Alcohol over-consumption too common

BY CHRIS CLARK | MARCH 12, 2009 7:27 AM

With more than 100 local businesses serving alcohol, one thing is clear — it’s easy to get your hands on liquor in Iowa City.

Health Iowa Assistant Director Tanya Villhauer believes this accessibility plays a major role in alcohol-related problems facing the UI community.

Villhauer said drink specials, peer pressure, bar location, competitive drinking, and house parties can cause students to cross the line between casual drinking and over-consumption. Ultimately that leads to problems, she said.

“We call them environmental effects,” she said. “It’s kind of our culture here at the university. [Drinking] is just what you do.”

Alcohol consumption has its obvious risks: hangover, sickness, impaired judgment, short-term memory loss, and alcohol poisoning.

But Villhauer said drinking in excess can lead people to behave violently and, at that point, “the door is wide open for negative consequences.”

“There tends to be more fights and arguments when people are intoxicated, and when you ask them why later on, they say ‘I don’t know,’ ” Villhauer said.

Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey said she recognizes there is a drinking problem in Iowa City. She believes there is a direct correlation between access to alcohol and the likelihood of over-consumption.

She said she has witnessed violent situations, property destruction, and neighborhood distractions as results of excessive drinking.

“Earlier this year, we had some discussion about the alcohol issues we see downtown,” Bailey said. “We have taken steps to address some of them and we will continue to look at them.”

Alcohol consumption is in the limelight this week as 22-year-old Curtis Fry stands trial for second-degree murder. Fry allegedly broke into 75-year-old Patrick McEwen’s apartment and beat him to death in February 2008 after a night of drinking to celebrate his 21st birthday.

Fry is using intoxication as his defense. His public defenders are arguing that he experienced a “blackout” that night and had no recollection of the events early the next morning.

Fry told Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Darrell Simmons in a Feb. 8 interview — which prosecutors played at his trial Wednesday — that his friends estimated he drank 13 or 14 shots that night, in addition to drinking some beer.

Villhauer said blackouts can occur from drinking too much too quickly.

“Basically, [rapid alcohol consumption] just shuts down the brain because it’s working so hard to get rid of the alcohol. Kids wake up the next morning and don’t remember what they did the night before,” Villhauer said. “And that’s where it gets scary.”

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