Alcohol and Substance Abuse
Making Smart Decisions About Alcohol
By: Wendy Wolfe, Ph.D.
Your college years are a time for learning, not just about philosophy, biology, and economics, but about yourself. If you are a traditional college student, you probably have more independence and freedom to make your own choices than you have ever had before! One choice you will be making (and perhaps already have been making) is what part alcohol and drinking will play in your life. The choices you make in college about your alcohol use CAN impact your life after college.
As with any other big decision in your life, you will want to make an informed one. The information provided in this article and in the website links below provide you with an opportunity to learn more about alcohol and your own drinking behavior. I encourage you to read through the information and explore the links to other websites. You can also make an appointment to see a counselor for a confidential consultation to discuss any concerns you have about your drinking, or the drinking behavior of someone you care about.
Why Do People Drink?
Most people drink because they anticipate experiencing positive effects from alcohol, such as feeling more relaxed. However, research has shown that many of the effects we attribute to alcohol are really placebo effects. In other words, alcohol helps us feel more talkative and social because we expect that it will. Many research studies (my own included) have found that people will act intoxicated and report feeling intoxicated if you tell them they have consumed alcohol – even if they really haven’t!
Certainly, alcohol does have an actual physiological effect on us as well. However, most of the “positive” effects of alcohol are obtained with relatively low levels of alcohol. In fact, the more you drink and the faster you drink, the more likely you will be to bypass the enjoyable effects of alcohol and head straight to the negative effects, such as losing motor coordination, slurring speech, making regrettable decisions, experiencing a hangover, blacking out, and placing oneself at risk for alcohol poisoning.
Do The Positives Outweigh The Negatives?
In addition to immediate negative effects of excessive alcohol consumption, longer term consequences exist. For example, frequent binge drinking (drinking 4 or more drinks per occasion for females and 5 or more for males) is associated with greater risk of academic problems, legal problems, accidents, and sexual assault. In addition, some college drinkers will develop alcohol dependence – whereby increasing amounts of alcohol are needed over time to obtain the same effect.
Women may be particularly vulnerable to the negative consequences of alcohol use. First of all, women will become more intoxicated than their male counterparts with the same amount of alcohol – even if their weight is the same (which it usually isn’t). This is partly because women usually have a higher body fat content than men and, since alcohol is diluted in the water of muscle tissue, the alcohol that women consume is more concentrated in the body. In addition, women have lower levels of alcohol dehydrogenase – an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol. Finally, hormonal changes and oral contraceptives can increase women’s sensitivity to the effects of alcohol.
Women are also at increased risk of sexual assault when they have been drinking and when they are around men who have been drinking. A large scale research study found that of sexual assault perpetrators and victims, 75% of the men and 55% of the women reported using alcohol and/or other drugs before the assault. Women using alcohol are also at increased risk of being the victim of a date rape drug. If you feel more intoxicated than would seem warranted, given the amount of alcohol you’ve consumed, a date rape drug should be suspected. Tell a friend and get out of the situation as quickly and safely as possible!
Can I Reduce My Risk For Negative Alcohol-Related Consequences?
Obviously, the best risk reduction strategy is to abstain from alcohol use. If you still intend to drink, however, here are some tips for reducing your risk related to alcohol use:
- If you choose to drink, drink slowly. Sip your drink and space your drinks further apart. Try alternating alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
- Drink beverages with lower alcohol content – such as light beers. This way you’ll save on calories too!
- Drink for quality rather than quantity.
- Count your drinks and stick to a pre-determined limit. Ask your friends to help you stick to your limit.
- Avoid drinking games – don’t give up control of your drinking decisions to someone else (and the flip of the quarter).
- Be sure to eat something before drinking – never drink on an empty stomach.
- Assign a designated driver (or volunteer to be one yourself and stick to soda for the evening).
- Look out for your friends and have them look out for you when at a club, bar, or party with strangers.
If you try these strategies and find that you are unable to stick to your plan for reducing risk related to drinking (e.g., if you can’t stick to your limit), you may have an alcohol problem. For further information and/or assistance, contact the Counseling Center.
Where Can I Go For More Information?
Last updated: 7/17/2019