Health & Wellness Promotion
Alcohol & Other Drug Education
Alcohol Education Content
Students are likely to be exposed to alcohol at some point during their time in college. Being aware of the effects can prevent unwanted outcomes in the future. The educational modules below provide information so students can make informed choices. In general, decisions regarding alcohol should consider questions of risk and personal values.
Standard Servings - What Counts as One?
A standard serving of alcohol, or "one drink" contains 14 grams (0.5 oz) of pure alcohol (ethanol).
The amount of alcohol in the drink is more important than the volume of liquid. Different types of drinks contain different concentrations of alcohol. You might see the concentration of alcohol in the drink expressed as a percent (e.g. 40% alcohol by volume), or as a proof. Proof is simply the percentage multiplied x2, so a drink with 40% alcohol by volume is 80 proof.
Blood Alcohol Content (BAC)
What Do the Numbers Mean? Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), also called Blood Alcohol Concentration, is a measure of alcohol in the blood as a percentage. It is calculated in grams per 100 mL of blood, so a BAC of 0.08 means your blood is 0.08% alcohol by volume.
Using a breathalyzer, BAC is measured as grams per 210 Liters of breath (since the ratio of breath alcohol to blood alcohol is 2,100:1). All the calculations are done inside the device, so the number on the display represents the percentage of alcohol in your blood rather than on your breath.
What Symptoms Occur at Different BAC Levels? The following are typical effects associated with increases in blood alcohol content. Because of the effects of tolerance, some individuals will not experience feelings of relaxation or euphoria until reaching a higher than typical BAC. However, physical and visual effects (e.g. motor skill impairment) are fairly consistent and correspond to the BAC levels indicated. Physical and visual impairments will not improve with increased tolerance.BACPossible Effects
BAC Possible Effects .02% to .04%
Lightheaded - Mildly relaxed, mood may be mildly intensified
.05% to .07%
Buzzed - Feel warm and relaxed, good moods are better and bad moods are worse, euphoria, may talk louder/act bolder than usual
.08% to .10%
Legally Impaired - May slur speech, balance/motor skills become impaired, sight/hearing ability clearly diminished, judgement/self-control impaired, may take poor/risky sexual choices.
.11% to .15% Drunk - "High," balance very impaired, judgement, memory and motor skills impaired, may forget how many drinks you have had past this point, men may have trouble functioning sexually. .16% to .19% Very Drunk - Euphoria may give way to unpleasant feelings (depression), difficulty talking/walking/standing, sharp increase in chances of physically injuring yourself or others, may experience a blackout at this level or higher, nausea, dizzy, blurred vision. .20% Confusion and Disorientation - May need help to stand or walk; if you hurt yourself, you probably won't realize it because the alcohol has numbed your pain and your judgement is so impaired you might not do anything about it; nausea and vomiting common, getting very dangerous because gag reflex is impaired, so you could choke if you do throw up (especially if you black out). .30% Stupor - Likely to pass out involuntarily (as opposed to lower BAC's where you may decide to stop drinking and go to sleep); if pass out, may be difficult for others to wake you; possible to die from alcohol poisoning or choking on vomit at this level and higher .35% Equivalent to general anesthesia, breathing may stop. .40% Coma likely, breathing and heartbeat slowed to dangerous levels due to slowdown in nerve activity.
Alcohol and Nutrition
Calorie Source - Alcohol itself is a source of calories. The number of calories in a drink is primarily determined by the alcohol content, rather than the amount of sugar that is added to the drink. That's because alcohol is more calorie dense than carbohydrates.
Alcohol is a source of "empty calories," which means it is calorie dense but does not provide other nutrients, like vitamin and minerals.
This table shows the relative number of calories (calories per gram) coming from each macro-nutrient group.
One Gram (g) Calories Carbohydrates 4 Protein 4 Alcohol 7 Fats 9
So which drinks should have the most calories? Drinks with high alcohol content, larger sizes, and additional sugar and syrup mixers.
Calorie Content of Common Drinks - Normally, we don't think about food in terms of calories per gram. The table below reports the amount of calories in common drinks. Note: Drink sizes do not necessarily represent Standard Servings.
Calories Beers 64 Miller Genuine Draft 64 (12 oz) 95 Natural Light (12 oz) 99 Corona Light (12 oz) 110 Bud Light (12 oz) 116 Bud Light Lime (12 oz) 125 Yuengling Lager (12 oz) 150 Heineken (12 oz) 157 Natural Ice (12 oz) 170 Sam Adams Boston Lager (12 oz) 200 Sam Adams Winter Lager (12 oz) 231 Sierra Nevada India Pale Ale (12 oz) Calories Malt Beverages 220 Mike's Hard Lemonade (12 oz) 220 Twisted Tea (12 oz) 228 Smirnoff Ice (12 oz) 229 Bacardi Silver Mojito (12 oz) 660 Four Loko (23.5 oz) Calories Wine 105 Beringer White Zinfandel (5 oz) 100 Yellow Tail Shiraz (5 oz) 120 Sauvignon Blanc (5 oz) Calories Mixed Drinks 409 Bahama Breeze Ultimate Pina Colada (12 oz) 400 Dirty Martini with Olives (6 oz) 425 White Russian (5 oz) 775 Applebee's Mud Slide 780 Long Island (8 oz)
Dehydration - Alcohol in the bloodstream causes the pituitary gland in the brain to block the creation of vasopressin. This causes the kidneys to send water directly to the bladder rather than reabsorbing filtered water into the bloodstream. This diuretic effect increases as the blood alcohol content increases, and can lead to dehydration - a contributing factor to hangovers.
Studies have shown that drinking 250 mL of alcoholic beverage causes the body to expel between 800-1000 mL. This means that the body is releasing more than just the liquid being consumed. One way to decrease the effect is to keep your BAC low, and alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks (preferably water).
Factors that Affect Intoxication
Amount of Alcohol & Speed of Consumption - The more alcohol and/or the shorter the time period, the higher the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC).
Biological / Genetic Risk - Children of an alcoholic are at a greater risk for developing alcoholism – four times greater! This increased risk is sometimes described as a predisposition to alcoholism. Just as we inherit a certain likelihood of heart disease, we are all born with some biological level of risk for alcoholism. For some of us, that risk is increased. Those of us with biological history of alcoholism in our family are at greater biological risk for alcoholism.
Gender - Males and females react to alcohol a bit differently. Women tend to be smaller than men. Women get intoxicated faster and stay intoxicated longer. Women have less alcohol dehydrogenase, the enzyme that metabolizes alcohol, so alcohol remains in the bloodstream longer (in fact, men have 40% more than women). Also, women tend to have a higher percentage of body fat, which reduces the percentage of lean body mass that can distribute the concentration of alcohol.
Body Size and Composition - Smaller stature individuals will become impaired quicker. Alcohol can be distributed throughout the body via the circulatory system, and enters most tissues except bone and fat (adipose tissue). This is why body composition is important, because as the percentage of body fat increases, the resulting concentration of alcohol in the lean tissues of the body is proportionally higher.
Carbonated Beverages - Carbonation speeds up absorption. Alcohol mixed with carbonated beverages such as Coca-Cola or tonic water will be absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream. This is also true for champagne and wine coolers.
Energy Drinks - Energy drinks are stimulants and alcohol is a depressant. Energy drinks mask the effects of alcohol by giving you a sense of energy, and the false sense that you are not that intoxicated. Mixing alcohol and energy drinks can cause heart failure because they are opposing stressors on the body’s regulatory systems.
Illness - If you are sick or just getting over an illness, you tend to become impaired more quickly.
Marijuana - Marijuana reduces nausea, which can inhibit the body’s ability to remove harmful toxins by vomiting. Marijuana can increase the threshold required to illicit a vomit response.
Moods - Strong emotions such as anger, fear, and loneliness tend to hasten impairment. The psychological and social effects of alcohol (and the placebo effects) are also magnified by expectations.
Over-the-Counter Drugs - Do not mix alcohol with aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), or acetaminophen (Tylenol). These drugs are also metabolized by the liver. Drinking alcohol while taking painkillers creates a “bottleneck” in the liver. The drug is processed incorrectly, the bi-products kill liver cells, and alcohol is metabolized slower. It’s also important not to mix alcohol with other depressants, which includes some antihistamines.
Prescription Drugs - Mixing alcohol with prescription drugs often leads to increased or hastened impairment. Alcohol can produce hazardous side effects, reduce heart rate, and drop blood pressure to a dangerous level.
Hormones - Women who are taking some birth control pills and/or are in the premenstrual time in their cycle may have a higher BAC.
Sleep - If you lack sleep or are tired, you will become impaired more quickly. If you get five or less hours of sleep for four nights in a row, for example, two drinks will start to feel like six drinks. Another way to describe this: lack of sleep reduces tolerance, so impairment will be experienced at lower BAC levels than normal.
Stomach Content - Food in the stomach will slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream and delay impairment. The type of food ingested (carbohydrate, fat, protein) has not been shown to have a measurable influence on BAC. However, we do know that larger the meals, and closer proximity to time of drinking, can lower the peak blood alcohol concentration. This could simply be the result of the food obstructing the alcohol from entering the bloodstream, or because the food will inhibit the stomach from emptying into the small intestine.
Ethnicity - There are heritable components of enzyme production that have been identified. Typically, individuals of Asian or Native American descent show reduced levels of alcohol dehydrogenase, meaning that alcohol will remain in the blood longer and high concentrations can build up faster.
Absorbing - Once alcohol is swallowed, it is not digested like food. First, a small amount is absorbed directly by the tongue and mucosal lining of the mouth. Once in the stomach, alcohol is absorbed directly into your blood stream through the tissue lining of the stomach and small intestine.
Food in the stomach can inhibit the absorption of alcohol in two ways:
First, it physically obstructs the alcohol from coming in contact with the stomach lining. Food can either absorb alcohol, or simply “take up space” so the alcohol does not enter the bloodstream through contact with the wall of the stomach.
Second, food in the stomach will prevent alcohol from passing into the duodenum, which is the upper portion of the small intestine. The surface area of the small intestine is very large (about the size of a tennis court), so alcohol has more access to enter the bloodstream once it leaves the stomach. If alcohol is sequestered in the stomach it will be absorbed slower.
Transporting - Once alcohol is in your bloodstream, it is carried to all organs of your body. In the majority of healthy people, blood circulates through the body in 90 seconds, thereby allowing alcohol to affect your brain and all other organs in a short amount of time. The full effects of a drink are felt within 15 to 45 minutes depending on the speed of absorption.
Alcohol enters all tissues of the body except bone and fat. In an adult male, alcohol can penetrate approximately 68% of body tissues. Body composition is important, because if the percentage of adipose tissue is high, the alcohol can only be distributed throughout the remaining lean tissue – resulting in a higher concentration for those areas.
The effects of alcohol on the body will vary according to the individual: their sex, body composition, the amount of alcohol consumed, the presence of food, and the ability of the liver to produce the alcohol dehydrogenase enzymes.
Alcohol Metabolism - Alcohol is a toxin that must be neutralized or eliminated from the body. Ten percent of alcohol is eliminated through sweat, breath, and urine.
Alcohol is volatile (will evaporate in air), so when alcohol in the blood comes in contact with air in the alveoli of the lungs, it can be transferred out of the body through breath.
The liver is the primary organ responsible for the detoxification of alcohol. Liver cells produce the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase which breaks alcohol into ketones at a rate of about 0.015 g/100mL/hour (reduces BAC by 0.015 per hour).
Nothing will speed up the rate of detoxification, but the effective metabolism of alcohol can be limited by medications and liver damage.
When the rate of consumption exceeds the rate of detoxification, BAC will continue to rise.
How Fast Can You Sober Up? - Alcohol leaves the body at an average rate of 0.015 g/100mL/hour, which is the same as reducing your BAC level by 0.015 per hour. For men, this is usually a rate of about one standard drink per hour. However, there are other factors that affect intoxication (gender, some medications, illness) that will cause BAC to rise more quickly, and fall more slowly.
Example: At an average rate of -0.015/hr, how long would it take someone with a BAC of 0.20 to sober up?
Time Activity BAC Level 2:00 am In bed, dizzy and disoriented .200 3:00 am Nauseous, unable to sleep .185 4:00 am Very restless .170 5:00 am Sleeping, but not well .155 6:00 am Sleep .140 7:00 am Get up for class with a headache .125 8:00 am Drive to school, risk DUI or worse .110 9:00 am In class, trouble focusing on lecture .095 10:00 am Judgement still impaired .080 11:00 am Mind still fogy, fatigued .065 12:00 pm Not hungry, cottonmouth .050 1:00 pm In afternoon class, still unfocused .035 2:00 pm Head cleaning .020 3:00 pm Feeling a little better .005 4:00 pm Sober at last, but not fully recovered .000
Can You Speed Up This Process? - Once alcohol is in the bloodstream, it can only be eliminated by the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, sweat, urine, and breath. Drinking water and sleeping will not speed up the process. Coffee, energy drinks, and a cold shower will not sober you up faster. These might make you feel more awake, but caffeine and cold showers will not pull alcohol out of the blood - and thus will not lower your BAC level.
Effects of Alcohol
Alcohol is a Depressant - Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. You can think of a depressant as the opposite of a stimulant. It slows down the CNS, thereby slowing brain and nerve function, heart rate, breathing - anything controlled by the central nervous system (which is a lot!). Thought processes, emotional responses, and motor coordination are all affected.
The slowing of the CNS can lead to:
- Slowed reaction time
- Impaired vision (blurred vision, reduced peripheral vision)
- Loss of coordination
- Decreased alertness
- Impaired judgment
Alcohol Messes with Your Sleep - Alcohol disrupts sleep. While a nightcap may help you doze off more quickly, it undermines the quality of your sleep. You don't spend as much time in all-important REM cycles and you tend to wake up too soon.
Alcohol Impairs Sexual Performance - Since it slows down the CNS, alcohol reduces physiological arousal. People may report feeling more relaxed, or more interested in sex – but their perceptions are impaired, and their bodies can’t keep up. Physiological arousal originates in the brain, and depends on proper nerve function. Drinking too much alcohol is a known cause for erectile dysfunction in men.
Potential Health Benefits - There is no "one size fits all" approach to potential health benefits from alcohol. As little as one drink a day for women has been linked to increased risk for cancer of the breast, liver, rectum, throat, mouth, and esophagus. However, numerous studies dating back decades have shown a positive relationship between moderate alcohol consumption and heart health.
The benefits for heart health are more prominent in men over 40 and women over 50, and only when consumption is limited to no more than 1 drink a day for women, or 2 drinks a day for men.
Factors like individual genetics, family history of cancer, family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, cholesterol, and stress level need to be considered to determine if drinking a small amount will end up being harmful or helpful. Experts agree that for people who don't already drink, they should not begin drinking just to gain a small possible benefit. There is no universally "safe" level of drinking other than abstaining.
Health Problems Associated with Excessive Alcohol Use - Excessive drinking both in the form of heavy drinking or binge drinking, is associated with numerous health problems, including:
- Chronic diseases such as liver cirrhosis (damage to liver cells)
- Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
- Various cancers, including liver, mouth, throat, larynx (the voice box), and esophagus
- High blood pressure
- Psychological disorders
- Unintentional injuries, such as motor-vehicle traffic crashes, falls, drowning, burns and firearm injuries.
What is Tolerance? - Tolerance means that after continued drinking, consumption of a constant amount of alcohol produces a lesser effect or increasing amounts of alcohol are necessary to produce the same effect.
Humans develop tolerance when their brain functions adapt to compensate for the disruption caused by alcohol. "Chronic heavy drinkers display functional tolerance when they show few obvious signs of intoxication even at high blood alcohol concentrations (BAC's), which in others would be incapacitating or even fatal" (Chesher & Greeley, 1992).
What's the Difference? - Imagine two people with different levels of tolerance, but the exact same BAC level. How are they different?
The person with high tolerance might show:
- Better short term memory
- Ability to hold a conversation
- Ability to keep eye contact
- Less intensified moods
- Better speech, less slurring of words
But some things don't improve with tolerance. Both people will have:
- Impaired eye-hand coordination
- Impaired balance
- Impaired motor function
- Decreased peripheral vision
Notice anything? The things that don't improve with tolerance are pretty important for things like driving a car! That's why the legal BAC limit to drive is a set number, and does not depend on whether or not the person has a high tolerance.
Problems Resulting from High Tolerance
- Physical damage and impairment are occurring without your knowledge. With tolerance, you feel less drunk, so you’re less able to accurately judge your ability to function.
- Your body no longer protects you the way it is meant to – since you’re less likely to vomit or pass out, you may reach even higher, more toxic BAC levels.
- When you develop tolerance, you can no longer experience the “buzz” – you don’t get the same euphoric effects at low doses.
- It’s expensive – since you don’t feel the effects as quickly, you end up buying more drinks.
- Tolerance and withdrawal are the two things that distinguish alcohol abuse from alcohol dependence – if you’re building your tolerance, you’re moving toward physical addiction.
What is Alcohol Poisoning? - Alcohol poisoning is a life-threatening condition caused by high concentrations of alcohol in the blood. Blood alcohol concentration rises as alcohol is consumed in large quantities and over short periods of time.
- Person cannot be awakened
- Person has cold, clammy, pale, or bluish skin
- Person has slow, shallow, or irregular breathing
- Person is vomiting while passed out and does not wake up
These symptoms are typical of a BAC level in the vicinity of .25-.40. At that level, the depressant effects of alcohol can simply slow the breathing and heart rate down to a point where a person enters a coma and may die.
However, alcohol can kill before a deadly BAC level is reached. If someone vomits while asleep or passed out, and they are unable to clear their mouth (or if they are asleep on their back), death may occur from asphyxiation. In other words, there is a risk the person could drown on their vomit. This is a risk if the person is drunk enough to vomit, even if they do not have other symptoms of alcohol poisoning.
If You Suspect Alcohol Poisoning...
- Call 911 if someone shows symptoms of alcohol poisoning
- Do not leave them alone
- Do not put them in bed to sleep it off
- If they pass out, put them on their side to prevent choking on vomit
- If breathing stops, perform CPR or find someone who knows how
Prevent Alcohol Poisoning in the First Place - It's better to avoid a crisis altogether. Here are some tips to prevent alcohol poisoning in the first place:
- If you go out with friends, stay together as a group
- Let someone else know what you are doing and who you are with
- Set a limit. Before you go out, decide how many drinks you will have.
- Know the alcohol content and serving sizes of what you plan to drink.
- Follow other risk reduction techniques.
Moderate Drinking Guidelines
- Count your drinks and aim for BAC .05 or below
- 0-1-2-4 Rule: 0 (underage or pregnant) 1 (females per day) 2 (males per day) 4 (no more than 4 days per week)
Strategies to Reduce the Risk from Drinking
- Set a drinking limit near BAC .05
- Experiment with drinking less and refusing drinks
- Keep track of how much you consume by counting “standard drinks”
- Eat before and while you are drinking (eating after doesn’t help much)
- Be cautious when drinking liquor or mixed drinks due to high alcohol content
- Alternate alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks
- Avoid drinking games
- Never leave your drink unattended
- Don’t drink too much too fast
- Don’t use alcohol with stimulants such as energy drinks
- Space your drinks over time
- Don’t drink while you’re sick or on medications
- Don’t drink as a method of escaping or coping with stress – it’s not effective or helpful
Strategies to Reduce Environmental / Activity Risks
- Select a designated driver who will not drink that night
- Don’t drive after drinking
- Refuse to ride in a car with an intoxicated driver
- Don’t operate machinery after drinking alcohol
- Be cautious in settings where large quantities of free or low-cost alcohol are available
- Have an exit plan in mind before attending a drinking event
- Don’t play sports after/while drinking alcohol
- Don’t swim after drinking alcohol
- Avoid drinking on rooftops, by open windows on upper floors, or by cliffs
- Avoid drinking in remote areas
- Let a nondrinker know where you will be if you go out drinking
Strategies to Reduce Risks Associated with Social Situations
- Be prepared to refuse assertively when pressured to drink more than you want
- Keep in mind that choosing not to drink is always a legitimate choice
- Practice ways to be comfortable in social situations without drinking
- Spend more time with friends who don’t drink heavily
- Be aware of the legal risks of underage drinking
- Be aware of university policies about drinking
- Use the “buddy system” to watch out for each other
- Take appropriate action if a friend passes out
- Be cautious about drinking too much on dates, or where sex is a possibility
- Don’t let others get you a drink or mix a drink for you
Beyond “Be Responsible”
“Be responsible,” “Know your limits,” “Make good decisions.” When it comes to alcohol, you’ve probably heard statements like these from your parents, professors, and friends. So there you have it, problem solved! Just make good decisions and you should be all set. Thanks for the great advice!
If you haven’t picked up on my sarcasm (I was laying it on pretty thick), I personally find these kinds of statements incredibly unhelpful. What I think they really mean is something along the lines of, “there are inherent risks associated with the decision to drink alcohol, and many of the unanticipated consequences could have a negative impact on your health, grades, and future well-being, so take the time to learn about the risks and make a conscious decision about the kinds of behaviors you are going to engage in so you can reduce the chances that you will get hurt or do something you regret.”
Granted, this takes a lot longer to say to someone on their way out the door – so instead of waiting for someone to offer vague last-minute advice, take control by educating yourself on the topic. Think of yourself as the Risk Management department in the company of your life, and get specific by following concrete guidelines.
Risk Management for YOU, INC.
Your reputation is your brand. In the company of your life, you need to be your own Risk Management department. If you notice a drop in productivity, or want to keep the CEO out of jail (that’s you as well, it’s a very small company), you’ll need to put in place restrictions based on the best available data and model the operations of other successful entities.
Ok, this business metaphor is getting a bit tired. My point is that deciding on standards ahead of time (while you’re thinking clearly) will make it easier to follow-through. Plan ahead by getting a designated driver, or decide not to exceed a certain number of drinks for the night. What techniques do others use? A recent survey of over 28,000 college students produced a list of the most frequently used risk-reduction techniques.
College students who drink reported doing the following most of the time or always when they partied or socialized during the last 12 months:
- 85% Use a designated driver
- 85% Stay with the same group of friends the entire time drinking
- 79% Eat before and/or during drinking
- 67% Keep track of how many drinks they consume
The best way to reduce your risk is to not drink, or to drink less. In the same survey, 59% of drinkers reported having 4 or fewer drinks the last time they went out. If you include the people who had zero, that number goes up to 72% of students who stayed under 5 drinks.
Does that number sound high? Perception and reality rarely match up when it comes to guessing how much people drink, and there are several reasons why.
Perception vs. Reality
There is a perception that alcohol abuse is just part of the college experience. While there is usually a small group of students drinking to excess, the typical student doesn’t come to school to party.
This false perception shows up in survey data. The majority of students assumed that a typical student drinks more than 10 days a month and usually has more than 5 drinks. In fact, 13% assumed the typical student drinks every single day!
In reality, 71% of students drink 5 or fewer days per month, and have an average of 3 drinks each time. Only around 1% of students report drinking daily (certainly not the “typical student”).
Where does this inflated perception come from? Why do people assume the typical college student is getting drunk so often? It could be the depiction of college drinking in movies, the abundance of alcohol commercials and advertisements, or “epic” stories about your roommate’s friend’s cousin that spread like wildfire.
While alcohol abuse in college is still a serious hazard for the students who are taking it too far, the truth is a majority of students are using alcohol in a pretty sensible way. Where do you fit in? Take this online self-assessment to find out.
Biphasic Effects of Alcohol
If a little alcohol makes you feel good, then a lot of alcohol should make you feel even better, right? Not so fast. Experts have known for years that the stimulating buzz you feel when you start drinking is followed by depressant-like sedative effects as blood alcohol concentration rises. This biphasic (or two part) effect reaches the tipping point at BAC .055, after which the addition of more alcohol pushes you more toward the sedative side of the curve. More isn’t always better. If you drink too much or too quickly, you’ll shoot right past the optimal “feel good” point.
For more, go to our information page on alcohol and other drugs.
The Party Placebo
60 college students signed up for what they were told was a study on socializing behavior. They were given free beer, and soon everyone was getting to know each other, acting goofy, slurring their words, telling stupid jokes, and laughing along.
What’s the twist? Of the 60 students, only 15 had alcoholic beer. The remaining 45 participants were actually stone sober, but nobody could tell them apart from the ones who had been drinking. Everyone felt sure that they had been one of the students who had the alcoholic beer.
So how did this happen? Aside from the real chemical effects of alcohol, the expectations of how you think you’ll feel when you’re drinking go a long way in determining your behavior. If you expect to feel high and buzzed on beer, your body will act accordingly. This is known as the placebo effect, when your expectations produce a response in the absence of any active drug being in your system.
Aside from pranking your friends by buying non-alcoholic beer (as in this Princeton Non-Alcoholic Keg Party video), this also demonstrates that it’s not the amount of alcohol in your veins that determines whether or not you have a good time. And because of the Biphasic Effect of Alcohol, we already know that drinking more doesn’t necessarily correspond with a better buzz.
Forget What You Know About Peer Pressure
When I was in middle school my teachers told me my friends would try to blackmail me into drinking. They called it “peer pressure” and told me to beware the horrible consequences. “Drink this beer or I won’t be friends with you.” I waited for my friends to hold our friendship hostage in exchange for getting me hopelessly addicted to alcohol. But it never happened. What gives?
In real life, peer pressure is sneaky. It’s nothing as obvious as an ultimatum, a bribe, or an older kid in a leather jacket. Studies in psychology reveal that we have a strong subconscious desire to fit in, to seek social approval, and to mirror the behavior of people with high social status. Peer pressure isn’t a fork in the road, it’s a tide gently pulling you and everyone around you toward the most influential group. Peer pressure isn’t your friends out to get you, it’s falling asleep on a raft and waking up a mile from shore – sometimes you don’t even notice the change until you look back to where you started.
When it comes to alcohol, things get a little trickier. Social desirability isn’t only based on majority rules – if that were the case, high risk drinkers would feel the pressure to cut back in order to match the vast majority of students who drink more sensibly. Furthermore, because students tend to over-estimate the amount the typical student drinks (See: Perception vs. Reality), there is a social pressure to drink more in order to fit into this imaginary majority of heavy drinkers. Combine this false perception with the alcohol industry’s multi-billion dollar marketing campaign and it’s easy to see just how strong this invisible force can be.
When I Grow Up...
College isn’t what it used to be a few decades ago. Before, a bachelor’s degree all but guaranteed a high-paying career in a blossoming job market. Nowadays, if you don’t already have two years internship experience, a publication, and a list of extracurricular activities, you’ll be playing catch-up once you graduate.
You’re expected to develop quickly in college, and to pick up important career and life skills in a short amount of time. But any skill takes practice, and much of college is devoted to giving you the opportunity to practice in a safe environment that mirrors the demands of the rest of the world. I avoid calling the world outside IUPUI the “real world” because you are already in the real world. Nothing magical happens when you receive your diploma. You will not wake up one day having become someone you have not been becoming. Because of this, it is extremely important to develop responsible habits involving alcohol.
Picture yourself in your future job, living the life you dreamed about when you first applied to college. How does alcohol fit into the picture? How does alcohol fit into your life right now? If the two patterns are very different, realize that your behavior will not suddenly change at the flip of a switch when you graduate. Spend time practicing the kind of behavior you picture for yourself in your future job, with your future family.