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Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Hard alcohol culture rises at Chico State

Burnett’s vodka, commonly referred to as “Chico water,” is a key contributor to the hard alcohol-influenced culture among Chico State students. Photo credit: Allisun Coote


On a typical Friday or Saturday night in Chico, the Enloe Medical Center emergency room treats two to four patients for alcohol overdose.

Although the hospital does not release whether the patients are Chico State students, Christina Chavira, Enloe Medical Center marketing and communications director, confirmed patient ages generally range from 17-22.

Stephan Shaheen
Stephan Shaheen, Tony’s Liquor employee, has noticed an increase in sales of hard alcohol compared to other types of alcohol. Photo credit: Allisun Coote

Since the 1990s, the number of young drinkers who prefer hard alcohol has increased by 17 percent, which may contribute to the increase in emergency room visits.

One sophomore student, who remains anonymous due to the fact that she’s underage, said she prefers to drink only hard liquor.

“It gets me drunk way faster,” she said. “It also has to do with money. I can get way more drunk from $10 of vodka versus $10 of beer.”

Local liquor store employees have also noticed the trend toward hard alcohol.

“Hard alcohol purchases have shot up in the younger customers,” said Stephan Shaheen, Tony’s Liquor employee.

Although there are still customers who buy beer consistently, the $7.50 bottle of Burnett’s vodka is proving to be more popular, he said.

One reason hard alcohol can be more dangerous than other types of alcohol is that it’s much more concentrated. Drinkers can also become more intoxicated off hard alcohol for the same price.

The Chico bar scene also provides customers with hard alcohol at low prices. The prices shown are during regular hours, not during “happy hour” or other promotions.

Although hard alcohol provides the chance to get more drunk for less money, it can also contribute to negative health complications.

It has been nearly three years since 21-year-old Chico State student Mason Sumnicht reportedly drank 21 shots on his birthday and fell unconscious shortly thereafter. Sumnicht was rushed to Enloe Medical Center, but the damage to his body was done. Simnicht died days later when he was taken off of life support.

As Chico State continues to hold its reputation as a heavy partying school, and Enloe Medical Center continues to see emergency patients rushed in to be treated for alcohol overdose, students should be aware of when to take themselves or friends in for medical help, Chavira said.

Although people can obtain alcohol poisoning from accidentally consuming toxic alcohol in household items, alcohol poisoning from binge drinking is by far the most common.

When a person consumes alcohol, it takes time for the liver to filter out the toxins from the liquor. A person can only handle two alcohol units per hour based on their height and weight. The unit size can also differ based on whether or not a person has eaten a substantial meal prior to drinking.

One 12 oz. beer has the same alcohol content as a 1.5 oz. shot of vodka. Vodka has more units than the beer. Drinking anything with more than two units per hour is considered binge drinking— the main cause of alcohol poisoning.

Chavira said doctors recommend coming to the hospital for a doctor’s evaluation and immediate help if individuals show any of the following symptoms:

  • Poor awareness of surroundings
  • Fever/chills
  • Inability to speak or identify self
  • Unusual breathing rhythm

Drinking in college may never come to an end, but the trends toward hard alcohol can be detrimental to student health at Chico State.

“We do see alcohol-related deaths,” Chavira said. “Some are intentional and some accidental.”

Sarah Strausser can be reached at [email protected] or @strausser_sarah on Twitter.

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