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The College Student's Guide to Safe Socialization

Blacking out—becoming so drunk that you can’t remember some or all of the events that happened while you were drinking—is frequently portrayed in the media as a fairly common, harmless occurrence. In reality, it’s quite serious.

Laura Magerkurth

September 14, 2015

The College Student's Guide to Safe Socialization
By now, the school year is in full swing, and for many college students that means that the party scene is also heating up. Parties, of course, can often mean drinking. If you’re underage and you decide to drink, you have to know the legal and, possibly academic consequences, of doing so. You don’t want to be caught unawares in a bad situation, shocked that you lose your driver’s license for several weeks or have your scholarship revoked for drinking. That being said, we’re all aware that alcohol plays a major role in the social lives of many college students, regardless of age.

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It’s important that everyone understand the ins and outs of drinking in college.

Know your own limits—and don’t push them

It can be easy to have one or three drinks too many when you’re surrounded by people who are doing the same. If you haven’t had a lot of experience with alcohol (or even if you have!) don’t go overboard. One or two drinks is plenty for anyone. You should also be aware of what constitutes a single drink and the factors, like weight and gender, which impact the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream.

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This website offers both a general chart based on weight and number of drinks and a blood alcohol content (BAC) calculator, which can be helpful in determining how much of what kinds of beverages will likely affect you. If you take any medications for any reason (including over-the-counter cold and allergy meds!), be aware of the effects of mixing them with alcohol. This publication lists possible side effects of drinking while taking a variety of commonly-used medications, organized by conditions. If you’re not sure about your particular situation, of course, you should get in touch with your doctor or the health center at your school and ask for their advice.

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Think about the “why”

Before going out on the town, take a second to consider why you’re drinking. Is it just a nice way to enjoy socializing or does it feel like you can’t have a good time unless you have a drink in hand? Maybe you find that after a stressful week, the only thing that can help you unwind is a couple of drinks. If you feel like you can’t make it through the day without alcohol, you find yourself getting very drunk on a regular basis or you can only relax by drinking, you might be abusing alcohol. If this applies to you, do what you can to break the cycle: head over to your school’s counseling services and learn what they can do to help you discover the reason why you’re abusing alcohol and help you overcome the behavior. If you don’t enjoy drinking or the party scene, you’re not alone. I can guarantee that there are others at your school who don’t drink for a variety of reasons, like a medical condition, religion or just lack of interest or dislike.

Know the rules of your school

All colleges are not created equal when it comes to alcohol policies and the punishment for people who violate those policies. My university, for example, is a dry campus: that means that nobody can have alcohol anywhere on campus—including in their body—regardless of their age. If a 21-year-old lives in the dorms and comes home from a night of drinking off-campus, they can be suspended or otherwise punished despite the fact that it’s totally legal for them to drink. On a wet campus, students who are 21 and older can drink. Some wet campuses even sell alcoholic beverages in campus convenience stores; however, it’s important to be aware of other restrictions on alcohol usage, like whether there are consequences for having an open container out and about on campus.

Know the signs and symptoms

There are a variety of scary and potentially dangerous acute medical issues that can arise as a result of drinking too much. Blacking out—becoming so drunk that you can’t remember some or all of the events that happened while you were drinking—is frequently portrayed in movies and TV as a fairly common and harmless occurrence. In reality, it’s actually very serious. During a blackout, an individual can seem perfectly in control of their behavior. They can be walking around, talking and cracking jokes, but won’t remember anything the next day. Someone may lose track of belongings or make risky decisions during a blackout. Passing out is perhaps even more dangerous than blacking out. If someone appears to be passed out and is difficult or impossible to rouse, they may have alcohol poisoning. Other signs of alcohol poisoning include slow or irregular breathing; cold and clammy skin; and throwing up while passed out. It’s not difficult to avoid blacking out or passing out. Encourage your friends to sip their drinks and not have more than one per hour, since they’re both associated with binge drinking, or rapid alcohol consumption in a short period of time. Drink plenty of water throughout the night; you may have to make more bathroom trips than you’d like, but it’s better than losing control of your faculties. If you see someone showing the signs described above or if you start feeling funny, don’t hesitate to seek medical help. It’s much better to go to the ER and get checked out than waiting until it’s too late.

Making a plan to stay safe

It’s never a bad idea to designate someone in your group as the “sober” friend — not just the designated driver, but someone who is dedicated to making sure that everyone is safe, not consuming too much alcohol (and spacing out their drinks), and drinking plenty of water or soda in between alcoholic beverages. It’s also smart to save the phone number of a local, trustworthy cab company so that you always have someone to call if you’re not 100% sure that you can make it home safe. Of course, the best way to ensure your safety and peace of mind is to avoid drinking to excess. If you’re smart and take steps to avoid the consequences of drinking, you’ll likely be just fine.

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