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Drinking culture on college campuses: How drinking trends are jeopardizing the safety of students

Drinking culture on college campuses: How drinking trends are jeopardizing the safety of students

The Arbiter
By Emily Gordon
April 20, 2023

BOISE, ID – In Idaho alone, nearly 437 deaths occur each year due to harms relating to excessive alcohol use according to the Idaho Office of Drug Policy.

It is no surprise that alcohol is one of the most commonly used and abused substances in America, specifically in college campuses all across the U.S.

14.9% of adults ages 18 to 25 met the criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD). Within this age group, 13.8% were full-time college students according to the 2021 National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) Releases.

People will drink, and that is not a shameful thing. Though it is important to look at the facts clearly and with no fear. With April being Alcohol Abuse Awareness Month, there is now an opportunity to normalize discussions surrounding substance abuse.

Is this an issue on campus?

“Binge drinking” is classified as a person ingesting five or more drinks (four for women) on the same occasion (i.e. on the same day) repeatedly, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH).

“Overdrinking is a nationally recognized issue,” said Nathan Fauntleroy, a Boise State Health Services counselor. “We (Boise State) are not immune to that.”

BroncoFit’s Parent Handbook for Talking with College Students About Alcohol explains that 7 out of 10 Boise State students drink regularly, and 3 out of 10 will become problem drinkers.

Anonymous Bronco students explained that their choice to drink is not born from peer pressure like many assume, but from the need to alleviate stress or anxiety they feel in their daily lives.

“I can often feel really anxious in social situations,” said a sophomore at Boise State, who requested to remain anonymous. “Alcohol kind of just takes that away and allows me to be more outgoing without overthinking everything.”

Alcohol is a depressant, which means it disrupts neurotransmitters and physically slows the brain and body down, specifically the part of the brain that controls inhibition, so users may feel relaxed, less anxious and more confident after a drink, according to the NIH.

“With drinking, I truly like the carefree feeling,” said a different Boise State sophomore, who also requested to remain anonymous. “Being in college and working, it is nice to feel like I don’t have any responsibilities for a night.”

An average college student is busy. Balancing schoolwork, jobs and social lives can be draining. Alcohol can be a source of ease and fun for young adults, though without proper knowledge and preparation, it can rapidly spiral into dangerous or even life threatening circumstances.

Excessive alcohol on the brain and body

Alcohol poisoning is a very real issue. Every year, both college students and adults die from overdrinking, a consequence of underestimating the power of a drink.

The Center for Disease Control says an average of six people die of alcohol poisoning each day in the U.S., resulting in nearly 2,200 deaths each year.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the symptoms of alcohol poisoning include mental confusion, difficulty remaining conscious, vomiting, seizures, trouble breathing, slow heart rate, clammy skin, dulled responses such as no gag reflex (which can cause choking) and extremely low body temperature.

It is beyond important for anyone who drinks to be able to recognize these symptoms.

“I have lost a father figure to alcoholism, so even while intoxicated, I really try to listen to my body’s signals,” the student said.

The rapid decline in cognitive function can be just as dangerous, resulting in poor decision making skills.

“Alcohol has a depressant effect on our fight or flight response,” Fauntleroy said. “It tends to be more of a problem when it becomes a pattern.”

The term “liquid courage” is not without reason. Alcohol essentially dampens the brain’s typical function, eliminating the feelings of anxiety or fear, which are built into the body to keep it safe.

Awareness of the impacts of alcohol overconsumption is a crucial step in recognizing one’s physical and emotional state. However, awareness alone can not solve the problem of substance abuse.

To BORG or not to BORG?

The BORG, or “blackout rage gallon,” has gained popularity over the years all across college campuses and national headlines. A New York Times article explains that the BORG is not the comparative safe option that students may believe it is.

The drink is a gallon jug, part water and part vodka, combined with the maker’s choice of electrolyte mix. This combination makes it easy to quickly overserve oneself without understanding the possible consequences.

The hashtag “#borg” has garnered 295.5 million views on TikTok, making it one of the most trending topics of 2023.

The trend can be dangerously misguided. Should a person want to participate in the trend, it is important they only put in the amount of alcohol they know they can withstand. Otherwise, they run the risk of over-drinking.

There are certainly some pros to the trendy drink. The concept of creating your own drink, knowing what it contains, and keeping it sealed can minimize the risk of ingesting something you don’t want to.

The trend to add a punny name on the drink such as “borg to be wild,” also plays a surprisingly big role in the harm reduction aspect as it is easily identifiable and unique to the maker.

Again, this is only true if the user is aware of their personal limits and pairs the drink with plenty of hydration.

In March of this year, 46 University of Massachusetts students were hospitalized for taking part in the trend. All were discharged and suffered no life threatening injuries.

The harmful effects of BORGs and other drinking trends like “rage cage” and “beer pong” can never be described as inherently safe. Safety while drinking is completely based on the user’s decision making skills and knowing their limits.

“There have been times when I have felt unsafe for other people,” said a Boise State sophomore, “specifically frat men who feel they have something to prove with the amount of alcohol they can consume in one sitting.”

Overdrinking can happen rapidly; the term “blacking out” is essentially when a person experiences temporary lapses in their memory.

The NIH explains that these gaps happen when a person drinks enough alcohol to temporarily block the transfer of memories from short-term to long-term storage. The person can still walk and talk, potentially appearing normal to those around them.

This can often be a turning point for drinkers, as they can no longer make well-informed decisions — they run the risk of hurting themselves or someone around them.

Elizabeth Branham, A Bronco Fit health educator, reminds all users to remember the acronym “P.U.B.S.,” an ironically named tool for users to remember the signs of alcohol poisoning

The signs include puking while passed out, unresponsive to pinching or shaking, shallow or irregular breathing, and blue, cold, or clammy skin. If any one of these signs are seen, people should seek help immediately.

“First of all, follow your gut,” Branham said. “Second, if you’re having a hard time remembering the signs, ask yourself if a healthy person would ever exhibit these signs. If not, seek help immediately.”

Drinking is never a safe choice but there are choices that people can make that make drinking less risky for themselves. These things include drinking one drink an hour, deciding in advance how much to drink, having a designated driver, eating beforehand, amongst others.

Boise State University has an “Amnesty Protocol,” which allows students to call for help and receive no punishment should they be found with illegal substances, such as alcohol.

“The Department of Public Safety’s top priority is the safety of our students,” said Tana Monroe, director of Campus Security. “Please know that we are always a phone call away 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year via 208-426-6911.”

Staying alive and well is the most important thing any person can maintain for themselves.

Drinking is going to happen, and there is nothing wrong with partaking in it safely and with people you trust.

Before going out to enjoy a night with friends, make sure your phone is charged, you have a rideshare app downloaded, lots of water ready to drink and, most importantly, that you feel safe.

Trust your gut and stay prepared. Keeping these necessities in mind when drinking can minimize risks. While drinking can never be inherently safe, there are steps you can take to make your night safer.