Students encouraged to be wary of drinking habits

By Olivia Garber

The sign flashing at Atwood and Forbes on a Saturday night signaled “Don’t Walk.”

But the… The sign flashing at Atwood and Forbes on a Saturday night signaled “Don’t Walk.”

But the couple went anyway, roaring with laughter as they clumsily avoided getting struck by cars. The girl, one arm entwined with her partner’s and the other pressed up against her body, flounced quickly. Her heels clicked and clacked against the pavement, her skirt bouncing just above her knee. Her partner’s tie was loosened, flapping as he tried to keep pace with her.

It was a week before finals, but they didn’t care. It’s only college, right?

But when a student is passed out in the middle of a party or getting sick on a Port Authority bus, it’s rarely just another college experience. It could be a sign of alcoholism.

Anna Vitriol, a health educator at Pitt’s Student Health Service, said in an e-mail that about one in three college students meets the criteria for alcohol abuse.

She defines the disease using four criteria: craving, loss of control, physical dependence and growing tolerance.

Drinking to the point at which one has a strong need to drink, loses control after drinking, experiences withdrawal symptoms like nausea and shaking when not drinking and eventually needs more alcohol to feel its effects could point to alcoholism. And although only the alcoholics experience the symptoms, Vitriol says the disease affects all on campus, even those who don’t drink.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, excessive drinking can have long-term effects, including interference with regular growth, memory problems and changes in brain development.

Vitriol said that research indicates that brains continue to develop into young adulthood, the common age of college students. Drinking during this critical developmental period can lead to impairment in brain function.

And though some are quick to shrug off the implications, simply attributing excessive drinking to the college lifestyle, Vitriol said this kind of attitude can “lead to drinking more than intended, for longer periods of time, with risk of greater negative consequences.”

With the approach of Finals Week — and Pitt’s F*ck Finals party tradition — the line between drinking to celebrate and drinking to get drunk becomes almost too easy to cross.

“The consequence of the ‘it’s only college’ attitude leads many college students to feel that there is nothing wrong with these methods of drinking excessively. This is the type of extreme partying attitude that can lead to drinking more alcohol than intended, for longer periods of time, with an end result of severe intoxication and/or alcohol poisoning that is more dangerous than fun,” she said.

Kent Poole, a 21-year-old senior at Pitt, said he doesn’t drink, but he could see how the attitude of “it’s only college” could affect his peers.

“People [in college] might think it’s not real,” he said, referring to alcohol abuse.

He said he wasn’t surprised that alcohol problems affect 18 to 29-year-olds more than any other age group, a statistic Vitriol mentioned.

For students who have reached that level of dangerous behavior, the Counseling Center offers services to combat alcohol problems. The center, located in the William Pitt Union, has a full-time clinician who is a drug and alcohol specialist.

James Cox, the director of the Counseling Center, said in an e-mail that the specialist will evaluate students referred by campus personnel and recommend counseling or treatment if necessary.

Like Vitriol, Cox said one sign of trouble is lack of control when drinking. He also lists other signs that could indicate a drinking problem.

“Some signs [are] poor [class] attendance, possible poor academic performance, problems at work or problems with relationships with those who care. Blackouts and trips to the ER as a result of injury while drinking or repeated legal problems can also be sign of trouble,” he said.

While alcohol problems clearly affect the person who’s drinking, Vitriol said that everyone is affected by drinking. She calls the phenomenon “second-hand drinking.”

She gave as an example students who suffer because their roommates’ drinking habits affect the students’ studying and sleeping schedules.

But she also listed more serious second-hand consequences of drinking.

“In 2009, nearly 696,000 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 were assaulted by another student who had been drinking, and more than 97,000 college students were victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape,” she said.