Question of the Week

April 22, 2008


For many schools, this is prom season. With the fun and the preparation, can also come the pressures of prom.

"Lots of people feel pressure from their friends to drink, do drugs, or lose their virginity on prom night. As with your other prom plans, take a minute to think in advance about how you'll avoid getting into an unwanted situation. (No one wants to spend prom night in jail or at the hospital after being pressured into drinking or doing drugs.) You'll feel more confident and in control if you're prepared. Drugs and alcohol impair judgment in ways that can hurt you -- even if you're not the one using them. Be sure you have a safe ride home, whether it's a designated driver, parent, or that chauffeur-driven limo. It's also a good idea to have cab fare or to bring a cell phone and the number of an older sibling or parent just in case your ride gets wild or doesn't show up. Substances like alcohol and drugs can also play a role in people losing their virginity or having unwanted sex on prom night. Be aware of what's going on around you and try to stay in control. Also, be aware of your date's ability to consent to sexual activity. If your date is not in a condition to respond or react, it could be rape."

For some, prom night comes with additional pressures to drink. Many think that alcohol is safe because it is available legally for those over 21. Others think that it can cause long term health problems, but that one night of drinking isn't going to hurt (or kill). Unfortunately, even one night with too much alcohol can not only impair judgement and lead to unhealthy choices, it can also be deadly in its own right.

"Alcohol poisoning is a serious -- sometimes deadly -- result of consuming dangerous amounts of alcohol. When your body absorbs too much alcohol, it can directly impact your central nervous system, slowing your breathing, heart rate and gag reflex. This can lead to choking, coma and even death. Alcohol poisoning most often occurs as a result of drinking too many alcoholic beverages over a short period of time. Binge drinking is a common cause of alcohol poisoning. ... A person with alcohol poisoning needs immediate medical attention and should not be left alone. If you suspect someone has alcohol poisoning, call your local poison control center or emergency number, usually 911."

Alcohol can directly cause health problems, but it can also indirectly contribute to an unsafe environment. Even someone who is "buzzed" can have their driving impaired, and this can lead to an accident. Not all alcohol related driving accidents are fatal for all involved. Some lead to permanent paralysis, while others leave drivers unhurt to live with the knowledge of those they hurt.

"* During 2005, 16,885 people in the U.S. died in alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes, representing 39% of all traffic-related deaths (NHTSA 2006).
* In 2005, nearly 1.4 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics (Department of Justice 2005). That's less than one percent of the 159 million self-reported episodes of alcohol-impaired driving among U.S. adults each year (Quinlan et al. 2005).
* Drugs other than alcohol (e.g., marijuana and cocaine) are involved in about 18% of motor vehicle driver deaths. These other drugs are generally used in combination with alcohol (Jones et al. 2003)."

Whether or not people drink on prom night (or any night), it is important to have a plan. It is important for everyone to have a cell phone, money for a cab, and the number of someone you can call in case the person they were depending on for a ride becomes an unsafe option.

When going out in a group, people depend on each other to maintain a safe environment for everyone. Even those who are not drinking alcohol need to keep an eye on their drinks and stick with a friend that they trust. Having a plan for the evening, and sharing that plan with friends, can help everyone involved. Friends can keep each other accountable to safe decisions, and they can call for help if things are not going according to plan.

Having a plan for a safe driver is only part of the equation. Having a plan for a safe date extends beyond a sober ride.

"[Date rape drugs] are drugs that are sometimes used to assist a sexual assault. Sexual assault is any type of sexual activity that a person does not agree to. ... Because of the effects of these drugs, victims may be physically helpless, unable to refuse sex, and can't remember what happened. The drugs often have no color, smell, or taste and are easily added to flavored drinks without the victim's knowledge. ... Although we use the term "date rape," most experts prefer the term "drug-facilitated sexual assault." These drugs have been used to help people commit other crimes, like robbery and physical assault, and have been used on both men and women."

The goal is to avoid unsafe situations, but that may not always be possible. Whether or not alcohol or drugs are used to lower the defenses of a victim, whether or not a person has chosen to spend time (go on a date with) the person who pressures or forces them to do something they don't want to do, rape is never the fault of the victim.

Additionally, the victim has the right to regain some of the power that the attacker tried to strip from them by pressing charges and placing that attacker behind bars where they are less likely to hurt anyone else.

"Date rape also occurs when one person forces another person to have sex. This crime is also a felony offense. The difference between rape and date rape is that in cases of date rape, the victim agreed to spend time with the attacker. Perhaps the victim even went out with the attacker more than once. Date rape is still rape."

Questions of the Week:
What plans can you make before prom (or any night out) that can help you stay safe? What circumstances might come up that you should plan for ahead of time? What should you have with you in case of there is a problem, and who should you contact? Where is the line between careful planning (so that your night out is more likely to stay safe and not turn tragic) and being so paranoid that you can't have fun with your friends?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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