The University of Iowa
student who registered a .341 blood alcohol content (BAC)was “dancing on the edge of death,” according to a leading researcher at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Dr. Aaron White, the Program Director for College and Underage Drinking Prevention Research at the NIAAA, told Business Insider that Samantha Goudie — or “Vodka Sam,” as she has come to be known — is part of a growing trend of college age people who are drinking dangerous and potentially fatal amounts of alcohol.
“There isn’t much difference between a small buzz and death,” White said.
Small amounts of alcohol lead to mild impairedness in brain functions, most affecting the top part of the brain. As people drink more, this spreads to deeper levels of the brain, eventually suppressing the body’s “vital reflexes” — sneezing, coughing, gagging, breathing, and heart rate — enough to allow the drinker to reach an overdose.
At around .35 BAC, these vital functions “shut off,” but any BAC over .3 is life threatening and poses a significant risk of death. As an example of the danger of drinking to this level, White cited Gordie Bailey, a University of Colorado student who died of alcohol poisoning in 2004 with a .328 BAC.
While White said that statistics on binge drinking — having four or five drinks in a night — have stayed flat for the past 20 years, he outlined two dangerous recent trends.
The first is a shift in young people drinking more distilled spirits than beer and wine, which is dangerous because the higher alcohol levels of spirits make it easier to overdose from comparatively small quantities.
Additionally, White said that there is an increase in the number of people drinking to dangerous levels, including a 67% increase in alcohol overdoses in 18-24-year-olds from 1999-2008. Different from binge drinking, White loosely defined “extreme drinking” as anything greater than about .15 BAC, at which point “there isn’t a single ability that isn’t impaired significantly.”
Judging from her Twitter feed, Goudie has styled herself as a heavy drinker and may have built up a tolerance for alcohol. However, White said, tolerance formed by repeated drinking could have negative effects such as suppressing natural safety mechanisms — such as sleep — that prevent you from drinking enough to die.
It’s unfortunately becoming increasingly clearer that Goudie’s BAC was not an isolated incident and that excessive drinking is increasing around the country. The Wisconsin State Journal reported Thursday that two students at the University of Wisconsin registered extraordinary BACs — one at .33 and one at a staggering .37.
Luckily, both students lived.
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