Drinking? 7 ways to get what you want from it

Reading Time: 6 minutes

 

Having the drink without the downside

Do you choose to drink alcohol? If so, chances are you’re interested in figuring out how to get alcohol’s buzz (feeling chatty, relaxed, and socially connected) while avoiding its negative effects (feeling tired, sick, embarrassed, and all set to fail Monday’s test).

You may have noticed that once you’ve passed the euphoric stage of drinking, and started to slump, consuming more alcohol does not bring back the buzz. This is always the case (science has figured out why, but that’s another story).

This guide is about how to get the effects of alcohol that you want without ending up with its baggage too. A key skill is knowing how to take care of yourself while still being part of the party. Here, we outline seven realistic ways to do this.

Note: Our emphasis is on realistic. Most of you are using some of these strategies already, a large national survey shows. To find out how to make this easier, while expanding your options for having fun and staying in control, keep reading. These strategies are especially important when you’re new to college, new to drinking, or both. (The minimum legal age for consuming alcohol in the US is 21.)

First things first: Be confident in your choice to drink mindfully

Alcohol seems (and is) part of the social culture on many campuses. But over and over, studies show that students perceive alcohol use among their peers to be far more common and frequent than it really is.“Most people drink responsibly or not at all, but don’t boast about that, so they may think they’re the only ones.” —Dr. Ann Quinn-Zobeck, former senior director of initiatives and training, The BACCHUS Network (national association of peer education initiatives addressing alcohol use at US colleges)Here’s what undergrads think their peers are drinking, compared to how much undergrads report they are actually drinking:Alcohol use among undergraduates graphSource: National College Health Assessment, Fall 2015; 19,800 respondents, anonymous and randomized

7 ways to get what you want from alcohol:

1 Make a plan in advance

Planning what you’ll drink through the evening is key to staying in control. “You may deviate from your plan a little. It still helps lower your risk.” —Joan Masters, substance abuse prevention provider, University of MissouriConsider:

  • What you will drink
  • How many alcoholic drinks you will have
  • How you will pace those drinks through the event
  • Whether or not you will have access to the drink of your choice

To figure out what works for you, see Know what you can drink—at what pace later in this slideshow.

Part of planning is anticipating whether you will have control over your own alcohol choices. For example, if jungle juice or mystery punch is all that’s available, the healthiest choice is not to drink or to bring your own.Plan: Take own beer, 4 beers total, 1 beer/hr Alternate w. non-alc, —refill can (water & lime)

2  Set your limits up front

Let your friends know that you’re looking forward to hanging out with them and that you’re choosing to not overdo it. Can’t afford a late penalty for your assignment or a missed team practice? Your friends will get it.Person 1: I’m training tomorrow—tonight I’m all about the seltzer. Person 2: So much to get done the next few days. I’m stopping at two drinks this evening.

3 Tag team with a friend

You’re not the only one who wants to be in control when you go out. Tag team with a friend, help each other out, and celebrate the people who step in and let you know when you’ve had enough.“This is the effect of alcohol myopia: The more we drink, the more we attend to impelling cues (like the person urging you to play beer pong) and the less we attend to inhibiting cues (like the test you have to study for tomorrow). When you tag team, you can change that.” —Ryan Travia, associate dean of students for wellness, Babson College, Massachusetts

Person 1: A glass of wine every hour, up to three glasses. Person 2: Then I’ll cut you off. If I look like I’m up for a shot, stage an intervention.

4  Alternate alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks

We feel more comfortable when we have a cup in our hand, whether or not that cup contains alcohol, studies show.“In reality, we deal with peer pressure throughout our whole lives. I once had a professor tell me he carried around the same can of beer all night at faculty parties and just filled it with water so no one would push him to drink more.” —Dr. Ann Quinn-Zobeck, The BACCHUS Network

  • If you usually have eight alcoholic drinks and you want to cut that to four, you can still have eight drinks: alternate alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages.
  • No one has to know what is in your cup or can: Refilling your beer can with water or juice keeps others from worrying that you haven’t had enough to drink or aren’t having fun.
  • Bonus: Add ice to your drinks—studies show you’ll drink more slowly (and the alcohol will be diluted).
  • Caution: Carbonated drinks may be best avoided when you’re drinking alcohol; carbonation appears to speed up the rate at which alcohol is absorbed into the blood stream, according to researchers. Instead, go for water (add fruit for flavoring), juice, or a sports drink.

Good to know: Studies of the placebo effects related to alcohol show that the chatty, witty persona we associate with drinking is more about our expectations of alcohol than the alcohol itself. In other words, we can be that person without alcohol.

5  Delay the next drink

You can delay your next drink without seeming to reject the person who’s offering it or distancing yourself from the social scene.

When someone offers to get you a drink, show appreciation, and give them a reason to hold off.Person 1: I’m going to the bar—can I get you anything? Response 2: I’m good right now, thanks, but I’ll get the next one. Response 2: Oh, I’ll get it in a few—I’m going to the bathroom first. Response 3: I’m just going to talk to someone and then I’ll go grab one. Response 4: Thanks, I’m all set.

Bonus: This sets you up to get your own drink directly from the bartender—the safest source of alcohol. Here’s why:

  • You’ll know what you’re getting. This is very different from jungle juice or mystery punch, when you have no way of knowing how concentrated the alcohol is. (If you expect punch to be the only alcohol served at a party, bring your own drinks.)
  • You’ll more easily stick to your plan. Bartenders know what a standard serving size looks like—and can also recognize a person who shouldn’t drink any more.
  • You’ll reduce the risk of your drink being spiked. “Date-rape drugs” are tasteless, odorless, colorless, and rapidly dissolving.

6  Show that you’re having a good time

The person offering you a drink wants you to have a good time and include you in the fun. Let them see that you’re enjoying yourself.

Response 1: No thanks, I need my wits tonight. I’m about to join them over there for ping pong. Response 2: I’m taking it easy—I overdid it last time. I’m dying to get my trivia fix. Want to take me on? Response 3: I’m exhausted—the alcohol will race through me. Got a cold Gatorade and an update on what happened at rehearsal?

7 Be thoughtful about drinking games

Drinking games vary in their safety and risk. If you participate, choose wisely.

Be cautious about matching your alcohol intake with someone else’s. When participating in drinking games, we often consume more than we had anticipated, and we drink more quickly than usual. This hikes up the risk of illness, impairment, and regret.“We don’t all process alcohol the same way. For example, women get drunk faster than men on the same amount of alcohol, even if they have the same body weight.” —Dr. Jason Kilmer, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science, University of WashingtonConsider adapting drinking games in these ways:

  • Take a sip, not a shot
  • Play all or some rounds with nonalcoholic beverages
  • Take breaks

Know what you can drink—at what pace

Those strategies are helpful in social and professional situations involving alcohol. Being mindful about your alcohol use also means knowing what you typically drink and how your body and mind respond to it. Here’s how to figure that out:

A  Ask yourself three questions:

  • What do I drink?  The amount of alcohol you consume depends partly on what you’re drinking. Alcoholic beverages vary enormously in their alcohol content.
  • What’s my usual serving size?  The amount of alcohol you consume also depends on the shape and size of your glass or cup. A standard serving size is unlikely to be whatever your friend just ladled into that red solo cup.
  • How long will I be out for?  Think about pacing your drinking. If you’ll be out for four hours and you plan to have three alcoholic drinks, you may decide to have one alcoholic drink per hour for the first three hours. Pregaming—drinking before you go out—means you hit “peak buzz” earlier, and your mood declines earlier too.

How to calculate your alcohol intake (Rethinking Drinking: NIAAA)

B  Consult a BAC calculator or chart:

This helps you estimate the amount of drink servings you can consume, and how you should pace them, before your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) reaches “peak buzz”. For many people, “peak buzz” is around 0.06 percent BAC. For some, it’s between 0.04 and 0.06.

Predict how you’ll feel through the evening (Yale University)

Estimate your BAC during dinner (Éduc’alcool)

Are you already doing this when you drink?

Almost all college students (98 percent) who responded to a national survey reported that they routinely took one or more smart measures when socializing with alcohol in the past 12 months.

“Most of the time” or “always”
Alternate non-alcoholic with alcoholic beverages 35 percent
Avoid drinking games 37 percent
Choose not to drink alcohol 26 percent
Decide in advance not to exceed a set number of drinks 43 percent
Eat before and/or during drinking 80 percent
Have a friend let you know when you have had enough 44 percent
Keep track of how many drinks being consumed 68 percent
Pace drinks to one or fewer an hour 34 percent
Stay with the same friends the entire time drinking 88 percent
Stick with only one kind of alcohol when drinking 52 percent
Use a designated driver 89 percent

Source: National College Health Assessment, Fall 2015; 19,800 respondents, anonymous and randomized

[survey_plugin] Article sources

Jason Kilmer, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science, University of Washington; assistant director of health and wellness for alcohol and other drug education, Division of Student Life, University of Washington.

Joan Masters, MEd, senior coordinator, Partners in Prevention, University of Missouri Wellness Resource Center; area consultant, The BACCHUS Network.

Ann Quinn-Zobeck, PhD, former senior director of initiatives and training, The BACCHUS Network.

Ryan Travia, MEd, associate dean of students for wellness, Babson College, Massachusetts; founding director, Office of Alcohol & Other Drug Services (AODS), Harvard University.

American College Health Association. American College Health
Association–National College Health Assessment II: Reference Group
Undergraduates Executive Summary Fall 2015
. Hanover, MD: American
College Health Association; 2016.

Borsari, B., & Carey, K. B. (2001). Peer influences on college drinking: A review of the research. Journal of Substance Abuse, 13, 391–424. Retrieved from https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.602.7429&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Borsari, B., & Carey, K. B. (2006). How the quality of peer relationships influences students’ alcohol use. Drug and Alcohol Review, 25(4), 361–370.

Crawford, L. A., & Novak, K. B. (2007). Resisting peer pressure: Characteristics associated with other-self discrepancies in college students’ levels of alcohol consumption. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, 51(1), 35–62.

Harrington, N. G. (1997). Strategies used by college students to persuade peers to drink. Southern Communication Journal, 62(3), 229–242. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10417949709373057?journalCode=rsjc20

Kilmer, J., Cronce, J. M., & Logan, D. E. (2014). “Seems I’m not alone at being alone:” Contributing factors and interventions for drinking games in the college setting. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 40(5),  411–414.

Neighbors, C., Lee, C. M., Lewis, M. A., Fossos, N., et al. (2007). Are social norms the best predictor of outcomes among heavy-drinking college students? Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 68(4), 556–565.

Neighbors, C., Jensen, M., Tidwell, J., Walter, T., et al. (2011). Social-norms interventions for light and nondrinking students. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 14(5), 651-669. doi: 10.1177/1368430210398014

Palmeri, J. M. (2016). Peer pressure and alcohol use among college students. Applied Psychology Opus, NYU Steinhardt. Retrieved from
https://steinhardt.nyu.edu/appsych/opus/issues/2011/fall/peer

Perkins, H. W., Linkenbach, J. W., Lewis, M. A., & Neighbors, C. (2010). Effectiveness of social norms media marketing in reducing drinking and driving: A statewide campaign. Addictive Behaviors, 35(10), 866–874.

Roberts, C., & Robinson, S. P. (2007). Alcohol concentration and carbonation of drinks: The effect on blood alcohol levels. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, 14(7), 398–405.

Rohsenow, D.J., & Marlatt, G. A. (1981). The balanced placebo design: Methodological considerations. Addictive Behaviors, 6(2), 107–122. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0306-4603(81)90003-4

Student Health 101 survey, July 2016.

Turner, J., Perkins, H. W., & Bauerle, J. (2008). Declining negative consequences related to alcohol misuse among students exposed to social norms marketing intervention on a college campus. Journal of American College Health, 57, 85−93.

Wechsler, H., Nelson, T. E., Lee, J. E., Seibring, M., et al. (2003). Perception and reality: A national evaluation of social norms marketing interventions to reduce college students’ heavy alcohol use. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 64, 484–494.

Drinking? The science of the buzz and how you can control it

Reading Time: 5 minutes

 

The science of drinking: How to make it work better for you

If you choose to drink alcohol, you’re likely familiar with the relaxed, chatty buzz that may come early in the evening—and the slump that sometimes follows (the tiredness, the nausea, maybe the fear of what you posted online). If you’re drinking in school, you can learn how to get that buzz without the slump. For those who drink alcohol, this skill is key to a night—no, a lifetime—of positive experiences and few, if any, regrets.

What makes alcohol tricky to navigate? First, we need to understand how alcohol affects us—which in certain key respects is different from popular myth. With those basic concepts, we can choose to drink alcohol in ways that give us what we want from it.

Second, we all like to believe that we make our own choices, and to some extent, we do. But it’s complicated. A ton of research shows that our behavior, including what we drink, is highly dependent on what’s happening around us. In college, getting the alcohol buzz without the slump means grappling smartly with social dynamics, in addition to understanding the science of how alcohol affects us. This is especially relevant when you’re new to college, new to drinking, or both. (The minimum legal age for consuming alcohol in the US is 21.)

This guide is designed to help you figure out: What experience you want to get from alcohol and how to get this experience without negative consequences—that’s how much you can drink, what you can drink, and at what pace

Why some alcohol can feel fun—and more alcohol doesn’t

Getting a buzz on

If you choose to drink alcohol, it may help you relax, socialize, and have fun—up to a point. Depending on what you drink, how much you drink, and how quickly or slowly you drink it, the alcohol level in your blood will rise to a certain level—let’s call it “peak buzz.”

For most people of average tolerance, peak buzz happens when your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC)—the concentration of alcohol in your bloodstream—approaches 0.06 percent. For most people, two to three drinks within an hour will have this effect. Some research indicates that 0.06 percent BAC is on the high side; you may find peak buzz comes at any point after 0.04 BAC.

After the buzz, the slump

Beyond that point—0.06 percent BAC—the enjoyable effects of alcohol decline and wear off. You may feel sleepy, flat, disconnected. You may get moody or sick, or make unwise decisions. From here, there’s no going back to peak buzz. Drinking more alcohol can only take you deeper into the slump and toward regret territory.

The science of the slump—and why you can’t get the buzz back

Explained by Dr. Jason Kilmer, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science, University of Washington:

“The biphasic aspect actually occurs within the brain. The brain center that inhibits our actions is the first to be affected (depressed) by alcohol. So without the inhibiting center the other areas somewhat go wild, and we feel uninhibited, etc. Later, the brain functions that allow us to act bolder and less shy also get depressed, and then we slump.” —Dr. Pierre-Paul Tellier, director of student health services at McGill University, Quebec

These buzz effects and slump effects in the chart are examples of how people may experience alcohol; the sequence of effects on each side of the chart is in no particular order.

The key to getting what you want from alcohol

Three questions to match your alcohol intake with peak buzz

What do I drink?

The amount of alcohol you consume depends partly on what you’re drinking. Alcoholic beverages vary enormously in their alcohol content.“I’ve had students say, ‘I only had a few drinks.’ But they’re talking about shots, and they don’t realize that five shots in an hour is the equivalent of five beers in an hour.” —Joan Masters, substance abuse prevention provider, University of Missouri

12 fl ox of regular = 8-9 fl oz of malt liquor = 5 fl oz table wine = 2-3 fl oz of cordial, liqueur, or aperitif = 1.5 fl oz shot of 80-proof distilled spirits

What’s my usual serving size?

The amount of alcohol you consume also depends on the shape and size of your glass or cup. A standard serving size is unlikely to be whatever your new friend just ladled into that solo cup.

How to get the hang of serving sizes:

  • Take bartending classes: Many campuses and community organizations offer classes in bartending and safe serving practices—often for free.
  • Practice measuring and pouring, so you know what 5 oz. wine (for example) looks like in a red solo cup. Remember:
    • Red solo cups come in different sizes.
    • The lines on red solo cups are not reliable measures of serving size.

Try this size calculator (NIAAA)

3 different sized solo cups with 5 fl oz of liquid each

The same size beverage can look very different depending on the size and shape of the cup or glass.

How long will I be out for?

Think about pacing your drinking. Most people take about one hour to metabolize one standard drink. If you’ll be out for, say, four hours, and you plan to have three alcoholic drinks, you may decide to have one alcoholic drink per hour for the first three hours.

Pregaming—drinking before you go out—means you hit peak buzz earlier. If you keep drinking, your mood declines earlier too.

How to estimate your Blood Alcohol Content

BAC calculators and charts help you estimate the number of standard drinks you can consume before your BAC reaches peak buzz (0.06 percent).

Example:
Woman (155 lb, 5’7″): 3 standard drinks in 3 hours
Man (155 lb, 5’7″): 3 ½ standard drinks in 3 hours

Check out this BAC chart (Yale University)

Or this one (Cleveland Clinic)

BAC charts and calculators are useful but limited tools:

  • They estimate how much alcohol someone of your body type and sex can typically drink before experiencing certain effects (positive and negative).

  • They do not account for various other factors that may influence your alcohol tolerance (e.g., age, health, fatigue, medications, food consumed, and whether or not the environment is familiar).

  • You may need to adjust the BAC percentage to account for the amount of time you’re drinking.

[survey_plugin]

Article sources

Jason Kilmer, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science, University of Washington; assistant director of health and wellness for alcohol and other drug education, Division of Student Life, University of Washington.

Joan Masters, MEd, senior coordinator, Partners in Prevention, University of Missouri Wellness Resource Center; area consultant, The BACCHUS Network.

Ann Quinn-Zobeck, PhD, former senior director of BACCHUS initiatives and training, NASPA - Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education (peer education initiatives addressing collegiate health issues at US colleges).

Pierre-Paul Tellier, MD, director of student health services, McGill University, Quebec.

Ryan Travia, MEd, associate dean of students for wellness, Babson College, Massachusetts; founding director, Office of Alcohol & Other Drug Services (AODS), Harvard University.

American College Health Association. American College Health Association–National College Health Assessment II: Reference Group Undergraduates Executive Summary Fall 2015. Hanover, MD: American College Health Association; 2016.

Borsari, B., & Carey, K. B. (2001). Peer influences on college drinking: A review of the research. Journal of Substance Abuse, 13, 391–424. Retrieved from https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.602.7429&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Borsari, B., & Carey, K. B. (2006). How the quality of peer relationships influences students’ alcohol use. Drug and Alcohol Review, 25(4), 361–370.

Crawford, L. A., & Novak, K. B. (2007). Resisting peer pressure: Characteristics associated with other-self discrepancies in college students’ levels of alcohol consumption. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, 51(1), 35–62.

Harrington, N. G. (1997). Strategies used by college students to persuade peers to drink. Southern Communication Journal, 62(3),  229–242. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10417949709373057?journalCode=rsjc20

Kilmer, J., Cronce, J. M., & Logan, D. E. (2014). “Seems I’m not alone at being alone:” Contributing factors and interventions for drinking games in the college setting. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 40(5),  411–414.

Neighbors, C., Lee, C. M., Lewis, M. A., Fossos, N., & Larimer, M. E. (2007). Are social norms the best predictor of outcomes among heavy-drinking college students? Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 68, 556–565.

Neighbors, C., Jensen, M., Tidwell, J., Walter, T., Fossos, N., & Lewis, M. A. (2011). Social-norms interventions for light and nondrinking students. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 14(5), 651-669. doi: 10.1177/1368430210398014

Palmeri, J. M. (2016). Peer pressure and alcohol use among college students. Applied Psychology Opus, NYU Steinhardt. Retrieved from https://steinhardt.nyu.edu/appsych/opus/issues/2011/fall/peer

Perkins, H. W., Linkenbach, J. W., Lewis, M. A., & Neighbors, C. (2010). Effectiveness of social norms media marketing in reducing drinking and driving: A statewide campaign. Addictive Behaviors, 35, 866–874.

Seigel, S. (2011). The four-loko effect. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(4), 357–362.

Student Health 101 survey, July 2016.

Turner, J., Perkins, H.W., & Bauerle, J. (2008). Declining negative consequences related to alcohol misuse among students exposed to social norms marketing intervention on a college campus. Journal of American College Health, 57, 85−93.

Wechsler, H., Nelson, T. E., Lee, J. E., Seibring, M., Lewis, C., & Keeling, R. P. (2003). Perception and reality: A national evaluation of social norms marketing interventions to reduce college students’ heavy alcohol use. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 64, 484–494.