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Effects of alcohol more severe than students realize

February 28, 2013

In movies, college is depicted as a place with beer flowing freely from kegs of ale and a whole social climate is built around the corners of a beer pong table.

The only thing disappearing faster than the beverage friends pressure each other to chug is the memory of sitting home alone watching another rerun of F.R.I.E.N.D.S.

Despite the image displayed in Hollywood, binge drinking has gone down over the last 10 years on college campuses, including UW-River Falls, said Keven Syverson, Health Education Coordinator at Counseling and Health Services. The reason, Syverson explained, could be because different fads phase through campuses.

Currently, exercising and physical health has been a topic being embraced by students, whereas 10 years ago it was not.

Nonetheless, drinking is still an issue at UWRF, especially when it is done to excess, said UWRF Chief of Police Richard Trende.

“When you’re drinking, please do that with moderation and think of the residual impact as far as how much you’re consuming and recognizing you’re not going to feel the effects right away. It takes time to get into your system,” said Trende.

These residual effects can include alcohol poisoning which can result in death, sexual and physical assault, falling behind in classes, and tickets for underage consumption.

If an individual chooses to drive after drinking in excess, tickets for driving under the influence could be a result; these tickets remain permanent on driving records and will always be present in background checks done by employers.

Even though this warning to drink in moderation may seem like common sense after weighing the consequences, it is heard but unheeded by some students at UWRF.

Kristie Feist, assistant director of Residence Life, said that students new to UWRF, including those under the legal drinking age of 21, may see drinking as something that they are suppose to do since they are in college and that is the part of college they have seen growing up in the movies.
Jennifer Herink, a personal counselor with Counseling and Health Services, said that there is another part of it as well.

“It’s fun to relax, it’s fun to be high, it’s fun to be drunk,” Herink said as to why her clients drink and do non-prescribed drugs.
Even though the fun aspect can remain the only experience some students can have with consumption of alcohol, alcohol poisoning, which results when over consumption is taken to the next level, can be another experience.
This one is not so fun.

“Fortunately, we have not had intoxication to the point where somebody has died because of it,” said Trende, but he mentioned it was still a danger.

If a person had trouble breathing, cannot respond to simple questions, cannot be woken up, has cold and clammy skin or can not walk, “all of those are indications to call 911,” said Sandi Scott Duex, director of Residence Life. These are signs of alcohol poisoning.
If this unresponsive person is a friend of others underage people who are drinking, they should still contact help, Feist said.

If this happens to be in the residence halls, a Resident Assistant (RA) or a Hall Manager (HM) would be options to contact.
“I don’t know of a single time where a student who was the one who called and who had also been concerned ever complained about any follow up with the student. I think the message was pretty clear about here’s what happens most, life or death,” Scott Duex said.

She does not remember a time where a minor who has been under the influence of alcohol has ever been punished as a result of reaching out for help from an RA for a friend who was in medical trouble.

She said students need to think about the risk involved and have an obligation to intervene when necessary.
RAs are trained to call 911 in case of emergency, Feist said. Since RA are not officers and can not issue citations, contacting an RA would not guarantee a legal citation.

However, if a student is consuming alcohol underage and is not cooperating, RAs are then trained to call campus police for help and to issue a citation.
Even if abusing alcohol does not reach the level of alcohol poisoning, it can still become an issue and can be resolved through small interventions, Herink said.
“Small interventions are the ones the next morning after the person, your friend, has made a complete fool of themselves and you were with them and you were trying to keep them safe and protect them,” Herink said.

If this situation arises and there is confusion on how to confront a friend, counselors at Health and Counseling Services are available to meet and form plans to talk with them.

There are many options available for students who do need to get help with addictions and dependencies like those tied to alcohol.
Health counselors like Herink can connect those who need or would like assistance to those programs.
“If someone’s safety is in jeopardy, say something,” Herink said.

“I still think they’re still a lot of ‘they’ll be fine,’ ‘oh they’ll be fine,’ ‘they’re invincible,’ ‘nothing happens to us,’” Feist said.
The reality is that in 2012 after drinking alcohol, 28 percent of students did something they regretted later, almost 12 percent injured themselves, 15 percent had unprotected sex and almost 3 percent got in trouble with the police, according to information provided by Student Health Services.

Unfortunately, the ending portrayed in Hollywood is not always the ending for college students, including those at UWRF.
Students who know of someone needing help with alcohol can contact Health Services.