As October comes to a close and just over six weeks of classes remain in the semester, I’m reaching out to briefly discuss two important issues. I respectfully ask that you take a quick five minutes to read what follows.
The first issue is alcohol. I recognize that most students do not engage in hazardous drinking. Those who do place their own health and safety at risk, and also impact their friends around them. Each year at this time, we see an increase in alcohol consumption and the often serious consequences that follow.
You’ve heard me (and others) talk about the importance of being an engaged bystander—intervening when a friend’s alcohol consumption has placed him or her at risk. We know from the 2013 Health Survey that 90 percent of UVa students believe that it is their responsibility to intervene when they see a problem unfolding (unsafe alcohol consumption, potential sexual misconduct, etc.). I am grateful that so many of you understand the importance of being an active bystander and of calling 911 or seeking other assistance when you see someone at risk.
At the bottom of this email are resources and tips provided by your peers on the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Team (ADAPT) and my colleagues in the Gordie Center at Student Health. For information on the Halloween safety campaign, go to the ADAPT website. The first 500 people to sign the ADAPT/One Less pledge to be an active bystander this Halloween will receive a free light-up wand and cup of candy.
The second issue I want to discuss with you is the increased stress many students feel as the semester winds down. We are already seeing higher incidents of students feeling anxiety or even depression, and it is very important that you learn to recognize the signs of this in yourself and your friends.
Symptoms of excessive or unhealthy stress include irritability, self-medication (using over-the-counter medications, alcohol, or food to combat stress), a compromised immune system, feeling unable to relax, exhaustion, lack of energy or a sense of dread, memory problems or inability to concentrate, poor judgment, seeing only the negative in events, high anxiety or racing thoughts, and constant worrying. In the most extreme cases, there can be thoughts of harming oneself (or others). While such thoughts may not manifest in action, it is still important to recognize these thoughts (especially if recurring) and seek assistance at the Counseling Center in Student Health (CAPS) or the Emergency Room.
Please know that you should always call 911 in an emergency situation, as the police are trained to help get a person safely to the resources needed. You can also call:
- The Office of the Dean of Students (ODOS) at 434-924-7133 (8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday)
- The dean-on-call after hours and on weekends (reachable by calling the University Police at 434-924-7166)
- The professionals at CAPS at 434-243-5150 (8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday) or after hours at 434-972-7004
Important tips for reducing stress are listed at the bottom of this email. I hope that you will hold on to them in case you need to refer back in the future.
- Always carry a photo ID and a fully charged cellphone and make sure your friends do the same in case you become incapacitated for any reason.
- Consider your costume and avoid wearing one that does not allow you to see and move freely. Stop and make sure motorists see you before you cross the street. Be sure the material is nonflammable (and don’t burn candles at gatherings – use flameless ones).
- Some people with harmful intentions may take advantage of being unrecognizable in a Halloween costume. Stay in an environment where you can easily get help or move away from someone who is threatening your safety. Be aware of your surroundings.
Tips Around Alcohol
If you choose to drink, several simple precautions can minimize risks to yourselves and others.
- Pace and Space: Sip your drink instead of chugging, alternate with water or soda, and have no more than 1 drink per hour. On average, it takes nearly 3 hours for most people to eliminate the alcohol in 2 standard drinks.
- Eat before and while drinking: Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream more slowly when there is food (especially protein) in your stomach.
- Avoid mixing alcohol with other drugs: Some prescription and over-the-counter drugs (antihistamines and sedatives, for example) can increase alcohol’s effects. Caffeine and other stimulants can trick you into feeling less impaired.
- Use caution when sick or tired: When you’re sleep-deprived or ill, alcohol leaves the body more slowly.
- Be alert when drinking in a new environment: The effects of alcohol within your body can vary when you are in unfamiliar settings.
- Avoid “punches” and other drinks you did not make yourself. They often include high-concentration alcohol masked by a sweet taste.
- Stay in a group in which at least one person remains sober.
- Consider using a smartphone app such as CircleOf6 (free) to enable you to quickly alert friends to your location and need for assistance.
- Look out for your friends who are drinking. Use “PUBS” as a guide to the symptoms of alcohol overdose:
- Puking while passed out
- Unresponsive to stimulation (pinch or shaking)
- Breathing (slow, shallow, or no breathing)
- Skin (blue, cold, or clammy)
- If you see even one sign of alcohol overdose, call 911. If you are unsure, call the Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 for confidential, expert advice. Students will not face reprisal for seeking medical help, and there is no charge for the rescue squad.
- Concerned about your drinking? Hoos in Recovery can help. This student group meets weekly to share a meal and provide support for students interested in living sober.
Tips Around Stress
- Eat healthy foods, strive for at least seven hours of sleep each night, and keep up a regular exercise routine.
- Minimize your use of alcohol. Hazardous alcohol consumption puts you at risk of illness, injury, arrests, or assault. Alcohol may appear to ease stress in the short term, but alcohol’s depressant effect increases both depression and stress symptoms by interrupting sleep patterns and taking the place of healthier stress-management strategies.
- Only use prescription drugs as prescribed by your doctor. Take only drugs prescribed for you, and take them according to your doctor’s directions. If academic stress leads you to consider asking a friend for his or her psychostimulant drugs, such as Adderall® and Ritalin®, know that it is illegal to use these drugs without a prescription. The drugs also have a potential for abuse, and many students report negative effects.
- Maintain your personal safety as daylight hours shorten and the weather turns colder. Walk with friends late at night or call Safe Ride at 434-242-1122 or Charge-a-Ride (Yellow Cab) at 434-295-4131. Add these numbers to your phone contacts for easy access.
- Look for perspective and balance in your life. If you find this difficult, or if you are unable to talk with family or friends, then call one of the resources listed above. Your value as a person lies in much more than a grade on a test or a paper.
Allen W. Groves
University Dean of Students