BY JASMINE ANTHONY
This St. Patrick’s Day, it’s important to remember that the “luck of the Irish” is not enough to get you home safely.
With many pubs and bars promoting their venues using cheap beer and green beverages, it is easy to forget your one-drink-a-day rule and let loose for the night.
And that’s okay – to a point.
“The low-risk drinking guidelines, for special occasions like St Paddy’s Day, recommend girls should never take more than three drinks and boys should never take more than four drinks,” said Dr. Catherine Paradis, Senior Researcher and Policy Analyst with the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.
This means one more drink than the recommended daily intake.
While the short-term health effects of occasional binge drinking are minimal (depending on the extent), there are other risks that should be considered.
“The short-term risks associated with binge drinking are in fact injuries and accidents, not really long-term chronic health disease,” said Paradis, noting that several recent studies are starting to show potential long-term health effects of binge-drinking.
A report released by an alcohol task force at the University of Guelph, which surveyed more than 6,000 of its students in late 2012. The report, Alcohol Related Harms at the University of Guelph, outlines the risks related to binge drinking, including injuries from falls, vehicle crashes and unplanned sexual activity.
The report also found that binge drinking can hurt academic performance. It is “associated with missing classes, falling behind in assignments, lower grades and sleep disturbances.”
One of the most common misconceptions about binge drinking, according to Paradis, is “that nothing wrong is going to happen.”
“Maybe you didn’t end up in the hospital, or maybe you didn’t end up pregnant, have unsafe sex or unprotected sex, but what about missing on opportunities at university? If you’re hung-over three days a week, or if you’re more focused on drinking than your studies, you may be missing out on great opportunities,” said Paradis.
The study found that students drink mostly for social reasons.
Paradis states that “alcohol is a social lubricant.”
“Of course when you take one or two drinks, it is un-inhibiting,” she explains. “You think peoples jokes are funnier, you’re louder, so there’s definitely an element of truth to that.”
“However, after two to three drinks, you’re not social anymore, you’re sloppy.”
Sheridan student Marco D’Auria, co-founder of the Substance Awareness Support group at Sheridan, says that after a week of working and studying, some people might let their guard down on the weekend.
“They get into the social environment, and a lot of what people do when they’re being social is they drink,” he said. “It’s a normal thing for a lot of people, to drink and to party, and with certain people I think it can get out of hand.”
In a recent study by the American College Health Association, which surveyed 34 Canadian post-secondary institutions, just over 36 per cent of respondents reported drinking five or more drinks at least once in the previous two weeks.
A recovered alcoholic himself, D’Auria said it was “easy to have a few beers, and I was more relaxed and more social with people. That’s the way I felt at the time.”
“I think some people use it to get over that social anxiety, but then it might go too far.”
Making sure you stay within your limit can be difficult for some people, but there are ways to help.
D’Auria says that being aware of yourself, of how you feel and of the people around you is an important part of having a safe outing.
“Have safety nets, have friends who are actually real friends,” D’Auria suggests.
“If you know that you can’t stop after having a couple of drinks, then there’s probably a problem. There is some kind issue that you need to deal with and you need to get help.”
Some people, like former university student Adrianna Simard (name changed because she did not want her real name used), 22, have adapted to their drinking habits.
Simard says that she no longer gets hangovers because she knows how to pace herself, even though she drinks more than seven alcoholic beverages on an average night out.
“Sometimes if you grow a tolerance, you don’t even feel sick the next morning, and it gives you more of an incentive to do it again,” she said.
While she does not always feel the effects on her body, she admits that there have been times when she has woken up unable to remember parts of the night before.
“I blacked out at a club once. We all had to work together to get (my friend) out of the club,” she said. “I was talking and helping them carry her, and I don’t remember any of it.” She heard about it the next day from her friends.
“We went out with the initial plot of having a good time,” she added. “I regret drinking so much because if I paced myself, I would have had more fun. Sometimes it ruins your night.”
Blacking out is a scary, but not unusual side effect of excessive drinking. Waking up the morning with blank spots in your memory can be an unnerving and often embarrassing ordeal.
“You wonder how your relationship with is with everyone, if you hurt or offended someone,” Simard explained.
Still, she doesn’t want to give up drinking. For her, it is a way to open up.
“I like the thrill and the fun, and how it makes me a different person in a way. It helps me do things out of my comfort zone that I wouldn’t do if I was sober, like approach people and sing on stage.”
While drinking itself is not something she is ready to give up, Adrianna said that the lifestyle and other substances that can accompany heavy drinking are ones she would like to avoid in the future.
“The only times I’ve been really bad lately it hasn’t been just alcohol. It’s a gateway and you’re more inclined to smoke and do other drugs and that’s what makes you sick,” she said.
While these consequences may not deter someone from overdrinking, there is one thing that likely will.
“The most severe (consequence of heavy drinking) is alcohol poisoning, and death. Sadly there have been two deaths at college campuses in Canada in the last three months,” said Paradis.