Back to School: Alcohol Poisoning on College Campus

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It’s fall and students are back hitting the books – and hitting the parties as well. And every year a new class enters, eager to experience all that college life has to offer and eager to fit in. There’s a pressure to meet academic standards, but there’s a parallel pressure from peers to meet social expectations, including drinking dangerous amounts of alcohol.

New Stuff, Old Story

It sometimes seems like a competition to see just how outrageous the behaviors can be. This time last year, there was a story about vodka soaked tampons. These are inserted either vaginally or anally and the alcohol is absorbed into the blood stream, bypassing the liver. When alcohol is taken orally and absorbed in the stomach, the circulatory system takes it first through the liver. This pass through the liver removes some of the alcohol before it reaches the rest of the body and the brain.

Using a vodka soaked tampon skips past the “first pass” alcohol removal and gets someone drunker, quicker. It’s also difficult to regulate how much alcohol will be absorbed.

This year, there are reports of alcohol enemas. The purpose is the same, but the volume is much greater. Called by the rather disgusting name, “butt chugging,” the idea is to again avoid the liver and let the alcohol absorb through the lower bowel instead.

Predictably, the first report of a college student hospitalized from alcohol toxicity by way of enema has already surfaced. A University of Knoxville student, 20, was admitted to the hospital with a blood alcohol level of .40 – five times the legal limit for DWI.

According to the Examiner, he was brought in on a Sunday night after partying at the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house and experimenting with butt chugging.

Why Binging Is so Dangerous

If getting extremely drunk is part of college life, why is it so dangerous?

There are several reasons. The first is that these odd ways of drinking shortcut the normal dosing pattern and increase the risk of overdose. Someone who is drinking at a slower pace will feel the effects of what they’ve already consumed and they have a better chance of stopping (or passing out) before they exceed a lethal dose.

But when alcohol is consumed very quickly and in large amounts (usually at the urging of peers), the amount taken in exceeds what the body can handle, and the delay between consumption and effects means the overdose level is reached without the drinker realizing it. This is even truer for naive drinkers – those who aren’t experienced with alcohol and who just want to fit in with their peers.

A tragic list of the deaths in college students contains this typical entry: “A fellow student found Kyle unconscious in a fraternity house early on Sunday. An autopsy determined that he lost his life form alcohol intoxication.”

Alcohol intoxication doesn’t always lead to death directly. In most cases of a binge-related fatality, the drinking is followed by a failure in judgment, either driving or some other activity that then kills. For example, “Blake was found by a train conductor doing an inspection of a track early in the morning. He was hit by a train as he was walking through the rail yard where he routinely walked to get to campus from a friend’s apartment. Tests showed that he had a blood alcohol content of .287.”

Even worse is combining alcohol with other drugs, especially opioids. It’s all too common for someone binge drinking to “take a few pills” because they are offered up – either not knowing what the combination will do, or not caring.

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