With Halloween festivities well underway, many WMU students have had their share of adult beverages in the past several days. What these students may not realize is that if excessively used, these beverages can have a negative impact on performance.
Jenna Jones, Assistant Director of Health Promotion and Education at Sindecuse Health Center, said alcohol, especially when consumed in large quantities, can affect students’ lives in a variety of ways.
“One of the most interesting – and useful – statistics I often cite is how long our bodies take to recover from a night of drinking. Any night that students have five or more drinks, it takes their bodies three full days to recover,” Jones said.
Jones defines binge drinking as four or more drinks for women or five or more drinks for men.
“A heavy night of drinking will affect a number of functions, including the ability to get a restful night’s sleep, the abilities to concentrate, solve problems, pay attention, think critically and form memories, all of which are important skills for being a college student, especially when it comes to studying,” Jones said.
Jones said the ability to form muscle mass and recover from a workout are two other qualities that result from heavy drinking.
“It might seem like drinking helps you fall asleep better, but in reality, the alcohol circulating in your body doesn’t allow you to get into the deeper, more restorative sleep cycles,” she said.
Jones said that it would take a full five days to recover if you were to drink two nights in a row. She recommends that if students find themselves in a cycle like this, they should take some time off from drinking and pay attention to how they feel in class, when they wake up in the morning or after they workout.
There are a number of programs at WMU that promote responsible drinking. Jones said the Health Promotion and Education at Sindecuse Health Center office have presented to many of the FYS sections about the realities of drinking at WMU and drinking responsibly.
“There are a variety of Residence Hall programs too. Western Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention (WASAP) addresses responsible drinking, and campus police also do some programming/speaking about responsible drinking,” Jones said.
“All incoming first year students were also required to complete an alcohol module on AlcoholEdu this year,” Jones said. “I believe SALP does some work with the Greek population around alcohol responsibility and WMU Athletics works with student athletes around alcohol issues too.”
As far as working out students’ social and educational lives, Jones said it’s all about balance and moderation.
“Certainly, we are all well aware that the legal drinking age is 21. With that in mind, the way I usually talk about making decisions about alcohol is to think if it all as a calculated risk. If you’re under the age of 21, you’re already dealing with the legal risk inherent in making the decision to drink,” she said.
Jones said it is also important to look at the possible benefits and the possible consequences.
“There are obviously positive effects of alcohol, but the cultural myth that more is better is untrue. In fact, at a certain point (BAC of .05/.06), the positive effects of alcohol start to decrease and the negative consequences increase. We talk about this as the point of diminishing returns. We tend to encourage students to think about a few things before they decide to drink, or go out drinking,” Jones said.
Jones said the most important thing to do before drinking is to have a plan. What do you want to get out of the evening? What are the positives you are looking forward to rather than the negatives you’re trying to avoid? Also, how much homework and studying do you have to do in the days to follow?
“I’ve found that students who take a few minutes to check in with themselves before heading out are better able to keep their end goals in mind, rather than get caught up in the revelry and drink more than they intended to,” Jones said.
As Assistant Director of Health Promotion and Education, Jones said it is important to pay attention to all the various factors that impact how alcohol affects us on any given night.
“While most students understand the differences between genders and body weight, it is less obvious how our personal situations can affect alcohol’s impact on us. How much you’ve had to eat that day, how dehydrated you are, how much sleep you have or have not gotten lately, what your emotional state of mind is, what medications you’re on, women’s monthly hormonal changes – all of these factors can change how alcohol interacts with our bodies on any given night. So being aware and mindful is always helpful,” she said.