Learning under the influence

UAS shows students how a few drinks can affect their bodies and a field sobriety test

Posted: Friday, October 28, 2005

It's not too often the University of Alaska Southeast allows students to drink alcohol on campus.

UAS held "Boozin' It & Losin' It" at the new UAS recreation center Thursday night. Five students and one staff member participated in a controlled experiment to demonstrate the affects alcohol has on the body.

The event, part of the National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week, featured three men and three women, 21 or older, consuming various types of booze. Juneau Police Department officer Blain Hatch lectured about alcohol and conducted field sobriety tests.

"Drinking on college campuses is always pretty prevalent, especially with older students," said Christopher Washko, director of student wellness and event coordinator. "So we thought, what is an event that we can do that first of all attracts students to it, but then gets them to learn something about (alcohol awareness) too."

Officer Hatch spoke to the crowd of mostly underage students with an authoritative, caring voice, with touches of dry wit. The packed house burst into laughter at times. At other moments, it was hushed by the grim realities the officer relayed to the students.

Hatch said alcohol awareness events are important to the community and hopefully lead to people understanding the hazards of drinking and driving.

"They're very important because they enlighten people, and they kind of open their eyes to the affects of alcohol and what it does to them, their judgment and how they act," he said.

When student participant Erin Gora began ripping balloon decorations off chairs after four drinks in one hour, Hatch opted to give her a field sobriety test - much to the delight of the crowd.

"Dude, she's so arrested," quipped participant Kirsa Hughes-Skandijs.

Gora began putting on a show for the crowd, falling over when asked to stand on one leg.

"By the way, she's failing this test," Hatch told the crowd, which erupted in laughter.

Gora registered a blood-alcohol content of nearly .07. Under Alaska state law, anyone with a BAC of .08 and above is considered driving under the influence.

Hatch informed the crowd that a person can get arrested for drunken driving with a BAC under .08 if they are deemed to be under the influence of intoxicants. He said the average person begins to lose motor skills when his or her BAC reaches .03.

Matt Felix, director of the Juneau affiliate of the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, said he hopes the students took away some valuable lessons from the event.

"The whole process is really trying to make everybody aware of the problems of use, abuse and addiction to alcohol and other drugs in our community," Felix said.

He said Juneau ranks in the top 90 percentile annually in alcohol-consumption rates per capita, based on U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports derived from alcohol tax records.

"Probably the single most important thing that we can do to make our community a healthier community would be to lower the per capita consumption of alcohol and nicotine," he said. "It would dramatically make our community a healthier and safer place to live, virtually overnight."

UAS Public Information Officer Kevin Myers said there is more to a college education than classes and homework.

"Part of education is learning how to live healthy lifestyles," he said. "We're also trying to teach people to be productive members, good members, of the community."

Myers said the university feels very strongly about making students aware of the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse and drinking and driving. Last night's event was intended to teach students about those dangers.

The participants of the demonstration ceased drinking when they reached the legal intoxication level. They were given rides home by sober drivers.

"We hope to use this to show people, using realistic demonstrations, just how impaired you are and how quickly you can get impaired," he said. "Hopefully it's a lesson that will stick with them."

Myers said the university does not want its students to learn those lessons the hard way.

"It's certainly better to learn it in an auditorium than having the lights come on in your rear-view mirror, or even worse, having an accident where there is a loss of life."

According to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, there are approximately 240 drunken driving arrests a year in Juneau. Nearly 40 per year are felonies, Felix said, for drivers convicted of their third offense within 10 years.

He said events like the one at the university are important for the younger generations.

"I think it's very important to make all young age groups aware so that they don't get trapped into the stigmas and misunderstandings that a lot of our older populations have with these problems," Felix said.

He said the community should face its drug and alcohol problems openly and without stigma.

"We have wonderful treatment facilities in the community for our sized community," he said. "If you know someone who needs help, help is available."

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