Frosh week: an increase in alcohol-related injuries

A joint research project founded in Sherbrooke brought increased awareness of the frequency and impact of alcohol intoxication in youth – especially during frosh week.

The study, titled Youth Alcohol Use and Its Harms: Case Study in the Community of Sherbrooke, focuses on the city of Sherbrooke and reflects recurrent behaviours across the whole country.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Alcohol (CCSA), Sherbrooke Ville en Santé and Centre Intégré Universitaire de Santé et de Services Sociaux de l’Estrie joined forces in 2018 to evaluate and offer preventive solutions to the city as well as its universities.

According to the study, one individual between the ages of 12 and 24 years old is admitted to hospital emergency rooms due to alcohol-related medical emergencies once every two days on regular weeks. On week 32 – also known as frosh week – experts observed an increase of admissions since 2012.

“We are often under the impression that having an acute alcohol intoxication is simply a precursor of a big hangover, but it’s not the case,” said Catherine Paradis, Senior Research and Policy Analyst at the CCSA, in an interview with The Concordian. “Fifty seven per cent of people admitted in emergency have major complications.” These complications can include anything from fractures, hypothermia, comas, or even to – in the most extreme cases – death.

“It happens regularly, unfortunately. One death per year is regular in my opinion,” said Paradis. “I think that it makes no sense to go to university and die because you drank too much.”

Aside from health-related issues, excessive drinking during frosh can create social and professional consequences in some cases. Paradis gave an example of a group of intoxicated engineering students from a university she chose to keep anonymous. They triggered the fire alarm which flooded an entire floor during frosh. The university sued them. As a result, the students’ chances of becoming engineers were ultimately wiped out since one cannot have a criminal record to have a career as an engineer.

To break it down slightly, frosh is usually a week full of different events that include alcohol. Firstly, frosh is mainly for meeting new people in university and alcohol often acts as a social lubricant that facilitates interactions between individuals, according to Paradis. Secondly, it is easy to forget to stay hydrated and to eat when consuming alcohol, both of which are a recipe for disaster.

However, there are easy methods of prevention (referred to as protective behavior strategies). These include the following: eating and drinking water regularly, alternating between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, always staying with a friend and having a plan to get back home. According to Paradis, such strategies can easily lower the risk of incidents during frosh.

Some universities went even further in regard to alcohol regulation, banning all alcohol during orientation week to discourage students from binge drinking. St. Thomas University in New Brunswick was the first Canadian university to create a “dry week” 15 years ago. Other universities, like Dalhousie in Halifax, followed the same strategy in 2017.

“They want to let students get to know each other sober,” said Paradis. “If during the first week, students manage to meet friends that share the same set of values and get along well [sober], they will create better friendships overall.”

Managing alcohol during frosh week is also used to decrease interference and nuisance within the neighbourhood. The University of Guelph put in place a party registration system. By registering a party to this system, students will have their information shared with the police as well as with the city for direct contact should an issue arise at the party. Registered students participate in consultations that include tips on how to properly manage a party and how to reduce neighbourhood complaints. In return, students decrease their chances of receiving nuisance fines.

The CCSA is working in cooperation with many groups in order to make alcohol consumption in universities safer for students even after frosh week is over. The main issues arise in “wet environments” such as Concordia where alcohol is easily accessible.


Photo courtesy of ASFA Frosh (2014)

Student Life

Four Montreal students take first place at HackHarvard

Four Montreal students take first place at HackHarvard

“HackHarvard was maybe my 10th hackathon,” said Nicolas MacBeth, a first-year software engineering student at Concordia. He and his friend Alex Shevchenko, also a first-year software engineering student, have decided to make a name for themselves and frequent as many hackathon competitions as they can. The pair have already participated in many hackathons over the last year, both together and separately. “I just went to one last weekend [called] BlocHacks, and I was a finalist at that,” said MacBeth.

Most notable of the pair’s achievements, along with their other teammates Jay Abi-Saad and Ajay Patal, two students from McGill, is their team’s first place ranking as ‘overall best’ in the HackHarvard Global 2018 competition on Oct. 19. According to MacBeth, while all hackathons are international competitions, “HackHarvard was probably the one that had the most people from different places than the United States.” The competition is sponsored by some of the largest transnational conglomerates in the tech industry. For example, Alibaba Cloud, a subsidiary of Alibaba Group, a multinational conglomerate specializing in e-commerce, retail, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology, as well as Zhejiang Lab, a Zhejiang provincial government sponsored institute whose research focuses on big data and cloud computing.

MacBeth said he and Shevchenko sifted through events on the ‘North American Hackathons’ section of the Major League Hacking (MLH) website, the official student hacking league that supports over 200 competitions around the world, according to their website. “We’ve gone to a couple hackathons, me and Alex together,” said MacBeth. “And we told ourselves ‘Why not? Let’s apply. [HackHarvard] is one of the biggest hackathons.’ […] So we applied for all the ones in the US. We both got into HackHarvard, and so we went.”

Essentially, MacBeth, Shevchenko, Abi-Saad, and Patal spent 36 hours conceptualizing, designing, and coding their program called sober.AI. The web application uses AI in tandem with visual data input to “increase accuracy and accessibility, and to reduce bias and cost of a normal field sobriety test,” according to the program’s description on Devpost. “I read a statistic somewhere that only a certain amount of police officers have been trained to be able to detect people [under the influence],” said MacBeth. “Drunk, they can test because they have [breathalyzers], but high, it’s kind of hard for people to test.”

MacBeth explained that the user-friendly web application could be helpful in a range of situations, from trying to convince an inebriated friend not to drive under the influence, to law enforcement officials conducting roadside testing in a way that reduces bias, to employees, who may have to prove sobriety for work, to do so non-invasively.

Sober.AI estimates the overall percentage of sobriety through a series of tests that are relayed via visual data—either a photo of an individual’s’ face or a video of the individual performing a task—that is inputted into two neural networks designed by the team of students.

“We wanted to recreate a field sobriety test in a way that would be as accurate as how police officers do it,” said MacBeth.

The first stage is an eye exam, where a picture of an individual is fed to the first neural network, which gives an estimation of sobriety based on the droopiness of the eye, any glassy haze, redness, and whether the pupils are dilated. The second stage is a dexterity test where individuals have to touch their finger to their nose, and the third is a balance test where people have to stand on one leg. “At the end, we compile the results and [sober.AI] gives a percentage of how inebriated we think the person is,” said MacBeth.

“Basically, what you want to do with AI is recreate how a human would think,” explained MacBeth. AI programs become increasingly more accurate and efficient as more referential data is inputted into the neural networks. “The hardest part was probably finding data,” explained MacBeth. “Because writing on the internet ‘pictures of people high’ or ‘red eyes’ and stuff like that is kind of a pain.” MacBeth said that he took to his social media pages to crowdsource photos of his friends and acquaintances who were high, which provided some more data. However, MacBeth said his team made a name for themselves at the hackathon when they started going from group to group, asking their competitors to stand on one leg, as if they were sober, then again after spinning around in a circle ten times. “That was how we made our data,” said MacBeth. “It was long and hard.”

Participating in such a prestigious competition and having sober.AI win ‘overall best’ left MacBeth and Shevchenko thirsty for more. “HackHarvard had a lot more weight to it. We were on the international level, and just having the chance of being accepted into HackHarvard within the six or seven hundred students in all of North America that were accepted, I felt like we actually needed to give it our all and try to win—to represent Concordia, to represent Montreal.”

MacBeth and Shevchenko have gone their separate ways in terms of competitions for the time being, however the pair’s collaborations are far from over. Both are planning to compete separately in ConUHacks IV at the end of January 2019, where MacBeth explained that they will team up with other software engineering students who have yet to compete in hackathons. “We’re gonna try to groom other people into becoming very good teammates,” said MacBeth.

The first-year software engineer concluded with some advice for fellow Concordia students. “For those in software engineering and even computer science: just go to hackathons,” advised MacBeth. “Even if you’re skilled, not skilled, want to learn, anything, you’re going to learn in those 24 hours, because you’re either gonna be with someone who knows, or you’re gonna learn on your own. Those are the skills you will use in the real world to bring any project to life.”

Feature photo courtesy of Nicolas Macbeth

Student Life

Drink up ladies and gents!

In a city full of university students, it comes as no surprise to learn that Montreal is one of the most alcohol-friendly cities in Canada.

Graphic Jennifer Kwan

Since most students are tired of hearing how drinking is so bad for them, it may be of interest to know that some alcoholic beverages do have health benefits. Truth is, no matter how hard I look for a miracle drink, it never manifested… but all hope is not lost!

At this point in time, red wine is the only alcoholic beverage with scientifically proven benefits.

“Because the skin of red grapes contains polyphenols (such as resveratrol), red wine has an important antioxidant power,” said Anne-Marie Gagné, nutritionist at Trois-Rivières’ Health and Social Services Centre. “This doesn’t apply to white wine, since it doesn’t contain the same type of grapes, but red wine has proven to be effective against certain heart diseases, Type 2 diabetes and cognitive decline in old age,” she added.

Resveratrol is a type of antioxidant found naturally in other fruits as well such as blueberries and cranberries.

However, not everybody enjoys a glass of red wine, and some researchers say it might not be the only brand of booze which has health benefits. Madrid scientists, Rayo Llerena and Marin Huerta, have found that alcohol, regardless of the type, can have the same benefits as wine. The subjects of the study were given beer, wine and vodka, showing that ethanol is the beneficial ingredient. In small quantities, ethanol can decrease cardiovascular mortality from heart disease and stroke as compared to non-drinkers, according to the United States National Library of Medicine.

This mind-blowing declaration is explained by the duo’s belief that alcohol can elevate HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) and can decrease LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), therefore making us healthier.

On top of that, a study conducted by researchers of Oregon State University found that alcohol, consumed in moderation, could also improve bone density, and therefore prevent fractures. According to Urszula Iwaniec, an associate professor and one of the study’s authors, this could especially affect postmenopausal women.

A similar study in Australia, directed by Professor Howard Morris from the Hanson Institute, focused specifically on beer and discovered its health benefits on human bones. The study was based on a sample of 1,700 women with an average age of 48. They were asked about their drinking and underwent ultrasound scans of the hands, as finger bones are the first to show any signs of osteoporosis. The results concluded that the bones of the beer drinkers were denser, thus stronger.

Beer is known to be a great source of dietary silicon, an ingredient that plays a major role in increasing bone mineral density. More specifically, beer that contains high levels of hops and malted barley are richest in silicon.

Eureka! We have finally proven that drinking is good for us! Of course, like everything else, alcohol should be consumed in moderation. “One glass per day for women and two for men,” said Gagné.

Furthermore, we should also be wary that sometimes published studies are later proven to be false. We must keep in mind that scientific studies are peer-reviewed and sometimes biased. Almost everything we consume is a healer one week and a killer the next, so we must use our judgment when comparing scientific results.

In addition, it has not been proven that drinking, even in moderate amounts, is good for the general population. Being intoxicated increases our chances of dying of other causes, especially injury, cirrhosis of the liver and some types of cancer thereby outweighing the benefits cited earlier.

Aside from the pros and cons of alcohol that change with every newly published study, calorie intake is one that is inevitable. Drink hard liquor alone or with mineral water rather than juice or soda or drink light beer because “one gram of alcohol is twice as fattening as one gram of sugar,” says Gagné.

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