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Alcohol

WHAT is the scope of the problem?

Nationally, about 4 in 5 of all college students drink, including nearly 60% of students age 18-20. Approximately 2 out of every 5 college students of all ages have reported engaging in binge drinking at least one time during the past two weeks. 

According to the American College Health Survey administered Spring 2010 at Caltech: 

  • 25% of our students do not drink 
  • 42% drank within the last 5 days and 64% of students report alcohol use within the last 30 days 
  • 1.3% of students report driving after having 5 or more drinks in the last 30 days 

WHAT are factors that affect student drinking?

  1. Living Arrangements
    • Drinking rates are highest in fraternities and sororities, followed by on-campus housing, such as dormitories and residence halls. Caltech does not have fraternities and sororities, but each house has its own culture.
    • Students who live independently off-campus, in apartments, tend to drink less 
    • Commuting students who live with their families drink the least.
  2. First-Year Vulnerability
    • First-year students who live on campus may be at particular risk for alcohol misuse, since they are probably encountering it for the first time, under peer pressure. 
    • Anecdotal evidence suggests that the first 6 weeks of enrollment are critical to first-year student success. 
    • This heavy drinking may result in excessive alcohol consumption that interferes with successful adaptation to campus life.

WHAT are the national consequences of college drinking?

  • Deaths – 1,825 college students ages 18-24 die each year from alcohol-related incidents 
  • Injury – 599,000 injuries occur 
  • Assault – 696,000 assaults occur 
  • Sexual abuse – 97,000 cases of sexual abuse are reported 
  • Unsafe sex – 400,000 instances of unsafe sex are reported 
  • Academic problems – 25% of students who drink report academic consequences 
  • Health problems – 150,000 students who drink report health problems related to their drinking 
  • Suicide attempts – Between 1.2% and 1.5% tried to commit suicide in the past year due to drinking or drugs.

(source: http://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/statssummaries/snapshot.aspx)

Hazardous drinking leaves you at risk for accident, injury, unwanted sexual experience and academic problems. It can also leave you with relationship issues and mental health disorders such as depression. 25% of people who drink at higher than the recommended guidelines will develop alcohol problems.

WHY is alcohol bad for brain development?

During adolescence, the brain undergoes a major remodeling involving the formation of new connections between nerve cells. Alcohol may have a greater impact on adolescent than adult memory. These effects may be long lasting and may occur later in life. Cognitive impairments in adolescent alcohol abusers have been detected even weeks after they have stopped drinking. While drinking alcohol may seem to be fun, it actually has a great effect on the brain, exposing the brain to more cognitive impairments and injury at high alcohol exposure levels. 

WHAT is low-risk drinking?

Alcohol moderation consists of up to 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women. Standardized drinks are as follows: 1 drink = 12 oz bottle of beer, 5oz glass of wine, or 1.5oz of 80-proof distilled spirits.

WHAT is high-risk drinking?

High-risk drinking impairs your cognitive ability to function normally. Hazardous drinking consists of five or more drinks for men, broken down into >3-4 more drinks during one drinking session, or more than 14 drinks per week. For women, at risk drinking is >4 drinks during a day, or more than 7 drinks a week. Women are at higher risk for drinking problems since women attain a higher blood alcohol concentration than men from the same amount of alcohol. Women are not only more sensitive to alcohol, but may also become addicted sooner and may develop alcohol-related problems more quickly. 

WHO are problem drinkers?

Problem drinkers, also known as alcohol abusers and harmful drinkers are people who have experienced repeated alcohol-related problems or adverse events. Such events include accidents, injuries, academic issues, behavioral problems, ER visits or blackouts. These actions leave problem drinkers at risk for dependence and often need counseling and treatment. Dependent drinkers are unable to control their alcohol use, have repeated adverse consequences and have evidence of tolerance or withdrawal. 

Some criteria for alcoholism are: 

  • Craving – strong need, or urge, to drink 
  • Loss of control – not being able to stop drinking once drinking has begun 
  • Physical dependence – withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness and anxiety after stopping drinking 
  • Tolerance – the need to drink a greater amount of alcohol to get “high” 

If you think you have a dependence on alcohol, or know somebody who fits these criteria, please talk to someone who can help. Alcohol and Drug intervention and education is available at the Counseling Center. UCCs, RAs, and Health Advocates would also be happy to help.

WHAT is binge drinking?

“Binge drinking” is a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 gram-percent or above. This pattern typically corresponds to consuming 5 or more drinks (male), or 4 or more drinks (female), in about 2 hours. This can lead to alcohol poisoning, brain damage, cardiovascular problems or gastrological problems.

WHAT is alcohol poisoning?

Alcohol poisoning is a serious and deadly consequence of drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. Drinking too much can affect your breathing, heart rate, and gag reflex. This can potentially lead to coma and death. Vomiting is common since alcohol is an irritant to the stomach, which leads to the danger of choking on vomit. BAC increases, even when a person is passed out, because alcohol in the stomach and intestine continue to enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body.

HOW do you know if somebody has alcohol poisoning?

Here are critical signs of symptoms of alcohol poisoning:

  • Mental confusion, stupor, coma, or person cannot be roused
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing (fewer than 8 breaths per minute)
  • Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature), bluish skin color, paleness

WHAT should I do if I suspect that someone has alcohol poisoning?

  • Know the danger signals. 
  • Do not wait for all symptoms to be present. 
  • Be aware that a person who has passed out may die. 
  • If there is any suspicion of an alcohol overdose, call 911 or Caltech Security at 626-395-5000 for help. Don't try to guess the level of drunkenness.

WHAT happens if alcohol poisoning goes untreated?

  • Victim chokes on his or her own vomit
  • Breathing slows, becomes irregular, or stops
  • Heart beats irregularly or stops
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature)
  • Hypoglycemia (too little blood sugar) leads to seizures.
  • Untreated severe dehydration from vomiting can cause seizures, permanent brain damage, or death.

Alcoholism is a serious issue that needs to be addressed, to ensure that everybody on the Caltech campus is safe. Look for signs of alcoholism and make sure that situations are kept under control.

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