One doesn’t have to dig deep to find the party scene at colleges and universities in America. For some people, terms like pre-gaming, beer pong, and flip cup may not make much sense – for some college students, they’re a lifestyle.
According to studies compiled by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, 44.8 percent of college students are classified as binge drinkers.
In their College Students and Alcohol fact sheet, the CSPI defines the binge drinker as someone who consumes five or more drinks on at least one occasion in 30 days – a definition college students might find surprising.
“Student don’t realize how much they’re actually drinking,” said Delynne Wilcox, assistant director of health planning and prevention at the University of Alabama.
Pre-gaming, the practice of drinking alcohol before going to a larger event to consume additional drinks or drinking a large amount of alcohol very quickly, is a disturbing trend in the college culture, said Wilcox.
Party staples like beer funnels, flip cup, and beer pong also contribute to students ingesting large amounts of alcohol very quickly.
“Their BAC levels go from zero to seriously high in a very short amount of time,” she said. “They blow right past the fuzzy euphoric feeling to serious levels of intoxication. There’s a false sense of security because you don’t feel it then boom – you’re in way over your head.”
The BAC, or Blood Alcohol Concentration Level, ranges from .002-.42. Alabama’s legal limit to drive is .08 – a level that a 170-pound male will reach in less than an hour when drinking four or more beers.
Wilcox said that students are often unaware of the amounts of alcohol in the their drinks, and therefore oblivious of how high their BAC is possibly getting.
“One Solo cup half filled with vodka then topped with a mixer can be anywhere from six to eight drinks,” she said. “Everclear, the alcohol often found in hunch punch or jungle juice at parties, is an entirely different animal. One tablespoon of Everclear is the approximate amount of one drink.”
Most students want to party smart, Wilcox said, and try to find ways to do what they want with minimal consequences.
“I think students try to be smart about it,” she said. “They want to know how they can drink more and still be safe. But there are a lot of myths out there that everybody swears by.”
The popular adage “beer before liquor, never been sicker – liquor before beer, in the clear” is regularly repeated as students plan their drink lists, but Wilcox believes there is no scientific basis for it.
Some partiers think that vomiting will clear their system of alcohol and they are safe to continue consuming. Not so, Wilcox said.
“Vomiting is a defense mechanism – it’s a warning sign that the body has reached a certain level of toxicity,” Wilcox said. “You’re not in the free and clear after you throw up.”
Wilcox also said there is no such thing as alcohol ‘tolerance.’
“People want to take the exercise philosophy and apply it to alcohol – the more I drink the easier it will get,” she said. “What happens is that the more students drink, they numb themselves to the effects. Your freshman year it might have only taken one beer to get the warm fuzzies, but now you need five or six and a couple of shots.”
Even if you’re not feeling the same effects, your body is processing the alcohol at the same speed as it always has. You can’t alter the science of your BAC levels, Wilcox said.
“The magic solution is time – consume alcohol at a rate that your body can process it,” Wilcox said.
Once alcohol is consumed and reaches the stomach, it takes around 90 seconds for it to absorb into the blood stream. For the average person, the human body processes one drink per hour, said Wilcox.
However, weight and sex do have some effect on how alcohol is processed.
“Males have a special enzyme that processes alcohol differently,” Wilcox said. “One of the concerning things we’re seeing is the female consumption rate rising. It’s much more damaging for females to match males drink for drink.”
Phone apps and sites like bloodalcoholcalculator.org can help students estimate their BAC levels, but Wilcox said that BAC is dependent on everything from a person’s sex and weight to medication they are taking.
Wilcox believes students are out to have a good time and may not think about what alcohol really is.
“Alcohol is a drug, but we lose sight of that because it is a legal substance,” she said. “It is a depressant and it alters your body’s ability to function. It’s that simple.”
In addition to physical symptoms like vomiting and passing out, the CSIP cites property damage and vandalism (both on and off campus); fights and interpersonal violence; sexual violence; and disruption to other students’ quality of life as the most common secondhand effects of rampant alcohol use.
According to UAPD’s Campus Safety Report, 47 liquor law violation arrests occurred in 2010 on campus, in residence halls, and on public property within UAPD jurisdiction. 872 liquor law violators were cited with disciplinary action or Judicial Referrals.
If you are one of the 44 percent, be aware of the consequences and effects that heavy alcohol usage can have, Wilcox said.
“The glamorization of alcohol makes it seem like it is liquid gold. But it’s not. Be smart. Be aware of why you’re drinking – if those reasons are good or not. Be aware that one container doesn’t necessarily mean one drink,” she said. “It can hurt you and it affects other people too.”