Drunk Tank

For students who take it a little too far on a wild night out, several universities now offer a solution: drunk tanks.

In 2017, the University of Guelph launched a pilot project called the Campus Alcohol Recovery Room, a volunteer-operated space in residence buildings equipped with six beds and buckets, also known as the “drunk tank”. Intoxicated students who decide to use the room are offered complete confidentiality; their names are not put on any record and they are not fined for underage drinking.

Volunteers trained in first-aid check up on students every 30 to 45 minutes for signs of alcohol poisoning or other symptoms that indicate they may require medical attention. The room operates from 10 pm to 6 am on Fridays and Saturdays as well as other holidays, when students tend to engage in high rates of alcohol consumption.

“We know that students are going to be drinking, it's the reality of post-secondary life.” said Taylor Brown, senior staff at the Western University's Wellness Education Center. “I definitely think there would be use for it, especially on days like homecoming and St. Paddy's.”

The CARR was inspired by a program at Queen’s University, called the Campus Observation Room, which operates in a similar way. In January, the University of Calgary also launched a Post-Alcohol Support Space for a four-month pilot period. The PASS has a registered nurse and a student medical response team on duty.

The CARR, COR, and PASS all emphasize the space is a judgment-free zone that is meant to be a harm-reduction strategy for alcohol overconsumption. Brown explained the stigma associated with overdrinking may be one of the challenges faced by the program.

“Students might feel ashamed they overdrank … and they don't need supervision, or they feel like they can handle it,” she said. “We do see a lot of students struggling with addiction and binge-drinking [at the WEC].”

In 2016, a survey of 43,780 Canadian students from 41 post-secondary institutions showed that almost half of all students consumed 5 or more drinks the last time they attended a social event. Ontario’s guidelines on safe-drinking recommend a maximum of 4 standard drinks for men and 3 standard drinks for women on any single occasion to avoid serious health risks and harm.

The WEC at Western provides a number of resources pertaining to alcohol consumption such as information sheets on how to ‘drink smart’ and an addiction recovery skills workbook, according to Brown. She encourages students to visit the WEC for any questions or concerns about alcohol consumption.

"Overall, I think it's a really good idea because it provides a safe space for students to sober up in a healthy and supervised way," said Brown.


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