Alcohol Facts and Tips
While alcohol is prevalent on college campuses and in our society in general, it can cause many problems and consequences. Not drinking may be a good choice for you, and many students choose not to drink or drink in moderation. If you do choose to drink, it's important to learn ways to reduce your risk of getting hurt, getting in trouble, doing things you might regret, and messing up your health and well-being.
- People often overestimate the percentage of college students who drink and underestimate the percentage who don't drink (thinking "Everyone is doing it"): Nationwide, about 65 percent of traditional-age college students (late teens to early 20s) report they drank alcohol in the past month, and about 20 percent say they have never used alcohol.
- You don't have to be "an alcoholic" (physically addicted to alcohol) to have a problem. Alcohol abuse (drinking too much, drinking in unhealthy ways, continuing to drink despite negative consequences) can also cause many problems, such as health issues, injuries, relationship problems, financial issues, and problems at school or work.
- Alcohol affects people differently depending on their size, sex, how much they’ve eaten that day, physical condition, medications being taken, speed and quantity of alcohol consumed, and other factors. Because of sex-based differences in body fat, body fluid levels, and metabolism, cisgender women (people born with a female body) typically are affected faster and more intensely by alcohol than cisgender men (people born with a male body).
- Even if you have a higher tolerance for alcohol than other people (i.e., you feel less drunk than others your size and sex who have had the same amount to drink), your body is still affected by alcohol similarly to others. In other words, your blood alcohol level will be the same as another person who "seems" more drunk than you if you had the same amount and are the same size and sex. High tolerance for alcohol is a risk factor for alcoholism and alcohol abuse.
- Drinking may make you feel good for a short time, but generally, the pleasant short-term effects disappear and the negative effects increase if you keep drinking past the “slightly buzzed” stage. Also, alcohol is a physical depressant on the body and mind and can cause depressive symptoms after use.
- Your liver can only process 1 ounce of alcohol (i.e., one shot of liquor, one normal-strength 12-ounce beer, one 5-ounce glass of wine, or one 3-ounce glass of fortified wine) in an hour, so if you drink more and/or faster than that, your system becomes saturated, and additional alcohol accumulates in blood and body tissues until it can be processed. This is why pounding shots and playing drinking games can be especially problematic.
- If you have a first-degree relative (e.g., parent, sibling) who is an alcoholic, you have a greater risk of becoming an alcoholic yourself. The risk for male relatives of alcoholics may be even higher. These risks are both genetic and learned through living with an alcoholic person.
- Some people of Asian descent have trouble metabolizing alcohol and may experience facial flushing, nausea, headache, dizziness, and rapid heartbeat when drinking.
- Consider avoiding alcohol, especially if you are under 21, have had issues with alcohol, are taking certain medications, and/or have a first-degree relative with an alcohol problem.
- Know your limits, as well as what is considered unhealthy for your weight and sex. Generally, more than 7 drinks a week for women and 14 drinks a week for men is considered unhealthy. More than 4 drinks in a sitting is considered “binge drinking” for women, and more than 5 drinks in a sitting is considered a binge for men. Binge drinking increases short-term and long-term health and safety risks. These are just general guideless—keep in mind that fewer than 4 or 5 drinks might be too much for you.
- To help yourself drink less and slower, eat before drinking alcohol, decide ahead of time how many drinks to have and stick to it, keep track of drinks (e.g., put a mark on your hand for each drink or use a tracking app, don’t “top off” your glass), drink to enjoy the taste rather than to get drunk, alternate alcoholic with non-alcoholic drinks, measure the alcohol you put in mixed drinks, avoid doing shots, and bring less money when you go out.
- Use the “buddy system”—be with friends who will help you stick to your limits and keep you out of trouble if you start to lose your ability to make good decisions; do the same for your friends.
- Don't drive after drinking. Have a designated driver, take the bus or a car service or cab, or wait until you have sobered up (which can take 30–60 minutes per drink you have consumed or longer) to drive.
- Avoid mixing alcohol with energy drinks, as this can have more serious effects.
- Avoid using alcohol with prescription, over-the-counter, or recreational drugs, especially sedatives (e.g., Xanax, Valium) and opiates (e.g., OxyContin, Heroin), which can result in serious health consequences, including death.
Warning Signs That You May Have a Problem
- Increased use of alcohol
- Needing to drink more to get the same effect
- Ignoring responsibilities because of time spent drinking or hung over (e.g., skipping class, failing exams)
- Using alcohol in isolation and/or shutting people out because of your drinking
- Dropping friends who don’t drink and/or associating only with people who drink
- Spending more money than you should on alcohol
- Finding it’s hard to be happy or feel OK without drinking
- Thinking about drinking a lot of the time
- Trying to quit or cut back but being unable to do so, or going through repeated patterns of problematic use (e.g., cutting back for a few days or weeks and then resuming problematic use)
- Needing to drink in the morning to “get going” or drinking when hung over (“hair of the dog”) to mask hangover symptoms
- People expressing concern or annoyance about your drinking
- Continuing to drink despite serious consequences (e.g., DUIs, fights, failing classes)
- 70% of college students say that as a result of drinking, they had unplanned and/or unwanted sexual activity.
- At least 1 of 5 college students abandons safer sex practices when they're drunk, even if they do protect themselves when they're sober.
- Alcohol is involved in more than 90% of all campus rapes.
- Alcohol makes some drinkers violent, and more than 50% of non-academic discipline cases at UCSC involve alcohol.
- Heavy drinkers consistently have lower grades than those who don't drink or drink in moderation.
- One night of heavy drinking can impair your ability to think abstractly and grasp difficult concepts for a month!
- Drinking can lead to getting sanctions, losing your housing contract, getting kicked out of school, legal problems, losing important relationships, injury, or even death.
If you see someone who has been drinking who appears to be asleep and can’t be woken up; has slow or irregular breathing; has cold, clammy, pale, or bluish lips or skin; and is vomiting while passed out, he or she probably has alcohol poisoning. That person is at risk of dying or having serious health issues, so it’s important to get help. Do not leave the person alone or let them “sleep it off.” Call 911 immediately.
For more information about alcohol and other drugs, visit the SHOP Alcohol, Tobacco & Other Drugs website.