Spring Break, practically a holiday for many teens and 20-somethings, traditionally involves the mock-religious en mass pilgrimage of young people from across the U.S. to warm climate destinations for the ritualistic mass consumption of alcohol, partying and abandonment of school worries.
Not factored into most students’ vacation plans are the lurking threats of rape, alcohol poisoning, disease and death.
Judy Lyle, associate director of Health Services, said she thinks there is an assumption that Spring Break is a rite of passage and students expect certain behaviors to go along with it.
“Spring Break is a time to cut loose and a time to blow off steam,” Lyle said. “There are some who believe that the way to achieve this state of enlightenment of Spring Break is through drinking and doing things you ordinarily wouldn’t do that could involve indiscriminate sexual behavior, over-drinking, any number of risky behaviors.”
Recognizing the changing nature of Spring Break, the American Medical Association stated: “Spring Break is no longer an innocent respite from the rigors of college academics; it’s potentially life threatening.”
With more than 1.5 million students predicted to travel in the months before Easter, it is easy to feel like the rare occurrences of death and sexual assault are isolated or that it would not occur.
This is a dangerous assumption.
“I think most students do things responsibly, but you’re going to get a few, and you’ll see it on TV every year, where someone’s been injured in a Spring Break accident due to drinking,” Lyle said. “Some people even die.”
While not all spring break trips result in the unexpected loss of lives due to alcohol poisoning, car accidents due to distracted driving, falling off of balconies or from drowning, there are many other non-fatal consequences common for tourists during this time including arrest, injury and the contraction of sexually transmitted diseases.
Lyle said the biggest catalyst of these latent hazards and a major danger in itself is the ubiquitous binge drinking many students expect to partake in.
“Because of the alcohol use, you tend to do other risky things,” she said. “Getting into a sexual encounter that you may not have wanted that can lead to sexual assault, having someone drop something in your drink so that you don’t even remember what happened, not using adequate protection if you’re having sex can be due to alcohol. So many things stem back to the alcohol that I think alcohol is the greatest threat.”
In a study by the Journal of American College Health, females reported on average drinking 10 drinks per day during Spring Break and males reported consuming 18 drinks per day.
“When you’re under the influence of alcohol it dehydrates you, and you add to the mix the temperatures if you’re at the beach or being out in the sun which dehydrates you further,” Lyle said. “You can get into a situation where dehydration makes you sick, but also where it can be life threatening if you’re really dehydrated.”
Lyle noted getting sunburned was also a major cause of dehydration.
“Sunburn can be beyond a first-degree burn, it can be up to a second-degree burn depending on how long you stay in the sun,” Lyle said.
She said students should not forget about sex, either.
Students should aware of the dangers that accompany unprotected sex, including the possible contraction of STD’s and unplanned pregnancies.
According to a study published by Arizona State, 26 percent of males and approximately 36 percent of females did not use a condom during sex with someone they met on Spring Break.
The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network president Scott Berkowitz said college women are four times more likely to be sexually assaulted than any other age group.
“It is so important that students are aware of possible risks and know how and where to get help if they need it, especially on Spring Break when increased exposure to strangers and new surroundings can amplify these risks,” Berkowitz said.
Despite all these possible risks, it is still possible to have a safe and enjoyable Spring Break.
“Have respect for yourself by taking care of yourself,” Lyle said. “Be aware of your surroundings, what’s going on with yourself as well as with your friends. That’s my biggest piece of advice.”
Story by Ben Manhanke, Staff writer.