Bar Bulletin

August, 2004

LAWYER ASSISTANCE PROGRAM
(410) 685-3993 | (410) 685-7878 | (800) 492-1964

Richard Vincent
Director, ext 3040
Carol P. Waldhauser
Assistant Director, ext 3041

THE LAP ZONE:
"On the Dangers of Binge Drinking"
By Carol P. Waldhauser

In stark contrast to the medical professionals with their fast, purposeful actions in the ER room of shock-trauma, a group of bewildered law students glanced silently at each other. It was 2:00 a.m. as they waited to find out whether Chuck was dead or alive. Anxious and remorseful, the law students replayed the previous hours in their minds over and over again.

“It was not as if we were drinking kamikazes,” Jim said. “We were just drinking draft beers.”

Brian elaborated. “The party was meant to be a celebration and stress-reliever,” he said. “After all, doesn’t every lawyer and law student work hard and play hard?”

Unfortunately, when Chuck passed out he never woke up. Later, the doctor at shock trauma explained that Chuck died from acute alcohol poisoning. Generally, the doctor said that this is caused by drinking a huge quantity of alcohol in a very short time.

Binge drinking is drinking a large quantity of alcohol in a short period of time, usually for the purpose of getting drunk. It is further defined as consuming five or more drinks during a drinking session for men, four or more for women. While a person of any age can binge drink, it’s mostly a problem for young adults, including minors. Recent studies have shown that in colleges across the United States, up to 70 percent of the students are binge drinkers. The average amount of binge drinkers on a college campus is 50 percent of men, and 39 percent of women. In national surveys, 42 percent of college students reported at least one occasion of binge drinking within the previous two weeks. A frequent binge drinker is defined as a person who has engaged in binge drinking three or more times within a two-week period.

The top reasons given for binge drinking are drinking to have a good time, drinking to get drunk and drinking to celebrate. Other reasons people binge drink include peer pressure, boredom, stress and depression.

There are several risks associated with binge drinking, including but not limited to the risk for injuries, the risk of unplanned sexual activity and the risk of property damage.

Furthermore, there is the risk of alcohol poisoning. In large quantities, alcohol can kill.

Alcohol poisoning is one of the most serious consequences of binge drinking. It can lead to brain damage, lung infections, pneumonia, a coma or even death. Despite the risks, however, many in our culture do not seem to get the message about the harmfulness of binge drinking.

When a person consumes alcohol, it enters the bloodstream very quickly. Within minutes, it reaches the brain. Alcohol poisoning occurs when the level of alcohol in the body is so high that it causes the collapse of the autonomic nervous system. In other words, alcohol numbs brain cells, specifically respiratory brain cells. The brain stops signaling the body to breathe, and the individual ultimately suffocates and dies.

To avoid these horrible and sometimes tragic situations, people can help themselves before they drink.

First, it helps to know the stages of intoxication:
  Emotional changes, including loss of control, impaired thinking and erratic behavior
  Confusion resulting from such potential symptoms as double vision, disorientation, staggering and anger (Note: If you experience any symptoms of this stage, stop drinking.)
  Inability to walk or stand, vomiting, loss of bladder control and/or passing out
  The final and most serious stage; unconsciousness and at risk of death.
Second, if someone is heavily intoxicated:
  Call for assistance.
  If sleepy and listless, roll person onto his/her side in order to prevent choking from possible vomiting.
  If passed out, shake the person gently or give a pinch to wake him/her up.
  If the person gives no response but his/her breathing is otherwise normal, make sure to constantly monitor breathing for any change in rhythm.
  If breathing is irregular, the person appears unconscious or his/her skin has a bluish hue, call an ambulance or 911 immediately.
  Never leave the person alone, even for a minute. Medical problems may not show up for over an hour. If you are in doubt, call for help.

Binge drinking is a public health issue that affects each of us. Therefore, each of us can do something to prevent it. Adults can set a good example by using alcohol in moderation, preferably with meals and never in risky situations, such as before operating a car or boat.

Similarly, students are a first line of defense in preventing binge drinking. Just as they can influence other students to use alcohol to excess, they can influence friends not to use. Students of legal drinking age should follow the federal government’s guidelines for low-risk alcohol use.

For men, the guidelines are no more than two standard drinks per day (a standard drink is either 12 ounces of 3 percent alcohol-content beer, five ounces of 12 percent alcohol-content or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits) and for women no more than one standard drink per day. No one should drink if they are pregnant, nursing or trying to conceive; driving or engaging in activities that require attention, judgment or skill; taking medication that interacts with alcohol; or recovering from alcohol or other drug dependence.

Also, schools and college campuses can foster a climate that encourages personal responsibility, positive peer influence and no use for underage people or responsible drinking for those of age. They can do so by first acknowledging the right of all students to learn in a safe environment and by allocating resources for the prevention of excessive and underage alcohol use. All staff should be trained to identify students who are drinking problematically and to refer those students to appropriate resources for help.

To learn more about the consequences of binge drinking and how to prevent its consequences in your personal life, profession and/or family and community, contact Carol P. Waldhauser at the MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program at (410) 685-7878, ext. 3041, or e-mail cwaldhauser@msba.org.

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