Bracing for the Tour de Franzia

A couple of weeks ago, I received a letter from the dean at my daughter’s university. It wasn’t an update on the blooming cherry blossoms or the latest award-winning professors, but rather a serious warning.

In an effort to prevent any alcohol-related disasters, the dean’s letter asked parents to discuss the dangers of an event that takes place on campus each spring called the “Tour de Franzia.” I read on.

Apparently, the event involves teams of students drinking a box of Franzia—a 5-liter box holds the equivalent of 42 drinks—while going to various campus locations. Sounds like an intense, drunken scavenger hunt to me.

The dean urged parents to discourage students’ participation in this Springtime tradition, only three years old. Needless to say, the worries are many—from intoxicated students crossing busy streets to alcohol poisoning.

And the consequences go beyond the college campus and into the surrounding community. He writes: “A dramatic number of students required hospitalization for acute intoxication or injuries, flooding the emergency room at [the local] hospital and disrupting its normal operation.  Many of these students had potentially lethal blood alcohol levels.  Although our principal concern is the safety and well-being of students, we were also dismayed by significant damage and vandalism, numerous complaints from neighbors living adjacent to campus, and disrespectful treatment of the Public Safety officers and other staff who attempted to monitor and address concerns that arose during the event.”

Does the dean really believe that parents have that kind of influence with their college age children?

When my daughter returned home for Spring Break, I mentioned the letter—a warning e-mail was also sent to students—and asked her what she thought about it. Let’s just say that her reply made it clear she is indeed looking forward to the upcoming Tour.

But what so many college kids don’t realize is not only how dangerous these extreme drinking events can be, but also that binge drinking costs the health care system half a million dollars in blackout-related emergency room visits each year at the average large university, according to newly published research reported in U.S. News on msnbc.com.

In a report published in the  journal Health Affairs, Marlon P. Mundt and Larissa I. Zakletskaia surveyed nearly a thousand students at five universities. During a two-year study, 30 percent of the men and 27 percent of the women visited the emergency department at least once, some with major injuries like broken bones and head or brain trauma. Of the 404 emergency visits reported by 954 participants in the study, about one in eight were associated with blackout drinking, the researchers found.

Mundt and Zakletskaia called binge drinking that can lead to a blackout–usually defined as drinking five or more alcoholic drinks by men or four by women during one occasion–“a pervasive public health problem” among college students.

“Fifty percent of college students who drink report alcohol-induced blackouts, and alcohol abusers in general put a heavy burden on the medical care system,” they wrote.

So while I imagine the Tour de Franzia will carry on as it has in recent years–despite the warnings and urging of the college administration–I imagine that every parent will pray it goes without the serious incident that these statistics suggest.

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