged 18 to 20, nearly 60 percent of whom drink illegally. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by underage youths is in the form of binge drinking. As mass marketing campaigns have perpetuated the glamorization of alcohol consumption, imagine the increase in these statistics as we begin this new decade!

We are not naïve to the potential outcomes of binge drinking. By simply tuning in to the news, we learn of unfortunate stories of young adults prematurely losing their lives in tragic, alcohol-related accidents. An increase in students who reported being charged of driving while intoxicated has resulted in an increase of alcohol-related deaths.

The CDC further describes the kinds of intentional and unintentional injuries that result from binge drinking, including sexual assault, date rape, firearm injuries, domestic violence, car crashes, burns and drowning. Other health problems resulting from binge drinking include alcohol poisoning, sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancy, high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease, alcohol addiction and sexual dysfunction.

The college environment promotes this unhealthy behavior, particularly due to the availability and accessibility of alcohol on campuses. Furthermore, students who observe their peers engaging in binge drinking may be more willing to conform to the negative behavior if they perceive their peers to be enjoying themselves. Unfortunately, loss of inhibitions is a positively perceived effect of alcohol consumption, especially for the shy and introverted. However, alcohol no longer seems to be as enticing when you find yourself being the caretaker of a sick friend who is vomiting in the bathroom of a bar or club as a result of binge drinking. If you are lucky, your friend will sleep it off and fail to remember his or her actions from the previous night. For the not so lucky, your friend may require medical attention if alcohol poisoning were to occur.

Alcohol abuse is likely — and frequent — since society views drinking as a normal and accepted part of life, especially campus life. The consumption of alcohol is unquestionably a social activity, influenced by popular culture and media solely depicting — and oftentimes, fabricating — the positive effects of alcohol without taking into consideration the infinitely greater negatives.

As the new semester progresses into busy weeks teeming with assignments, projects, exams and friends, let’s keep in mind the dangers that binge drinking poses to the health of the millions of students in our nation’s colleges and universities.

The college environment isn’t going anywhere, and it would surely be devastating to hear another news story of an alcohol-related accident that claimed yet another youth’s life.

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