Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Drinking to destruction

With a difficult exam behind or a weekend ahead, a college student goes drinking. After the youth ties one—or make that several—on, he or she is noticeably drunk, but friends simply put the inebriated to bed to "sleep it off." Instead of passing out, the student passes away—and becomes another troubling statistic of alcohol poisoning. Drinking games play a deadly role, which explains the flat reception for a video game called "Beer Pong."

Rising toll
An Associated Press analysis of federal records found that 157 college-age people, 18 to 23, drank themselves to death from 1999 through 2005, the most recent year for which figures are available. The number of alcohol-poisoning deaths per year nearly doubled over that span, from 18 in 1999 to a peak of 35 in 2005, though the total went up and down from year to year and dipped as low as 14 in 2001.

Point of oblivion
A separate AP analysis of hundreds of news articles about alcohol-poisoning deaths in the past decade found that victims drank themselves well past the point of oblivion — with an average blood-alcohol level of 0.40 percent, or five times the legal limit for driving.

Fighting bingeing
Schools and communities have responded in a variety of ways, including programs to teach incoming freshmen the dangers of extreme drinking; designating professors to help students avoid overdoing it; and passing laws to discourage binge drinking.

This week, a Las Vegas-based company changed the name of an upcoming video game to "Pong Toss," instead of "Beer Pong" — the name of a popular college drinking game. Connecticut's Atty. Gen. Richard Blumenthal had said Monday that a video-game-rating board's decision to approve "Beer Pong" for children as young as 13 showed the organization needed to take the issue of teen drinking more seriously.

Spike on weekends
The federal data showed deaths spiking on weekends — when young people are more likely to go out with the goal of getting drunk — and in December, when college students wrap up finals. Most of the dead were young men.

College students on average drink only a little more than adults in a typical week or month, said Scott Walters, an assistant professor of behavioral sciences at the University of Texas School of Public Health. College students "tend to save the drinks up and drink them all at once."

Fears for Freshmen
Freshmen were found to be at greatest risk, with 11 of 18 freshmen deaths occurring during the first semester.

Walters said one reason is that freshmen are on their own for the first time and trying new things. Also, there is a mentality that "if you're under 21 and someone's got alcohol, you've got to drink it, because you never know when somebody's going to have it again."

One practice—drinking 21 shots on a 21st birthday—has proven especially lethal. Of the college-age deaths reviewed, 11 people, including eight college students, died celebrating their 21st birthdays.
source: Chicago Tribune

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