Preventing Student Dying

It is not supposed to be like this.

The focus, and often pride, of so many families is seeing their daughter or son off to college—a place of hopes, bright futures, and new beginnings.  Yet, estimates from the National Institute on Alcohol, Abusive, and Alcoholism (part of the governmental NIH) places the number of college students who die from alcohol-related causes at 1,825 annually. A practice growing more popular on college campuses called synergy—the mixing of drug and alcohol to produce new experiences—can cause catastrophic physiological effects as well.  According to a university website on health and wellness, when cocaine is combined with alcohol, “cocaine increases heart rate three to five times as much as when either drug is given alone. This can lead to heart attacks and heart failure.” People at the beginning of their adult lives should not be facing the end of their lives… (read more)

This week in Student Caring, we bring you a podcast interviewing one of our friends, and a friend to college students at risk, Dr. Don Lubach.  We spent a day on his campus, the University of California at Santa Barbara, attending an annual summit and speaking to Don and his colleagues about what caring campuses can do to help students who place themselves at risk.

First, a little background is helpful.  In case your notions of drugs and alcohol on campus revolve around either memories tempered by time movies such as Animal House, the CDC weighs in on the problem.  It states that the intermediate effects of something like binge drinking (consuming four or more drinks) have serious immediate and long-term side effects—and we’re not even bringing mixing drugs and alcohol into the picture.  According to CDC studies, immediate effects of binge drinking include unintended trauma (including traffic accidents), falls, drownings, burns, and unintentional firearm injuries.  Effects can also include abuse (including “intimate partner violence”), risky sexual behavior that can end in sexual assault, and alcohol poisoning—a medical emergency.  Alcohol abuse over the long term can work with other physiological and psychological problems to result in addiction, severe depression and anxiety, cardiovascular and neurological issues, and liver disease.

Even limiting the discussion to student success, the effects of even short term use of alcohol or drugs on education can be devastating as well.  Have you ever wondered about a student’s academic performance or changes to his or her behavior?  How can professors identify students in their classes who are at risk, and what should we as professors do?  What level of risks are our students experiencing?

Join us for an important podcast, “Preventing Student Dying.”

– Dr. Daniel de Roulet

LINK  UCSB: Responding to Distressed Students Guide


I have seen a version of the alcohol problem which is very alarming. Undergrads at Harvard until 1995 when I left the College, were having more and more frequent golf-course parties. Somewhere between 18 and twenty-four rooms would offer to serve an alcoholic beverage of their choice (always hard liquor, sometimes more than one, and usually with a mixer). Students would distribute secret lists. You had one hour to go round as many rooms as possible so that you would be drunk before you went to a necessarily alcohol free party. The golf-course is a recipe for alcohol poisoning. Often there would be no roommates home, and the students ran a very high risk mixing all these different alcohols, of aspirating and dying. I have been quoted in The Harvard Magazine, and the Harvard Crimson, about the raising of the drinking age to twenty-one, even if it is parents who would be serving alcohol to their children. I understand MADD’s position, but I am afraid that the out of control drinking may produce more deaths than college age DWIs. I believe strongly that students need alcohol socialization. If parents serve wine with dinner, children get to know the kind of effect alcohol has on their brains and their behavior. Furthermore, allowing upper-classmen to drink beer at big, college monitored parties presents two benefits in the fight against alcohol related horrors. First, the amount of alcohol in a cup of beer is far less than in a gulped mixed drink. Beer necessitates bathroom visits–this is time away from the source of the alcohol. Generally it is necessary to stand in a long line to get your next beer–more time away from alcohol. Third, friends will see you making a fool of yourself if you get drunk , and hopefully will cut you off from the beer, or at least alert you to your unimpressive behavior. Fourth, those monitoring the party can see how students are reacting to the alcohol. Different people can take in different amounts of alcohol without being equally impaired. Those in charge are well aware of this.I sat for two weeks on the jury for a wrongful death case. A very young man died from hypothermia after he and his friends had gone out in the woods one night, and with the help of older friends, and non-carding liquor stores, gotten very drunk. He was unable to walk, but one by one his friends left him there. He dies within a few hours thanks to alcohol and neglect. Teens and under who want to drink illegally always seem to manage to do it. The same things happen as they did when the drinking age was eighteen in NY, and I was fourteen. My friends got into bars with no trouble. Getting cases of beer–no problem. Some older helpful brother, sister, parent, or friend will always oblige–usually with perfectly good, but stupid, motives.
By Alexandra Barcus, Ph.D.


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