Letting loose or losing control?

How much do you spend on alcohol in a month? Does drinking ever get in the way of your schoolwork? What do your friends say about your alcohol consumption?

These are the types of questions asked in Alcohol E-Checkup To Go, an online survey used to evaluate the drinking habits of students. By filling out the questionnaire, students can receive feedback like the amount of drinks they have in a typical week and the percentage of income they spend on alcohol. Completing the exam takes less than 10 minutes.

The tool was implemented through the wellness program at Memorial University in Newfoundland, after a 2008 study showed more than half the student population was binge drinking.

But the problem is not exclusive to Memorial. University of Calgary wellness centre director Debbie Bruckner said U of C students binge drink, overuse alcohol and tend to overestimate what normal drinking is, especially when comparing their own behaviour to that of others.

“That’s used as a way to say, ‘I don’t drink as much as my friends do’, ” she said.

Binge drinking and over-consumption can have a number of impacts on a student’s life.

“It affects your ability to make decisions,” Bruckner said. “There’s alcohol poisoning; students may take actions they wouldn’t normally do. There’s overdose, self-harm, some say things they wouldn’t say and it puts academics at risk.”

Students may also not know or ignore the fact that alcohol is a depressant.

“The other problem is that [alcohol] is used at times of stress,” Bruckner said. “It’s used as a self-medication and often leads to feeling worse.”

Den supervisor Devlin Imeson has witnessed a good deal of student boozing first-hand.

“They like to come here and get it in cheap,” Imeson said. “It’s drinking that leads to matchmaking . . . loosening up a little too much.”

Because bartenders are liable for the customers they serve, bar staff at the Den try to keep a close eye on how intoxicated their patrons are.

“People still over-drink, but I wouldn’t serve them,” Imeson said. “It’s not worth it. Someone who’s already trashed, those are the people you’ll be picking up off the floor.”

To evaluate a person’s drinking habits, two key factors are frequency and amount, according to Bruckner from the Wellness Centre.

“More than about three drinks in a row is considered binge drinking, even if it’s only a few times a month,” she said.

An honest self-evaluation may be useful, as well as advice from peers.

“Students have a responsibility to talk about it to their friends if they think it is getting in the way of anything,” Bruckner said.

Drinking is addressed at the U of C in a few different ways. An Alberta Health Services counsellor is on campus once a month, the wellness and health awareness team promotes self-control and abstention, information on responsible alcohol use is in the university’s wellness guide which is available online and counsellors and physicians work with students individually at the Wellness Centre.

For Imeson, who was once a U of C student on the other side of the taps at the Den, it doesn’t matter whether or not students know that alcohol overuse is unhealthy.

“I’d say they’re aware, but I don’t think they care,” he said.

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