University of Colorado students will be handing out free food and water on University Hill on Halloween in an alcohol-awareness effort designed to combat
University of Colorado students will be handing out free food and water on University Hill on Halloween in an alcohol-awareness effort designed to combat alcohol poisoning. (Camera file photo)

Thursday night, a group of University of Colorado students will celebrate Halloween by making sure costume-clad revelers on University Hill have enough food and water in their bellies while out drinking.

The students, who are members of the CU Student Government or work in health-centric offices on campus, will hand out free food and water on the Hill during peak party hours as part of an alcohol harm-reduction program they piloted this fall.

Their hope is that by making food and water accessible and free, students and other partygoers won't become dangerously intoxicated.

"When you have students eating and drinking water in between their (alcoholic) drinks, you're more likely to get them to drink less overall and have a lot less negative kickback from drinking," said Sam Golon, the CU Student Government's health director.

Students have spent three weekend nights so far this fall giving out food and water on the Hill. Rather than hurt local business, students bought pizzas and sandwiches from restaurants such as The Sink and Cheba Hut, brands that have helped attract hungry partygoers.

Money for the program comes from CU Student Government funds, Golon said.

Mark Heinritz, co-owner of The Sink, said he was supportive of the program because it also helps foster a good relationship between CU students and Hill residents and business owners.

"For 20 years I've been working with the neighborhood to try to figure out how to make the Hill a better place to live and get the community to get along with each other better," Heinritz said. "I'm glad they're doing it. I hope they continue to do it."

Golon said he's heard of some students deliberately not eating before they go out drinking because they want to get drunk more quickly. The free and immediate food and water on the Hill helps combat that to some extent, Golon said.

In 2012, CU police recorded 123 alcohol violations on public property -- up from 40 in 2010. The campus also recorded 771 on-campus alcohol violations last year.

Reinforced messaging

The campaign also subtly reinforces messaging given during new student orientation about the dangers of drinking too much, too quickly, without food or water, said Lee Scriggins, a CU community health strategist. The pilot program conveys that message without a brochure or tons of medical jargon, she said.

"It gets people the information not only when they need it, but where they need it and it's outside of an expected context," Scriggins said. "It's good to talk about it at orientation and redundant exposure creates learning. But to have it right there at the time when some people are drinking and as an on-the-ground reminder is particularly clever and potentially effective."

Drinking too much too quickly, or on an empty stomach, can lead to alcohol poisoning, which can include vomiting, passing out, cold and bluish skin and irregular breathing. Those symptoms aren't what most students want when they go out on the weekends Scriggins said.

"All they can do is give them pizza and water and be saying, 'Drink this. Eat this. You'll get less drunk. You'll have more fun,'" Scriggins said.

'Drinking safely and responsibly'

Halloween will be the last night this semester for the experimental program.

After that, CU Student Government leaders will meet with Scriggins and other community health officials to talk about how to measure the program's success. Then they'll consider bringing it back in the spring or next fall, when another new group of freshmen arrive on campus.

So far, said Caitlin Pratt, the CU Student Government's safety and inclusion director, feedback for the program has been positive.

"We're not going to stop college students from drinking," Pratt said. "That's just part of college culture in the U.S. and the better way to approach it, rather than telling people not to do something, because that kind of messaging is not very effective, is to help create a culture of drinking safely and responsibly."

Contact Staff Writer Sarah Kuta at 303-473-1106, kutas@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/sarahkuta.