By Pierry Parmera

Pierry Parmera Photo
Erika Dole has been Algonquin’s health promotion educator for five years. Her main role in the SODA initiative is to promote the website and raise awareness.

Ottawa Public Health has partnered with Algonquin, University of Ottawa and La Cité Colegiale to create the Safer Ottawa Drinking Alliance (SODA) in order  to raise awareness on unsafe drinking within the city’s student body.

Startling numbers of alcohol-related emergency room admissions among 18-to-25 year olds spurred the city to bring its post-secondary institutions together to battle binge drinking among that age group, according to Terry-Lynne Marco, a public health nurse of Ottawa Public Health.

“There were 780 emergency room admittances related to alcohol last year in Ottawa in the 18-to-25 age group. That number is considered very high,” said Marco.

Ottawa Public Health has specifically been concerned with binge drinking which is described as more than five drinks in one sitting.

According to Ottawa Public Health’s most recent statistics, over 62,000 Ottawa young adults between the ages of 19-24 binge drink every month.

“Though there has been a lot of positive behaviour, there is an issue with the 19-to-24 age group,” she said.

Despite all these astounding numbers, Marco is not despairing because all of Ottawa’s post-secondary institutions, especially Algonquin, have done a tremendous job cooperating with Ottawa Public Health and SODA.

Algonquin’s health promotion educator, Erica Dole, is in charge of promoting healthy living tips for staff and students. But now one of her chief dedications is to promote SODA within the student body.

“Our goal isn’t to tell people not to drink at all, but to drink safely. It seems unrealistic to tell people who drink a lot right now never to drink,” said Dole. “We know that there is a safe amount of alcohol that you can ingest. We just want people to be safer.”

Health Services is coming out with a booth this month which will help students understand the proper drink measurements so they can learn better about drinking with moderation.

“Instead of putting themselves in harm’s way, we’d like them to be more careful and thoughtful about their drinking,” said Dole. “Proper drink measurements will help students understand how much they actually are drinking when they pour themselves a drink.”

SODA is focusing a lot on educating young students because they lack basic understanding on the amount of drinks they can have. That harms them and their peers.

“We are focusing on unsafe drinking because we want to help students understand what the drinking norms are. Many students overestimate the amount of alcohol their peers drink,” said Marco.

According to Marco, within that category, new students are more likely to be deceived because they assume others drink a lot more than they actually do.

Marco advises students to check their school’s website and complete the Check Your Drinking test which will help them understand how much they are drinking and see if it is affecting their marks, their money and their lives.

“If you have to drink, make sure it’s not because you are stressed,” advised Marco. “Don’t turn to alcohol as a coping method.”

Ottawa Public Health will need further engagement from all three campuses involved with SODA as early as next year in the great campaign to address unsafe drinking.

“It’s all about bringing everyone together,” she said.