Alcohol - Smart Use
Alcohol and You
While alcohol is prevalent on college campuses and in our society in general, it can cause many problems and consequences. It’s important that if you choose to drink, you learn how to do so safely to avoid getting hurt, getting in trouble, doing things you might regret and messing up your health and well-being. Here are some tips to make your drinking safer and some helpful information.
- Alcohol affects people differently depending on their size, gender, how much they’ve eaten that day, physical condition, medications being taken and speed and quantity of alcohol consumed. Because of differences in body fat and body fluid levels and metabolism, women typically are affected faster and more intensely by alcohol than men.
- Alcohol may make you feel good for a short time, but generally, the pleasant short-term effects disappear if you keep drinking past the “slightly buzzed” stage. Also, alcohol is a physical depressant on the body and mind and can cause depression 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 dangerous.
- 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.
- Know your limits, as well as what is considered safe and healthy for your weight and gender. Generally, no more than 7 drinks a week for women and 14 drinks a week for men is considered a normal, healthy amount. 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 pace yourself, 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, don’t “top off” your glass), drink to have fun or enjoy the taste rather than to get drunk, alternate alcoholic with non-alcoholic drinks, use the “buddy system” to stay safe.
- Avoid mixing alcohol with energy drinks, as this can have more serious side effects. Also avoid using alcohol with prescription or over-the-counter 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 and 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 shutting people out
- Dropping friends who don’t drink and/or associating only with people who also drink
- Spending more money than you have on alcohol
- Finding it’s hard to be happy or feel OK without drinking
- Thinking about drinking all the time
- Trying to quit or cut back but being unable to do so
- Needing to drink in the morning to “get going” or drinking when hung over (“hair of the dog”) to mask over hangover symptoms
- People expressing concern or annoyance about your drinking
- Continuing to drink despite serious consequences (e.g., DUIs, fights, failing classes)
The most common consequences of abusing alcohol are as follow:
- 70% of college students admit to engaging in unplanned sexual activity primarily as a result of drinking or to having sex they wouldn't have had if they had been sober.
- 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.
- 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 or even getting kicked out of school.
If you see someone who has been drinking who is 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 and not leave the person alone or let him or her “sleep it off.” Call 911 immediately.
For more information about alcohol, visit the SHOP’s Alcohol, Tobacco & Other Drugs website