Alcohol is a part of life at Williams. According to a random survey conducted by the CONNECTIONS program during the 1990-1991 school year, 90% of Williams students had used alcohol at least once during the past year. The largest percentage of students reported drinking once per week. This figure corresponds to national survey results which report 85 to 95 percent of college students consume alcohol routinely. Most studies propose that 25 percent of college students have drinking problems.
In general, people do things when under the influence that they would not do normally. On college campuses a high percentage of injuries, property damage, unwanted pregnancies, and health problems are related to high-risk decisions about the use of alcohol and other drugs. Problem chemical use in college also negatively affects people’s relationships and academic performance.
Whether or not to use alcohol is an individual’s decision. Talking to friends and listening to a variety of opinions is good, but in the end an individual must make her or his own choices about alcohol. Equally important is respecting another person’s decision, whether for or against use. Not only is the individuality of the decision vital, but also the consideration of the intensely personal emotions involved, such as an alcoholic parent or loss of a friend in a drunk driving accident. The choice is very personal, as is the decision to talk about it. Neither the user nor the abstainer should feel pressure or guilt about this decision.
Informed decision making is key.
Issues of Alcohol Use
Alcohol and other drug use or abuse connects a variety of individual and social problems:
- 90% of date/acquaintance rapes involve alcohol
- 44% of college students are less likely to remember their actions if they have been drinking.
- 31% of college students are less likely to use precautions against sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy if they are under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
- In the U.S., 75% of unintentional injuries (the leading cause of death) are directly or indirectly related to alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs.
- 50% of the 12 leading causes of death are directly or indirectly related to alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs.
- The only age group in the United States whose life span is decreasing are young people between the ages of 15 and 24, much of this decrease is attributed to alcohol consumption.
Issues of abuse and addiction are important aspects of alcohol and other drug use at college and in society at large. Many people’s lives are touched in some way by alcoholism and problem drinking. You may become concerned about your drinking or a friend’s. You may have grown up in a family with alcoholism. These problems are real and there are many people on campus dealing with them every day.
Types of Drinking Behavior: What Kind of Drinker Are You?
The following list describes some of the habits of three types of drinkers: social drinkers, problem drinkers and alcoholic drinkers. It is not necessary for a person to exhibit every characteristic to fit into a certain category and sometimes the “line” between categories is quite thin.
General rule of thumb: If you have a gut feeling that someone’s drinking or other drug use is problematic or abusive, it probably is.
A social drinker typically:
- Drinks slowly (does not gulp drinks)
- Spaces out drinks (does not drink more than one drink per hour)
- Eats before or while drinking
- Abstains while taking medication
- Never drives during/after drinking
- Knows and obeys laws related to drinking
- Respects nondrinkers.
A problem drinker typically:
- Drinks to get drunk
- Drinks to cope with problems or stressful life events
- Experiences personality changes or mood swings and may become loud, angry, and violent, or reclusive, remote, and withdrawn
- Drinks when she or he should not – before class, before/while driving, before a game
- May have “blackouts” (alcohol-induced amnesia) even though he or she seemed “drunk normal” to other people at the time
- Has lower grades than his or her non-drinking and low-risk-drinking peers
- Causes other problems – physically or emotionally hurts himself or herself, family, friends, and strangers
- Is defensive and justifies hir or her drinking/other drug use
- May drink to “cure a hangover”
- Seems unable to have a good time or to party unless alcohol or other drugs are available
- Hangs out with other people who have similar drinking habits
- Loses control of her or his drinking – experiences an inability to keep promises to self about limiting drinking or other drug use – unable to stop drinking when he or she wants
- Spends much time thinking/talking about drinking and planning when he or she can drink next
- Hides his or her drinking and keeps bottles hidden for quick pick-me-ups
- Denies drinking
- Needs to drink before facing a stressful situation
- Transitions from having hangovers to more dangerous withdrawal symptoms, such as delirium tremens (DTs) which can be fatal
- Has or causes major problems with classes, friends, family, or police.
How Much is Too Much?
The level of impairment a person experiences from drinking alcohol relates to the quantity of alcohol consumed in what time period. The body is able to metabolize approximately one drink (1/2 ounce of pure alcohol) per hour. One 12 ounce beer, five ounces of wine and one ounce of distilled spirits all equal one half ounce of pure alcohol or one “drink”. If a person drinks more than one drink per hour her or his body’s metabolism cannot keep up, the level of alcohol in her or his blood will increase and she or he will feel more intoxicated. The metabolism proceeds at a steady pace, oblivious to the amount of alcohol consumed. The more a person drinks, the longer it takes him or her to become sober and the higher her or his blood alcohol level.
Alcohol Concentration Scale
To estimate your alcohol concentration, match the number of drinks consumed to your body weight. Estimated weight should not include excess body fat, so subtract any “extra” pounds before figuring. Also subtract .015 for each hour since drinking began.
Biological response to alcohol varies from person to person and from time to time in the same person. A person who chooses to drink may wish to consider several biological and interaction factors when deciding how much or it to drink on a given day:
Food: A person who drinks on an empty stomach will experience greater impairment from alcohol than if his or her stomach were full. The presence of food in the stomach slows absorption. Foods high in protein tend to stay in the stomach longest, thus it is best to eat food such as meats, fish, eggs or cheese before and during drinking.
Medication. Drinking alcohol together with sleeping pills, other medications (such as aspirin, antihistamines, prescription drugs), or illicit drugs can have unintended and dangerous consequences. Certain combinations can be fatal.. At best, alcohol can block the curative action of medication, rendering the drug ineffective. If you are taking any prescription or over-the-counter medications it is best to call the Health Center to check with a doctor or nurse before drinking.
Lack of sleep or sickness: If you are sick or just getting well, you are likely to experience greater impairment from alcohol. This increased impairment is also a risk for people who are tired. In certain cases of chronic illness any use of alcohol is high risk.
Age: In general, adolescents and elderly people experience greater impairment from alcohol than young adults and middle-aged people.
Body size. Body size refers to lean mass, not fat. (Alcohol is water, not fat, soluble.) A smaller person generally will experience greater impairment from alcohol than a large person would from the same amount of alcohol. This seems to be true for two reasons: larger people may metabolize alcohol more quickly (they may have a larger liver capacity) and larger people have more body fluid to dilute the alcohol.
Gender: Women typically become more impaired from the same amount of alcohol than men of the same size. This may be because women tend to have a higher percentage of body fat than men. In addition, 1-3 days before menstruation, a woman may become more intoxicated and stay intoxicated longer than usual. This may be due to hormonal changes occurring at that time.
What to Do if a Friend Has Had Too Much
On occasion, people will drink more than they can tolerate. There is no quick cure for drunkenness. Time is the only thing that will remove alcohol. However, there are steps you can take to keep the situation from getting worse:
If a person becomes drunk, try to prevent more drinking. Don’t harass or anger; just suggest that she or he stop drinking or switch to something non-alcoholic. Try to avoid belligerence by removing the cause if you can. Watch out for glass, sharp protrusions, and stairs. A statistic to note: over 50% of pedestrians involved in auto accidents are under the influence of alcohol. Most importantly, do NOT let a person who is drunk drive. Have someone else drive, take the keys, call a cab — whatever is necessary.
If a person passes out, the situation becomes much more serious. Unattended, the person may vomit and choke to death. If enough alcohol is consumed to constitute an overdose, death by anesthetization can occur. Make sure the person is lying face down, and hold the head to the side to avoid choking in vomit. If you are at all unsure about the person’s condition, CALL FOR MEDICAL HELP. Assistance can be reached through the Health Center (x2206), Security (x4444) or by dialing 911. There will be no disciplinary action, and complete conconfidentiality will be maintained. The person’s well-being is the primary concern.
Signs of an overdose include the following:
- Suppressed respiration
- Abnormal pulse
- Inability to regain consciousness
- Vomiting while unconscious.
Again, if you have any doubts, stay with the person and have someone call for help.
Coping with Alcoholism
Everyone is at some biological risk for developing alcoholism. Some people have a greater biological risk for alcoholism than others because parents, grandparents, or other family members are alcoholics. A person who has an increased biological risk for developing alcoholism has a lower trigger level than others. It is important to understand, however, that, no one who abuses alcohol is safe or immune.
In addition to her or his individual trigger levels for alcoholism, everyone has an individual tolerance level. (Tolerance refers to the amount of alcohol a person is “able to handle” at any point in time.) Tolerance levels change as a person drink more or less. Research shows that every time a person gets drunk his or her tolerance level for alcohol increases. A person will reach her or his trigger level for alcoholism when she or he drinks enough, often enough, to raise her or his tolerance level to the point where it surpasses her or his trigger level.
Realizing that someone you care about may have a problem with drinking can be scary. What are you supposed to do and say? If you think a friend has a drinking problem, it may mean getting involved in some tough discussions and situations, but don’t be scared away. You can help. Don’t step back and pretend it’s none of your business. Many problem drinkers say that talking with their friends helped them seek professional guidance or gain better control of their drinking.
How to Help a Friend
If you are trying to figure out whether a friend has a drinking problem you need to evaluate:
• Changes in his or her drinking behavior;
• The reasons for his or her drinking; and
• The impact of your friend’s drinking on his/her relationships, studies and goals.
Your friend does not have to get “falling down drunk” or drink every night to be in trouble with alcohol. Focusing on the reasons for your friend’s drinking and the impact of the drinking will often help you determine whether your friend has a drinking problem.
There are many resources available to help people with an alcohol problem as well as friends and family effected by another’s drinking. A good first step on this campus is contacting the Peer Health office by coming in during call-in/walk-in hours or calling x3140.