The Dangers of Alcohol Abuse

Peter Huynh/Photography Intern

Five years ago, Erica Upshaw was terrified of public speaking. However, on Thursday night in Crawford Hall, there was no sign of nervousness. She was calm, funny and relatable as she told the students (mainly athletes and Panhellenic chapters) about her experiences as a party-goer. Her speech, “Keep Friendship Alive,” was the first of the three-part Anteater Speaker series. Her message about staying in control at a party revolved around the loss of her brother, Joey Upshaw, due to excessive alcohol combined with the date-rape drug GHB.

Each year, 1,700 college students die from alcohol-related causes in the United States. Most of these victims were not alone, with several of their close friends nearby who ignored the warning signs that could have potentially saved their lives. On April 21, 2000, Joey’s fraternity brothers did not call 9-1-1 while he was passed out with signs of irregular breathing and blue lips. They believed he would “sleep it off.” He never woke up.

There was an apparent sadness in Erica’s voice as she recalled the details of her brother’s life. She fondly remembers him having the comedic ability ranging from Vince Vaughn to Mike Meyers with a contagious smile and friendliness matched with his big bear-hugs. He was an engineering major at Ohio State University with the appearance of the “perfect” college life.

She understands that college is fun, but safety comes first as demonstrated in her three main points: 1) Party smart, 2) say something and 3) 9-1-1.

“Partying smart” means having a designated driver, knowing your limits, keeping yourself hydrated, eating beforehand and taking only half-shots. UC Irvine’s RADD program under the Heath and Education Center is geared towards promoting sober driving. They emphasize the use of a designated driver. Local restaurants participating in their mission offer incentives such as free non-alcoholic drinks and appetizers. For more information, contact Kristin Mendoza at or (949)-824-9688.

In a recent survey, 95 percent of UCI students reported that they wanted their friend to say something if they were in trouble. Erica reminded us of four important questions: when, where, how and what. The answers to these questions could be life-saving.

Joey’s friends argued whether to call 9-1-1 or not; by the time they decided to pick up the phone, it was too late. Erica does not want anyone else to make that mistake. She encouraged us to enact the “Good Samaritan Policy” on campus which would prevent disciplinary action against the person seeking assistance. The number to call is campus police at (949) 824-5223.

Four weeks ago, Erica was tragically hit by a drunk driver on the PCH. On Monday night, she gave her first speech after the horrific accident at Michigan State. She spoke to more than 2,500 students and smiled as she said that she got a standing ovation.

“[It] was a really inspiring night,” remarked Upshaw. “[It] solidified that I’m doing the thing that I need to do.”

Currently, she is recruiting college students across the country to go into their local middle schools and speak about substance abuse prevention. “It will be very unlike D.A.R.E,” she states bluntly. Upshaw wants these college students to hopefully “inspire these [middle schoolers] to pursue their passions and dreams.”

She can be reached at (970)-785-7365 or at