Health, safety officials tip students on party safety

Brenna McNamara

To a freshman college student, it seems partying has few downfalls.

Unfortunately, there is a chance a fun night of drinking could transform into a nightmare. And no college student wants to end up being a somber drinking statistic.

“There really are traps waiting,” junior nursing major Jennifer DeRemer said. “College is fun, but you gotta be careful, for sure.” Know the risks

Binge drinking is synonymous with college students and is more intense than ever, according to Wasting the Best and the Brightest: Substance Abuse at America’s Colleges and Universities, a four-year study of college students.

The study stated that 49 percent of college students binge drink, and of those, approximately 22 percent meet the medical criteria for substance abuse and dependence.

Binge drinking increases the long-term effects of alcohol, being taken advantage of or being raped, and the chance of STDs and pregnancy resulting from unprotected sex, said Laura Nusbaum of the Cuyahoga Falls Youth Services Bureau.

Doctors warn about the long-term effects of alcohol, and it’s easy to shrug off their advice, but those pesky long-term effects do have a way of catching up with you.

And attention girls: All that makeup you put on before going out might be useless because the skin is the first of the major organs to suffer the negative effects of alcohol – soon to follow are the liver, brain and heart, Nusbaum said.

“It’s unfortunate – but true,” she said. “Girls do have more to worry about regarding parties than guys. According to government publications, huge numbers of college women are raped and sexually assaulted in the first few weeks of school.”

Young people who binge drink are 63 percent more likely to become pregnant, and 70,000 are victims of alcohol related date-rape, according to the federal report Underage Drinking: A Status Report, 2005.

A study by the Ohio Department of Health’s HIV/STD Prevention Program showed 60 percent of college women with an STD were drunk when they got infected.

Combat potential danger

Being aware of the risks allows people to prevent them from happening.

“Take advantage of safety in numbers,” crime prevention officer Alice Ickes said. “By being aware of your surroundings and staying with the herd, or even just a friend, will help enormously. Don’t let yourself or a friend be a straggler. Likewise, don’t let your group be the last ones at a party.”

The dangerous people aren’t crouched in corners with trench coats as movies make it seem. Ickes said acquaintances, classmates and friends-of-friends are people you have to worry about.

“No matter who you think you know, don’t trust anyone unless it’s a friend from home or someone you know very, very well,” said Molly Klein, junior fine and professional arts major. “A girl can look up to a guy like a brother, but he will still take advantage of her if she’s drunk enough.”

Clich‚ but true – it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“Being aware of surroundings is key,” senior psychology major D’onna Stubblefield said.

A help to many late-nighters is the PARTA “Downtowner” bus that runs from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday and Friday.

“Us in law enforcement get a negative reaction about the late-night bus,” Ickes said. “People say its not our place to have a bus carry around drunk kids, but it takes a few drunks off the road as well as the people who would be riding with them.”

Know when to stop

Sounds easy enough, right? But not so much after a few drinks and free beers are still being thrown at you.

“There is so much free beer offered to freshmen,” Klein said. “You must know when to cut yourself off.”

“Pre-gaming,” or drinking before going out, is the problem for many students.

“When I pre-game, I forget how drunk I am when I get to a party and drink more,” said Laura Reed, senior business management major. “Then it’s all bad. Don’t do it.”

“Jungle juice” is an easy trap to fall into, said Mark Koolich, senior integrated language arts major. “Jungle juice” is a mixture offered at many parties. It consists of huge quantities of various hard liquor and juice.

“It’s easy to grab a cup of the stuff, but no one realizes that one cup can have six shots in it – until they’re on the ground passed out,” Koolich said.

James Fitzgibbon, director of adolescent medicine at Akron Children’s Hospital, said the more a person drinks, the more the risk goes up.

“There is a huge risk in blacking out because alcohol is an anesthetic, meaning you can vomit, aspirate, choke or die,” he said. “Also, the risk of doing stupid things goes up.”

Having five or more drinks in a row for men, or four or more drinks in a row for women, constitutes binge drinking, Fitzgibbon said.

Pacing oneself, throwing a non-alcoholic drink in-between alcoholic drinks and eating before drinking can allow the body to metabolize the alcohol slower, Fitzgibbon said.

Know your body and dangerous signs

Dying from alcohol poisoning or getting slipped a date-rape drug seem like morbid and distant stories that will never hit home.

“It happens more often than one would imagine,” Fitzgibbon said. “It’s imperative that one knows the signs of alcohol poisoning.”

If a person is unable to wake up, it is one of the first signs something is not OK. Passing out, however, doesn’t always occur with alcohol poisoning: Stupor and confusion are also signs. If a person is in a coma, pinch his or her skin. Alcohol numbs the nerves, so pinching the skin can indicate the extent of the overdose, according to the BACCHUS Network, “a non-profit organization to promote student- and young-adult-based, campus and community-wide leadership on health and safety issues.”

Ickes said alcohol poisoning can cause the heart and breathing to stop, as well as cause people to choke on their vomit. It is important to notify health officials despite fear of getting the victim in trouble.

Dangers beyond alcohol

Fitzgibbon said rohypnol, gamma hydroxy butrate and ketamine – date-rape drugs, or “roofies” – are difficult to detect because they are colorless and odorless and the symptoms are easily mistaken for those of a person who is severely drunk.

“Most date-rape drugs are short-acting anesthetics,” Fitzgibbon said. “We use them in regular surgeries because we don’t want the patient to remember bad things. Predators use them to severely disorient someone or cause amnesia.”

Gamma hydroxy butrate and rohypnol cause slurred speech, impaired judgment, difficulty walking, dizziness, nausea, respiratory depression and coma. Symptoms set in anywhere between ten and 30 minutes, according to Fitzgibbon said gamma hydroxy butrate that turns drinks blue has recently been manufactured to tip-off victims.

Ketamine, an anesthetic intended for veterinary use, causes slightly different symptoms: delirium, depression, impaired attention and dream-like states, Fitzgibbon said.

“Date-rape drugs are horrible because the victims can’t really speak what’s on their mind. It feels like an out-of-body experience. Be aware if you feel a really bizarre drunk,” DeRemer said.

Contact features correspondent Brenna McNamara at [email protected].