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Beyond Your Hangover: Alcohol Risks You Might Not Know About

“I’m NEVER drinking again!”
 
You’ve all heard it before, and most of you have probably said it yourselves after a night of too much Jose Cuervo. The next morning, while holding your pounding head in your hands and attempting to keep down a ginger ale and bagel, you wonder why you ever thought that shot number six was a good idea. You will “never drink again.”
 
And yet, despite your adamant pledge to sobriety, you know that next weekend you’ll be at it again, bar hopping down Main Street or playing another round of flip cup at your favorite fraternity. Your hangover will be a thing of the past and you’ll be “ready to rage!!” But what about the alcohol-induced illnesses that don’tgo away after a day spent in front of the TV? What about the future ramifications of binge drinking? If your hangovers aren’t bad enough to make you put down your second Long Island Iced Tea just yet, here are a few good reasons to seriously consider drinking in moderation.

Alcohol Poisoning
College culture seems to be almost synonymous with binge drinking (which, in case you were wondering, is defined as“consuming 5 or more drinks on one occasion”), and there is a certain invincibility that seems to accompany that binge drinking mindset.
 
According to Dr. Don Stechschulte, the head medical care professional at Bucknell University’s health center, this perceived invincibilityis a common trait found in all college students. “After working at Bucknell for twenty years and seeing the same problems over and over, I found myself wondering why such smart kids would do such stupid things,” he says. “At the root of what we’re dealing with is the adolescent brain. College students think they areindestructible, immortal, infertile and infallible.

And although it’s hard to remember that things can go wrong, a night of fun and games can turn serious all too quickly when a friend or someone you’re with gets sick from the alcohol they’ve ingested. Alcohol poisoning occurs when an individual drinks a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time, and can affect breathing, heart rate and gag reflex. It can potentially lead to coma or death.
 
Signs of alcohol poisoning include vomiting, slow or irregular breathing, hypothermia, loss of consciousness or seizures.
 
Quick Tips: Alternate water with your alcoholic drinks and keep track of how much alcohol you are consuming, making sure you don’t have more than one or two alcoholic drinks in an hour.
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Drinking While Using Medications

Antibiotics or other medicinescan also cause the effects of alcohol to be amplified. Casey*, a collegiette™ from Florida State University, made the mistake of drinking while taking cold medicine. After spending a week on Sudafed, she figured she would be able to attend a party and drink with no problem. However, after having three drinks, she says she remembers very little from the night.
 
“The next morning, my friends and I couldn’t figure out why I’d gotten sick – I’d had so little to drink,” she says. “We thought I’d been drugged for a while, but we eventually realized it was the Sudafed. It was a pretty big wake-up call for me. I had maybe four shots of alcohol total, and the Sudafed amplified it to the point where I was blacked out and throwing up.”
 
While you may feel that you know your alcohol limit, taking medication (even something as seemingly harmless as Sudafed) while drinking can be absolutely detrimental to your health– it can lead to serious medical conditions and even death.
 
Quick Tip: Don’t drink while taking other medications… it just plain isn’t worth it.

Getting Roofied
Drinking while under the influence of cold medicine, antibiotics or any other type of medication can be dangerous, but drinking while under the influence of an unknown drugcan have even harsher implications. Getting roofied can be common in college, whether it’s at a fraternity party, an upscale bar or in a crowded club.
 
Becca*, a Harvard collegiette™, has been roofied twice. “It happened my freshman year at a Harvard’s Final Club and again at an up-scale bar,” she recalls. “Nothing happened, but it was one of those times when you would think ‘Oh, that could never happen to me.’ Believe me — it can happen, even when you don’t leave your drink alone.”
 
Quick Tip: Watch your drink — don’t set it down, or even let that cute guy hang on to it, no matter how much you think you can trust him.  And don’t get so drunk that you’ll have a hard time keeping track of where you put your drink.
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Drunk Driving

As we outgrow frat row, the desire to party off campus becomes even greater, and especially when it comes to faraway locations, we prefer to drive than to take an expensive cab ride. Despite the number of times we’ve been told not to drive drunk, college students everywhere still get the notion that a few drinks won’t affect their ability to get behind the wheel. But driving home after a night of drinking can be one of the most dangerous life decisions you can ever make.
 
In statistics published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, officials found that nearly 11,000 people died from alcohol-impaired driving crashes in 2009. This means that, on average, a person is killed in an alcohol-oriented car crash about every 50 minutes in the United States.
 
Callie*, a Her Campus reader and contributor, remembers thinking that drunk driving could never negatively affect someone she knew. However, this August, one of her close friends passed away in an accident after leaving a party with a drunk driver. The driver slammed into a tree and the car blew up.
 
This recent death has made a huge impact on those around Callie, and she hopes other collegiettes™ will learn from the tragedy. “My friend was notorious for alcohol, drugs, sex and partying — however, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say no one in the Virginia Beach area is more talked about or followed than her. Her death is a symbol andwakeup call— drinking and driving is not worth the risk.”
 
Quick Tip: If you don’t have a sober driver in your group, taking a cab is always worth the extra time and money after a night of drinking.  Put cab numbers in your phone ahead of time so that it will be an easy decision to make.
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Sexual Assault 
As discussed in a previous Her Campus article about sexual assault, almost 50 percent of sexual assault cases occur while either the victim or the perpetrator (or both) are under the influence of alcohol. This means that drinking is a serious risk factor for sexual assault, and you are much more likely to find yourself in a compromising situation when drinking excessively.

When someone mentions “sexual assault,” the images of a violent attacker, weapons and a dark alley come to mind. However, sexual assault is actually defined as “an assault of a sexual nature on another person, or any sexual act committed without consent.” Any unwanted sexual experience is sexual assault, and 80 percent of victims are assaulted by someone they know. Especially when under the influence of alcohol, you may be at risk.
 
Quick Tip: Always let somebody know of your whereabouts, including who you are with.  If a guy seems like he has had too much to drink, don’t be alone with him.  Don’t drink so much yourself that you might find yourself in a compromising position without realizing it because your judgment is impaired.

Alcoholism
While many of alcohol’s consequences are immediate (such as hangovers, alcohol poisoning and poor decisions), some can extend twenty or thirty years into your future.
 
Alcoholism is a serious disease, but it is often unrecognizable in its developing stages. The drinker will usually develop a steady alcohol habit, but not one that seems to interfere with everyday life. Soon, social drinking turns into dependency and the body loses its physical ability to process the alcohol. In the later stages of alcoholism, physical health deteriorates significantly and the individual is often in complete denial of the disorder.

Who can be affected by alcoholism? According to Dr. Stechschulte, a person who starts to drink at or before the age of 14 has a one-in-four chance of becoming an alcoholic. Those who start drinking between the ages of 15-20 — or before and during college — have a one-in-ten chance of becoming an alcoholic or a problem drinker.
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How is this applicable to you? If you, or those around you, seem to be drinking in order to avoid emotional problems, to relax or to escape something traumatic, there could be a problem. Alcohol disorders usually stem from other life issues, so stay tuned into your emotions before heading out for a night on the town. And remember – you may not be a college alcoholic, but excessive drinking in college can lead to alcoholism later in life.
 
Kaitlin*, a collegiette™ whose mother is a recovering alcoholic, understands the consequences of excessive alcohol use first hand. After watching her mother struggle to remain sober for the past year and a half, Kaitlin has resolved to drink in moderation.
 
“It’s become a common misconception that you choose to be an alcoholic because you must choose to drink that much,” she explains. “But, really, alcohol can become an extreme addiction that a lot of people fall into by habit after college or as a ‘cure’ for depression. Many college kids don’t realize that killing a bottle of wine every night before you go out in college is unacceptablein the world outside of college.”
 

Quick Tip: Feel stressed? Depressed? Skip the party, skip the alcohol and spend time with a good friend who’s also a good listener.  And don’t be afraid to seek out mental health resources on your campus if you start to feel like your drinking is tied to larger issues.
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Alcoholic Liver Disease
Sure, college students joke that their livers are “sore”after a weekend of heavy drinking, but did you ever think about the fact that this could eventually be true?Chronic, heavy drinking causes swelling of the liver, which is also called hepatitis. Over time, this inflammation can lead to scarring on the liver and eventually to cirrhosisof the liver, or chronic — and non-curable — liver disease.

Collegiettes™ are not likely to experience the symptoms of alcoholic liver disease during their time in college because it is a disease that develops late in life. However, if binge drinking continues after college and becomes a life habit, disorders such as liver disease and pancreatic disease are the natural results of such behavior.
 
Though Indiana University Bloomington student Alison* has not experienced liver disease as a result of drinking, her pancreatitis prohibits her from drinking without harming herself and her body. After a few years of struggling with her desire to drink and fit in despite the harm alcohol could cause her body, Alison has some advice for collegiettes™ about dealing with alcohol and physical health.
 
“After much reflection, I’ve realized that just because college students are chugging vodka, wine or beer and it seems ‘normal’ doesn’t mean it’s actually okay. The hardest part about drinking isn’t the fact that I can’t do it — I don’t like the taste all that much and it makes me sweaty — it’s the fact that everything seems to revolve around it. But what I’ve realized is that a short-lived buzz and fitting in isn’t worth the long-term consequences; I hope that people realize that their health is way more important,” she urges.
 
Quick Tip: Binge drinking – or drinking simply to get drunk – is the type of behavior that can lead to liver disease. Learn to enjoy drinking in moderation rather than chugging jungle juice.  You don’t want to regret your behavior now later on in life.
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The Moral of the Story
“One of the most edifying experiences of living is being in control of your life,” says Stechschulte, “and when you drink – not a couple of beers but drinking to oblivion – you are giving up the thing that is most important to you: control.”

When preparing for your night out on the town, keep these quick tricks in mind, because it’s all about moderation:

  • Eat food before drinking.
  • Set a personal limit of how many drinks you will consume.
  • Never drink to cover emotional problems.
  • Be conscious of the medication you’ve taken before a night of drinking.
  • Go out with a group of friends who can (and will) stop you if you’re past your limit.
  • Give someone else your keys if you drive to the party and plan to drink.
  • Always keep track of your own drink.
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with water or other non-alcoholic beverages.

Although it may be clichéd, it really is important to drink responsibly. A few drinks can be good for your health, but that third glass of spiked fruit punch is probably going to make you feel worse rather than better. Developing good drinking habits at a younger age can save you from immediate and future health problems, so put away the power hour song mix and pour yourself a glass of red wine with dinner!

Sources:
http://www.nhtsa.gov/
http://www.uncg.edu/shs/wellness/aod/topics/tips.php
http://www.streetdirectory.com/travel_guide/109146/addictions/how_alcohol_ addiction_develops.html
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000281.htm
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/alcohol-poisoning/DS00861
http://healthcenter.ucdavis.edu/topics/alcoholpoisoning.html
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/160459.php
http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/healthissues/1107279468.html
Dr. Don Stechschulte, Bucknell University Health Services
Collegiettes™ from across the country (*names changed for privacy purposes)
 

Jenni is a senior at Bucknell University where she will soon graduate with a degree in Psychology and minors in Creative Writing and Italian. Although Bucknell is in Lewisburg, PA (hello, corn fields!), her home is actually all the way in Seattle, WA. While at school, she enjoys hanging out with her sorority sisters, tutoring in the Writing Center, running and cooking/ eating delicious food. After spending a semester abroad in Florence, Italy during her junior year, she is itching to continue traveling and loves anything associated with food, cooking, health and writing. She is currently finishing up her time as an Editorial Intern for Her Campus and will be headed to Boston University in the fall to begin working on a Masters degree in Journalism.
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