GW’s drug safety office considers app that estimates blood alcohol content

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Alexis Janda, associate director of the Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Education, said student leaders will test an app that estimates a user’s blood alcohol content.

Staff in GW’s alcohol education office are exploring using a smartphone app to help educate students about their alcohol consumption.

Alexis Janda, associate director of the Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Education, is recruiting student leaders to test the app this fall, which estimates blood alcohol content based on a user’s gender, weight and number of drinks.

EMeRG took about 900 students to the hospital in 2012, the most recent data available, and about one-third of those dispatches were alcohol related.

Student Association Sen. Omeed Firouzi, U-At Large, said the app would bring “crucial information” to students through a user-friendly platform. But he said he thinks the University should do more to educate students about their drinking habits.

“I think there are a lot of students who would be curious about such an app and would be intrigued enough to utilize it,” Firouzi said. “But because it’s often perceived by students as a tedious chore and while it doesn’t hurt, more should be done.”

Several apps already on the market make it simple to test blood alcohol content, which is the most common way to measure intoxication. An app called “Drink Tracker” gives the user updates every minute. Another allows users to create a “drink diary” to chart daily, weekly or monthly consumption and set limits or goals for their alcohol use.

Aaron White, a program director for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, said the app could be a helpful educational tool – if students use it responsibly. He said he had never heard of schools using similar apps, though several are on the market.

“Many students are unaware of what the definitions of a standard drink is and probably more have difficulty pouring a single serving,” said White, who studies college and underage drinking prevention. “Apps like this could actually give them false confidence that they’re less intoxicated than they actually are.”

Janda said she has not decided whether she will release the app to students. She also declined to say what company created the app or how much it would cost.

She pitched the idea to student leaders at a training session this fall, Beta Theta Pi president Matt Zahn said.

Zahn said the app was an “interesting idea,” though he thought it could be difficult to get the word out about it to students. CADE typically distributes small cards listing blood alcohol levels at Colonial Inauguration or campus events like the student organization fair.

During Colonial Inauguration, student skits and administrator presentations discuss the dangers of alcohol consumption in the hopes that new students will make safe choices.

Apps that determine intoxication levels can be an important part of alcohol education, said Daniel Lieberman, a psychiatry professor at the GW Medical Faculty Associates. The University already requires freshmen to complete an alcohol and drug use training program called My Student Body.

“It’s helpful to try to promote strategies for healthy drinking from as many different ways as possible,” Lieberman said.

Colleen Murphy and Eva Palmer contributed reporting.

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