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A talk about the science behind alcohol consumption Credit: Antoni Gierczak , Antoni Gierczak

As many students prepare to reign in the month of Oktoberfest with a weekend of fraternity parties and recreational drinking, the Office of Alcohol and Other Drugs has different plans.

Last night, the AOD kicked off Alcohol Awareness Month by hosting Jason Kilmer, a research assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington, in a talk titled “Think Outside the Bottle: The Science of College Substance Abuse.”

Julie Lyzinski Nettleton, director of the AOD, explained that Kilmer has “harm reduction” intentions when it comes to alcohol. In other words, he doesn’t expect all students to abstain from drinking, but he hopes to educate them enough to allow them to drink more safely.

“We’re very much a harm reduction office,” Nettleton said. “It’s nice to have someone who’s aligned to our philosophical approach.”

Related: Penn approves new alcohol pilot program

Kilmer began his speech describing the effects of a research experiment conducted at his university in its “BAR lab” — the Behavioral Alcohol Research Laboratory. In all appearances, the lab is a typical bar equipped with the same décor that college students would expect in such a venue. Meanwhile, the mirror hanging behind the bar is actually a two-way mirror where researchers can observe students.

“Here’s this amazing, non-intrusive way to be able to actually observe behavior,” Kilmer said.

According to Kilmer, the positive social effects that students equate to drinking include relaxation, more outgoing behavior and even improved dancing skills. He wanted to determine if these behaviors were really caused by alcohol.

Related: Alcohol-linked weight gain gives students cause for concern

In the bar, one test group was told they were being served alcohol but were actually given a placebo. Another group knowingly received alcoholic beverages. Kilmer said the two groups acted exactly the same way after 20 minutes — playing drinking games, flirting and moving furniture aside to make a dance floor. Some people in the placebo group even claimed that they were too intoxicated to drive.

“Time and time again, when people believe they’re getting alcohol, even when they get drinks that have no alcohol, all that great social stuff that we equate to drinking happens,” Kilmer said.

College sophomore Emre Karatas, a member of the new organization Penn Drug and Alcohol Peer Advisors, felt that students could benefit from Kilmer’s discussion of the links between drinking and sleeping. Kilmer explained that drinking impairs the quality of sleep by restricting the brain’s ability to enter the REM stage.

According to Kilmer, the most common obstacles to academic performance reported by students are not drinking. Instead, they are stress, sleep problems and anxiety.

“All three of those things could be exacerbated by drinking at night,” he said.

“Related: Fewer freshmen hospitalized during NSO”:

Kilmer proceeded to describe the science behind alcohol tolerance. An increased tolerance only reduces the “buzz” a person feels in response to a certain number of alcoholic beverages, while the BAC level is actually unchanged.

Kerry Madden, a student in the Graduate School of Education, thought that students should learn the facts behind alcohol tolerance. “They’d be surprised to know that they’re [just as] drunk but they just don’t feel it,” she said. “It’s the objective science versus their subjective feelings.”

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