From A Parent Handbook for Talking with College Students About Alcohol
Alcohol is a drug that is absorbed into the bloodstream from the stomach and the small intestine. It is broken down by the liver and then eliminated from the body. There are limits to how fast the liver can break down alcohol and this process cannot be sped up. Until the liver has had time to break down all of the alcohol, the alcohol continues to circulate in the bloodstream, affecting all of the body’s organs, including the brain. Nothing can speed this up. Not exercise, drinking coffee, etc. Nothing.
In the media it is suggested that most individuals can have one drink per hour and maintain sobriety. Unfortunately, this is a dangerous rule. For individuals weighing over 200 pounds this might be true, but for most females and males, even ½ drink per hour could lead to intoxication and the bad things that go along with it (fights; accidents).
As alcohol reaches the brain, a person begins to feel drunk . The exact nature of this feeling can vary considerably from individual to individual and even within the same individual from situation to situation. What is common to all individuals and all situations is that alcohol depresses the brain and slows down major functions such as breathing, heart rate, and thinking. This is one reason why alcohol is so dangerous. If an individual drinks too much alcohol, his or her breathing or heart rate can reach dangerously low levels or even stop.
Physical and Psychological Effects
Alcohol is measured in terms of blood alcohol content. In popular press, you may see reference to terms such as BAC or BAL. A BAC of 0.1 percent means that 1/1000 of the fluid in the blood is alcohol. This may seem very small, but it does not take much to achieve this level. For example, a 150-pound female who consumes 5 drinks in 2 hours will have a BAC near 0.1. A 115-pound female who consumes 4 drinks in 2 hours will have a BAC near 0.1. At a BAC of 0.1, most students will be very drunk. Their thinking, vision, hearing, reaction time, movement, and judgments of speed and distance will be seriously impaired. It is likely that the brain will not form new memories even though the person is completely conscious and speaking. This is what is known commonly as a “black-out”. The person is awake, but the brain is focusing on other more important tasks such as breathing and keeping the heart and blood going.
Most students do not know how drinks influence the blood alcohol level.
In fact, they have many misconceptions about how drinking affects BAC. Students tend to think that the impact on BAC of additional drinks is smaller after more drinks have been consumed. This is wrong. Each additional drink adds the same amount of alcohol to the blood whether or not that drink is the first or fifth drink.
People are notoriously bad at estimating how drunk they are. In cases where they are very drunk, it is indeed obvious. But more often than not, people get to the point where they are impaired but do not realize it. Study after study has demonstrated that people are extremely poor at guessing how sober they are.
Many accidental deaths occur from mixing alcohol with other drugs. Even drugs that you can buy without a prescription, such as aspirin or cold remedies, can change the way alcohol acts on the body.
|Alcohol (beer, wine, liquor) mixed with:||Effects:|
|Antibiotics||Extreme drowsiness, decreases effectiveness|
|Antihistamines||Extreme drowsiness, causes temporary depression|
|Aspirin||Stomach and intestinal bleeding|
|High Blood Pressure Medicines||Dangerously lowered blood pressure|
|Narcotics||Extreme slowing of brain activities, breathing slowed down or stopped|
|Non-Narcotic Pain Killers||Stomach and intestinal irritation or bleeding|
|Sedatives & Tranquilizers||Extreme slowing of brain activities, breathing slowed down or stopped, heart slowed or stopped|
Some parents allow their sons or daughters to drink a controlled amount on certain occasions, such as holidays and family functions. Still other parents believe it is all right for students to drink small amounts of alcohol, as long as he or she does so in a responsible fashion. Your own orientation as a parent is a matter of your own values. However, if you are going to permit your son or daughter to drink alcohol in certain contexts, then you must be clear about exactly what these contexts are and what constitutes responsible behavior. Studies consistently show that when parents permit their sons or daughters to drink they tend to drink more often and heavier outside the home.
Beliefs Many Students Hold That Are Not True
- Black coffee will help you become sober
- Exercise will help you become sober
- Eating food will help you become sober
- Taking a cold shower will help you become sober
- Fresh air will help you become sober
- A quick walk will help you become sober
- Going from dark lighting to bright lighting will help you become sober
- Drinking milk before drinking will allow you to drink as much as you want
- Putting a penny in your mouth will lower your BAC
These myths are important to dispel because students may decide to drive drunk after engaging in such activities, thinking that the activity has “sobered them up.” In fact, the activity only creates a temporary illusion of sobering up and in some instances increases drunkenness.
A Parent Handbook for Talking with College Students About Alcohol
By Rob Turrisi, Ph.D.
Prevention Research Center, The Pennsylvania State University
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Note: No part of this text can be used or reproduced without written permission from the author.