Ryan Heck won eight straight games of beer pong on his 21st birthday on a recent Friday night.
“I’m unstoppable,” he said, proudly admiring his prowess at the popular drinking game.
Heck, a junior political science major, said he usually drinks one night a week, and he’ll have about 10 drinks in six or seven hours.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Heck’s behavior is considered binge drinking. Men who consume five or more drinks and women who consume four or more drinks intending to get drunk are classified as such.
Two in five college students are binge drinkers, said CSU Police Department Sgt. Chris Wolf, who recently attended a NIAAA conference.
Binge drinking can cause alcohol poisoning, which is potentially deadly. It was in the case of Samantha Spady, the CSU sophomore who died in 2004 after downing a large amount of liquor.
The girl who was rushed to the hospital after reportedly guzzling 12 shots of hard liquor in about a half hour at an alleged Sigma Alpha Epsilon party spent seven hours in the emergency room, according to a report obtained by the Collegian.
According to the report, emergency personnel said the girl would probably have died were it not for medical attention.
Alcohol poisoning is an overdose of alcohol, causing involuntary functions of the brain to stop. Breathing and heart rate slow, and this can result in death, according to the BACCHUS Network, a group that promotes healthy living.
Playing beer pong or taking 21 shots on one’s birthday can be problematic because the body only metabolizes one alcoholic beverage per hour, said Carrie Haynes, assistant director of the Department of Alcohol and Drug Education and Prevention Services at Hartshorn Health Service.
One alcoholic beverage is about half an ounce of pure alcohol.
That’s about a 12-ounce can of beer with 4 percent alcohol, a 5-ounce glass of wine with 11 percent alcohol or a 1.5-ounce shot of hard liquor with 40 percent alcohol.
Each year 1,700 college students die from alcohol poisoning and nearly half are freshmen, Wolf said.
BLOOD ALCHOL CONTENT
Blood alcohol content, or the amount of alcohol in one’s blood, is calculated by determining how many milligrams of alcohol are present in 100 milliliters of blood.
Mood, experience, use of medications, drink type, rate of consumption and what a person has eaten affect his or her risk of alcohol poisoning. Because these factors vary from person to person, it’s impossible to predict the amount of alcohol that causes alcohol poisoning, according to the BACCHUS Web site.
A person’s weight greatly influences alcohol distribution throughout the body. Thus, a smaller person has less body mass to distribute alcohol, causing the alcohol to be less diluted when it reaches the brain.
Men can generally handle more alcohol than women because they are larger, have less body fat and higher body water content than women.
Because alcohol is not fat soluble, the alcohol concentration in a woman’s blood is higher than a man’s. Estrogen levels also affect a woman’s ability to metabolize alcohol, contributing to higher alcohol concentrations in her system even if she drinks the same amount as a man.
Food and drugs also affect alcohol absorption in the body. Any drug – be it prescription, over the counter or illegal – will likely react with alcohol, increasing intoxication. Adversely, food slows alcohol absorption into the blood stream. Mixing water or juice with alcohol is a way to decrease the volume of alcohol in the blood stream, but alcohol mixed with carbonated beverages speeds up absorption.
“Set a limit before going out,” Haynes said. “Stay with the same type of alcohol and the same group of friends at the same location.”
Eat while drinking, alternate non-alcoholic beverages with alcoholic beverages, avoid drinking games or choose not to drink at all, she added.
“Most students are doing some things to protect themselves,” she said.
Although he doesn’t perform all the practices, Heck is part of that majority. He said he paces his drinks, eats and stays with a core group of friends.
“If you’re going to drink, drink responsibly,” Heck said.
A SAFE HAVEN
After a series of alcohol-related deaths in 2004, including Spady’s, Colorado passed a law providing immunity from prosecution for people who seek medical help when they suspect alcohol poisoning.
The “safe haven” law encourages students and others to seek help for people who’ve passed out without the fear of police punishment.
The friends of the girl who attended the alleged SAE party initially debated whether to alert authorities because they were afraid they or the fraternity would get in trouble, according to the report. The report continues: When it became apparent that the girl wasn’t going to breathe on her own, they sought help.
An underage person can avoid punishment if he or she is the first to call 911 to report another’s need for medical assistance, provides his or her name to the 911 operator, stays with the person in need of assistance and cooperates with law enforcement personnel.
“We just want to make sure students aren’t afraid to call,” Haynes said.
Staff writer Heather Hawkins can be reached at email@example.com.
Signs of Alcohol Poisoning:
-Person is unconscious and cannot be awakened
-Person has cold, clammy, unusually pale or bluish skin
-Person is breathing slowly or irregularly, less than 8 times a minute or 10 seconds or more between breaths
-Person vomits while passed out and does not wake up during or after
Source: BACCHUS Network