For many students, Thursday night is the time to go out and party while getting drunk off cheap beer. Friday rolls around and attendance in classes significantly drops since most of those partygoers are at home trying to sleep off their hangovers.
If any of those students had spoken to Dr. Darren Williams before hitting the bottle, they may not have been so quick to flood their bodies with all of the toxic chemicals found in their alcoholic beverages.
Those toxins were just one of the many topics discussed at a presentation Williams gave Tuesday night in conjunction with R.I.D. Week (Reducing Irresponsible Drinking), a week of alcohol awareness activities put on by the Alcohol Abuse Initiative (AAI).
“We want students to understand how alcohol and drugs affect the brain,” AAI Coordinator Roseanne Keathley said. “Some of the addictive factors you can get away from and others you can’t.”
Williams’ knowledge as a chemistry professor allowed him to inform the audience of around 20 about the chemical aspects of alcohol as well as the damaging effects binge drinking can inflict on the human body. The presentation included everything from the chemical make-up of acetaldehyde, a toxin produced when our bodies break down alcohol, to the reasons drinkers feel less pain while drinking but get hangovers soon after.
“If you push your body’s chemistry off balance, something is going to happen,” Williams said.
Using a PowerPoint slide show, Williams presented a host of diagrams and facts to prove to students just how dangerous over-drinking can be.
When an alcoholic beverage is ingested, the ethyl alcohol in the drink follows the water in the body, causing it to be absorbed into the blood stream, said Williams. While 10 percent of the alcohol is released through the sweat, urine and breath of the drinker, the remaining 90 percent must be metabolized by the liver. Contrary to common belief, there is nothing that can speed up the metabolizing process.
“It’s like filling a bathtub,” Williams said. “You’ve only got one drain: your liver. If you put more in than is able to come out, you’re going to flood the system.”
The main point that Williams wanted students to learn was that binge drinking can cause the brain to accept alcohol in the body as normal, a phenomenon called neuroadaptation. If too much alcohol is put into the system too often, then the brain begins to depend on that alcohol and accept it as normal, said Williams. The brain is no longer used to the absence of alcohol and the drinker will experience painful withdrawal symptoms if that alcohol is taken away.
Williams also used the presentation to dispel some common myths about drinking and the effects of alcohol.
“A hangover is the effect of dehydration; nothing except drinking water will help a hangover,” said Williams. “About 10 percent of the population has enzymes too weak to fully breakdown the alcohol, which causes them to get headaches after one or two drinks. For those people, there’s nothing you can do except not drink.”
Other common myths put to rest were that caffeine or a full stomach will quell the effects of alcohol or that darker drinks create bigger hangovers.
While many students believe binge drinking in college or only every once in a while is perfectly healthy, Williams pointed out that too much alcohol even once could be deadly.
“The toxin is in the dose. All alcoholic beverages are poisonous at high concentrations,” Williams said. “For example, the tradition of drinking 21 shots on your 21st birthday is just outrageous. Your body just can’t handle that much alcohol at once.”
Many people, both young and old, call themselves social drinkers and make the excuse that they only drink when spending time with family or friends. Even this is not healthy, said Williams, and should be a red flag that something is not right.
“Lots of people say they are just social drinkers but if you’re always in that social setting, then you’re always going to be drinking,” said Williams. “Nobody does 21 shots on their 21st birthday by themselves. I just hope we can get past hurting our bodies for fun.”
The Alcohol Abuse Initiative held the presentation as a part of their R.I.D. week activities, which began Monday and will continue through Friday. Today’s activities include a drunk driving simulator from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the LSC Atrium (outside the bookstore) and the “Don’t Gamble With Alcohol” Texas Hold ‘Em Tournament at 5 p.m. in the Kat Klub.