Last Thursday, hoards of Western students got their drink on, either at the bars, or in the comfort of dorm rooms, apartments, and houses. Meanwhile, a group of students and community members in Science Lecture room 110 also had alcohol on the mind. This was no ordinary Thursday for them—they were drinking in the facts about alcohol use and abuse.
These folks were attending “Beat the Hangover: The Penalties of Heavy Drinking,” an event put on by the Drug Information Center and Prevention and Wellness Services. The affair coincided with National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week, which runs from October 21 through October 27.
Kayla Rojas and Emily Barker, both students, presented information on cultural myths about drinking, the signs of alcohol poisoning, serving sizes, and what to do in an alcohol emergency situation.
Both Rojas and Barker are involved in the Lifestyle Advisor program, which is comprised entirely of volunteer peer health educators. The LA program neither condones nor promotes use of alcohol and drugs, instead providing information on everything from alcohol abstinence to heavy drinking. “It’s not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ program,” Rojas said.
Likewise, the Drug Information Center is “an office that is available to the public which provides confidential, accurate, unbiased information on drugs and alcohol,” according to the office’s website. The DIC is one of seven offices within the Resource and Outreach Programs, and hosts events as well as providing brochures, pamphlets, books, and movies for students and community members.
With a predominant focus on college drinking, the event started with a list of various kinds of alcoholic beverages, the percentage of alcohol in each, and what a serving size is for each.
Rojas noted that drinks women traditionally go for—malt beverages like hard lemonade—actually have a higher alcohol content, at roughly six percent, than a typical beer, which is usually around five percent.
When it comes to shots and shot glasses, not all are created equal, according to Barker. She explained that even though shot glasses often look like they all could hold the same amount of alcohol, looks can be deceiving. Aluminum shot glasses can typically hold the most alcohol, up to four ounces, which is four drinks worth of hard alcohol. This is because the aluminum they are made out of is thinner than its glass counterpart.
“It’s a good thing to keep in mind, because most people think that one shot glass equals on shot,” Barker said.
Similarly, said Rojas, keg cups are usually billed as holding 16 ounces. But if you fill it all the way to the top (like a thrifty college student might do), it is more like 20 ounces of beer, or almost the equivalent of two drinks, not one.
These serving sizes are based on the amount of an alcoholic beverage your liver can break down in an hour, said Barker. So, one ounce of 100 proof hard alcohol requires a full hour of stewing in your liver before it is broken down.
While many students may know what it feels like to be under the effects of alcohol, far fewer actually know the physiological processes your body undergoes when you down a beer or throw back a shot. After alcohol is swallowed, it reaches your stomach, where roughly 20 percent of it is absorbed through the lining of your stomach. This can vary slightly depending on if you have eaten, how fast you drink, and the alcoholic concentration of your drink.
Following the stomach, the alcohol then reaches your small intestine, where the remaining 80 percent is absorbed into your bloodstream. Your alcohol-laced blood passes through your liver, where the alcohol is broken down. Finally, you’re left with the waste, of which 95 percent is urine, and the other five percent leaves your body through sweat and breath.
Given that more people drink than understand the science behind consuming alcohol, several myths have arisen about how to sober up. These include vomiting, eating bread or other food, drinking water, exercising, taking a cold shower, and drinking coffee. Rojas and Barker say, however, that nothing but time can sober you up, as it takes one hour for your body to break down one alcoholic drink. Water, Barker said, does help rehydrate you and can lessen the nastiness of a hangover, but won’t speed up the process of getting the alcohol out of your system.
Another myth involves how much we perceive others drink. “Most people think that others drink the same or more as them, but this is typically not true,” Rojas said. According to Rojas, this is because often times heavy drinkers are surrounded by others who drink heavily. Also, Rojas said, everyone talks about crazy and wild parties, but rarely do people talk about tame gatherings that may involve little to no drinking.
The misconception that parties are all about drinking may also have something to do with the cultural myth that more is better, alcohol included. While some think that if one drink is good , five must be better, Rojas said that the effects of alcohol can be represented by a bell curve, where there is a “point of diminishing returns” after which more alcohol makes you depressed, sick, and can even be lethal.
The point of diminishing returns for most people is when you reach a .05 blood alcohol level. After this point, you lose your buzz and start feeling worse.
The legal limit for of-age drivers in Washington State is .08. At .10, you will start feeling sick, and .40 is the lethal level, said Rojas.
In a situation where someone has had too much to drink, the best thing to do is call 911, Rojas and Barker said. Stay with the individual, keep him or her calm and conscious by asking questions, and be as helpful to paramedics as possible.
Barker said that many times, young people are afraid to call 911 even in an alcohol emergency because of the fear of getting a Minor In Possession citation. Barker said that if the police show up for an alcohol emergency, their concern is for the wellbeing of the sick individual, not to hand out MIPs.
To avoid an alcohol emergency, Barker and Rojas suggested several tips for moderating alcohol consumption. Counting your drinks, slowing down by drinking water, and setting a limit ahead of time are all ways of reducing the risk of an alcohol emergency. Having a designated driver is also crucial, they said.
For more information on alcohol or other drugs, or information on AL-ANON and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, contact the Drug Information Center at 650-6116, or email them at AS.ROP.DrugInfo@wwu.edu. You can also always visit them in the Viking Union room 517.