How to Stay Safe and Prevent Binge Drinking & DUIs
Alcohol use is seemingly embedded within much of college culture but not necessarily in a healthy way. Binge drinking and alcohol abuse continues to be a public health problem on college campuses but there are things students can do to raise awareness and effect change. This guide offers students 21 and older expert tips on how to keep themselves and their peers safe when drinking. Learn more about college binge drinking and what you can do to drink responsibly without being a buzzkill.
What is binge drinking?
According to Jim LaPierre, a clinical social worker and therapist in Maine, “Binge drinking is episodically using alcohol in what is typically considered large amounts. A ‘binge drinker’ is usually a person who doesn’t consume alcohol daily or in large quantities, but periodically – perhaps on weekends, holidays or specific occasions – will drink excessive amounts.”
Why should college students be concerned about binge drinking?
LaPierre says college students should be concerned about binge drinking for a number of reasons. Alcohol is a toxin and a depressant. As a drug, it’s easily misused. College students who binge drink, says LaPierre, tend to become impulsive, make unhealthy decisions and may even put themselves – and others – in high-risk situations. And things can progress from there. “Binge drinking often leads to daily drinking which can easily lead to alcohol dependency,” warns LaPierre.
What is alcohol abuse?
“Substances are inanimate objects — we don’t abuse them, we abuse ourselves with them,” says LaPierre. Alcohol abusers are usually heavy drinkers who continue to drink even if it leads to problems or dangerous consequences, such as a DUI or alcohol poisoning. According to LaPierre, the signs of alcohol abuse are slurred speech, unsteady gait, impulsiveness, poor decision making, high-risk behaviors, changes in personality and otherwise acting out of character, slowed reflexes, difficulty concentrating, incoherent rambling and circular thinking and speaking.
Isn’t wild drinking just a part of college life/culture?
Drinking is common on many college campuses, but that doesn’t make binge drinking and alcohol abuse acceptable or healthy. “Drinking is commonly an ingredient in date rape and other forms of sexual assault, car accidents and getting arrested for DUIs and other crimes,” says LaPierre.
Is wanting to get buzzed or drunk a bad reason for drinking?
Everyone knows a drink or two can leave you feeling “good”, relaxed or buzzed. That’s why most people drink in the first place. But it becomes a major concern when students purposefully drink to the point of blacking out or if they put themselves and others in high-risk situations. “As a clinician, I would consider what is healthy and unhealthy as opposed to what is good and bad,” says LaPierre. There’s nothing wrong with drinking, as long as you’re not drinking an unhealthy amount and are responsible about it.
I only had a couple beers. Why do I still need a designated driver?
LaPierre says even moderate use of alcohol can slow reflexes and decision making. Having a designated driver ensures safety and can prevent tragedy. It also eliminates the possibility of driving above the legal limit unknowingly. “I have served countless folks who were arrested when they absolutely believed they were within the legal limit. I have served folks who became convicted felons by virtue of a minor accident while under the influence because the passengers of the car they hit were injured,” he shares. When it comes to drinking, even if it’s just a beer or two, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
How can I tell if I’ve been drinking too much?
Slurred speech, blurred vision, lack of coordination, dehydration and vomiting are all typical signs someone has been drinking too much. But relying on physical symptoms of intoxication to determine if you’ve reached an unhealthy limit can be problematic because everyone’s tolerance and self-awareness is different. And if students have been mixing alcohol with other things – such as caffeine – intoxication levels become even harder to monitor. Instead, LaPierre recommends calculating blood alcohol content (BAC) which is the concentration of alcohol in your bloodstream. “A person can notice that they have drunk too much by monitoring the amount of alcohol they are consuming, and calculating their BAC. A person who has a BAC of over 0.08 is legally intoxicated.”
What is alcohol poisoning?
Alcohol poisoning is the dangerous, sometimes deadly, result of drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. “It’s a medical condition in which a person’s blood alcohol level is 0.25 or above,” says LaPierre. A student with alcohol poisoning requires immediate medical attention.
How can you tell if someone has alcohol poisoning?
“Signs of alcohol poisoning include blacking out/loss of consciousness and being highly confused or lethargic. If you notice these symptoms in a friend, seek medical attention. A person who reaches a blood alcohol level of 0.40 or above is at very high risk of dying,” says LaPierre. Other visible symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic, include vomiting, seizures, slow or irregular breathing, pale or blue-tinged skin and hypothermia.
What do I do if I have a drinking problem?
If you think you have a drinking problem, don’t hesitate to get help. “If a person becomes aware that they have a drinking problem, they should share that idea with people they trust,” recommends LaPierre. Meeting with your primary care physician for a physical and consultation is also a good starting point. There are several free online and local resources to help students with a drinking problem find the path to recovery.
10 Tips for Staying Safe While Drinking
Drinking, like any other social activity, can be fun when in moderation. But for college students taking a sip of alcohol for the first time, it’s easy to go overboard and into dangerous territory. Below are 10 tips to keep you and others safe while drinking without sacrificing any of the fun.
- Learn your limitIf you’re interested in drinking alcohol, that’s OK. But too many people, especially college students, push their limits and wind up in trouble. Before jumping right in at the next frat party, get an idea of what your limit is by drinking in a controlled environment with a sober friend or family member. Have them take notes on how much you’ve been drinking and how your behavior changes over the course of a few drinks. Let them take video so you can see how you look and act after several drinks. These observations can give you an idea of how much is too much.
- No dinner? No drinkAlcohol on an empty stomach is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream. Although many people swear having bread and rice can “soak up the alcohol,” eating a high-fat, high-protein dinner before you start drinking can help prevent you from getting wasted. Snacking in between drinks can also help, as does drinking lots of water.
- Skip a few roundsWhile peer pressure is no myth, people who are drinking aren’t necessarily monitoring everyone else’s intake. It’s OK to skip a round or two and instead get water or juice, especially when you feel the need to slow down.
- If it’s not available in a bar, tread lightlyJungle juice. Zombies. Hunch punch. The combo of rum and/or Everclear with sugary juice is a staple at many college parties because it’s accessible and easy to make but it’s also a dangerous one — not only because of the alcohol content, but because the alcohol can be masked by the mixer. When drinking something you’re unfamiliar with, go slower and give yourself more time between drinks to observe the effects.
- Don’t put the nozzle directly in your mouthThis tip is about more than just hygiene. You can see how much is in a glass but it’s hard to measure how much beer or jungle juice you’ve ingested when it’s coming straight out of a hose. It’s also harder to control the speed at which you drink. Stick to amounts you can see and keep your eye on throughout the night.
- Don’t mixAlcohol is a drug, so some people think it pairs naturally with other drugs. Mixing drugs has been involved in too many deaths, including Michael Jackson and Prince, to still believe it’s harmless. Even over-the-counter medicines and prescriptions don’t interact well with alcohol, either reducing their efficacy or leading to very unwelcome side effects. If you’re unsure, check with a pharmacist or just avoid mixing all together.
- One hour = one drinkEveryone’s metabolism is different and every drink is different, but the general rule is that the body can metabolize about one unit of alcohol (one beer, glass of wine, or shot) per hour. Drinking faster than this leads to drunkenness. Drinking a lot faster than this can get students into serious trouble. That’s why college drinking games – where it’s hard to monitor how much one is drinking and how quickly – are often the culprits behind alcohol poisoning.
- Let alcohol play a supporting role rather than the leadMany people say they drink to become more social or they drink to have more fun at an event. But making alcohol the focus of an evening or event puts a lot of pressure on students to continue drinking. Instead, put socializing front and center. For instance, have a game night or themed party at which drinks are served, rather the main reason for the gathering.
- Avoid going in the waterIf your college is near the beach or you have access to a pool, this one’s for you. Everyone has heard of the hazards of drinking and driving but fewer have heard of the risks of drinking and swimming. The Centers for Disease Control report that up to 70% of drowning deaths involve alcohol. That’s because balance and coordination are prerequisites for swimming – but also two of the first things to be diminished by alcohol.
- Watch your drinkIt’s easy to have a drink spiked, especially when already buzzed. Watch out for drowsiness, dizziness, dead limbs or inebriation beyond what seems plausible given how much alcohol has been consumed. Some common tactics for avoiding a spiked drink include watching the drink being made, not putting it down to go to the bathroom, holding cups by the top (so your hand is somewhat over the mouth) or putting a coaster on top.
How Colleges Prevent Binge Drinking
In 2014, Beth McMurtrie, a campus culture expert and a journalist with the Chronicle of Higher Education, called out colleges for failing to curb binge drinking. The problem, McMurtrie concluded, was that colleges focused their efforts on providing information without changing their enforcement methods or changing environmental factors to binge drinking, such as fraternity parties and tailgates.
But some colleges are taking steps to prevent alcohol abuse among students. The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Drug Misuse Prevention and Recovery, based at The Ohio State University, introduced SBIRT or Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment. Many campuses nationwide use it to screen all students. One group that has adopted SBIRT is the Maryland Collaborative to Reduce College Drinking and Related Problems, a consortium of 15 colleges that also lobbied the state to ban extreme-strength alcohol in 2015 and powdered alcohol in 2016.
Other schools have targeted particular drinking rituals. Indiana University has banned hard liquor at fraternity parties, while Stanford bans it at all undergraduate parties. The University of Michigan, with the cooperation of the school’s Greek system, uses student volunteers to monitor banned or unsafe behaviors, like kegs or a lack of sober participants.
Boston University goes with a good cop/bad cop approach. On one hand, its alcohol prevention program, called AlcoholEdu for College, is a requirement for all freshmen, preparing them for risky drinking situations. On the other, the school prevents underage drinking by working with law enforcement to crack down on fake IDs and older students buying alcohol for younger ones. If caught, the university imposes its own discipline, which can include losing a scholarship.
And still other schools, such as North Dakota State University, have dry campuses, not allowing any alcohol regardless of age. In fact, the Princeton Review ranks “stone-cold sober” schools each year.
Students & DUIs
According to the Higher Education Center, most of the 1,800 alcohol-related to drunk driving. And the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says that the DUI rate for college students is higher than for non-college students.
Getting caught on campus means the college’s own policies determine the consequences. But most roads are not on campus. Getting caught for a DUI results in a suspended license in most states, and some require jail time plus fines. Not to mention higher insurance rates. If someone gets hurt, the consequences are far more serious.
How to Prevent DUIs
Students who have conquered world history midterms on two hours of sleep may think they can manage driving after drinking as well. But the stakes for failing in this case are a lot higher. Here’s how students can keep themselves and their friends safe on the road:
Enlist a designated driver before you start drinking
Before you start drinking, make sure someone in your group will be the designated driver or make sure everyone agrees to walk, call a cab or take a Lyft/Uber at the end of the night. And keep in mind that designated driver does not translate to “the person who drank the least.” Work it out ahead of time, then relax in the knowledge that you’ll all get home safe.
Save transportation numbers on your phone
Many colleges and universities provide free or low-cost transportation during evenings and weekends, specifically to discourage drunk driving. Many come in the form of taxis or downtown shuttles. Just make sure you have the number in your phone. If your campus doesn’t have such a service, download a ridesharing app.
Know your state’s legal drinking limit
Driving with anything above a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% is illegal in all states. (It can be lower in some states.) For those who are not yet 21, driving with any amount of alcohol in your blood is illegal.
Forfeit your car keys
Many people don’t plan on drinking, then change their mind once they get to a party. If you make a quick decision to start drinking, give your car keys (keep your apartment key) to a sober friend so you can’t even attempt to drive home after the party ends.
Leave with your designated driver
Want to stay longer or go home with someone else? That’s no good if the other person a) isn’t sober or b) doesn’t know. Go home with your designated driver, whose job it is to keep you safe. If you do have to switch up the plan for whatever reason, make sure you communicate that in front of your designated driver and your new ride home.
If you see something, say something
Sometimes it’s your friends who are at risk of a DUI. If a friend has been drinking, and especially if they’ve been drinking too much, check in and make sure they have a plan for getting home safely. Hopefully they do, but if they don’t, it may be up to you to stay sober and take them home. That’s what friends are for, right?
The term “binge drinker” was invented in 1994 to describe the drinking habits of college students, 44% of whom fit the label. In 2015, that number was 38%.
25% of college students do not drink. When asked how many of their peers don’t drink, students estimated the number to be just five percent.
20% of college students qualify for an alcohol use disorder, which includes alcohol abuse on one end and alcoholism at the extreme end
Nearly 100,000 college students report an alcohol-related sexual assault or rape each year.
Over 1,800 college students die from alcohol-related injuries each year.