Friday, December 17, 2010

Vodka eyeball shots a dangerous way to imbibe

By Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY

College students have long done crazy things, from swallowing gold fish to jamming themselves into telephone booths. Not all things they try are dangerous, but some are.
Two new cases in point: consumption of controversial alcoholic energy drinks likely to be banned today; and a bizarre method of trying to get plastered by absorbing alcohol through the eyeball.

The eyeball shots don't succeed and definitely fall in the category of risky behaviors, experts say.

"This is an activity that has no upside to it," says David Granet, a professor of ophthalmology at the University of California, San Diego.

The theory among the students seems to be that alcohol can be absorbed through mucous membranes, and the eyeball and inner side of the eyelids are covered in mucous membrane, so, voila!— vodka eyeball shots. There are more than 30 homemade videos of young men doing this on YouTube.

Not only does it fail to get someone drunk, "it hurts and it will cause permanent damage to the surface of the eye," Granet says.

Ophthalmologists have been speaking out against this trend ever since it appeared on U.S. campuses last spring. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, it appears to have begun in England.

"There is absolutely, positively nothing that can be construed as fun about this," Granet says.

These kinds of stunts are "a normal reflection of this developmental stage," says Paul Lyons, a professor of community medicine at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia. Drinking pranks are really just experimentation by young adults who are not at full adult decision-making capacity, he says.

Another generally ineffectual means of becoming inebriated is the use of vodka-soaked tampons for both women and men (used as suppositories for males). No videos of this were found on YouTube.

Other less popular, but still Internet-flogged methods, include putting vodka in an asthma atomizer so it can be inhaled (no videos found) and snorting it (more than 300 videos).

What has changed is that the Internet now allows stupid behaviors to be amplified in ways they couldn't easily be before, Lyons says. For example, there's no epidemic of students punching themselves in the face, but there are more than 20 videos of youths doing so online.

Online sources such as Facebook and YouTube can distort social norms.

Research has shown that students overestimate how much their peers are drinking, says Laura Talbott, professor of health education at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

College and university administrations are working hard to create peer programs to counteract the attention such social media can give to rare and destructive behaviors, says Talbott, who chairs the American College Health Association's Alcohol and Other Drug Coalition.

As the Internet amplifies what might otherwise be a stunt by a few students, marketers are entering the scene, says Peter Lake, a professor of higher education law at Stetson University law school in Gulfport, Fla.

"There are industries now that try to make money on this. They realize this is a susceptible group and they can market to it with products that more mature individuals wouldn't choose," he says.

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