What happens when you mix alcohol with common medications?

Reading Time: 8 minutes Before you imbibe, know the side effects of mixing alcohol with prescription and OTC medications.

What alcohol actually does to your sleep cycle

Reading Time: 6 minutes Thinking about having a nightcap to help you catch some extra zzz’s before the big exam? Read this article first.

Ask the doc: “When can drinking too much water be dangerous?”

Reading Time: 2 minutes A physician explains how to determine the amount of water you really need.

Ask the doc: When should I be concerned with the amount of gas I am experiencing?

Reading Time: 3 minutes We all have gas. But what happens when belching, bloating, or flatulence becomes excessive? How much is too much?

What is alcohol myopia? And what does it mean for sexual consent?

Reading Time: 6 minutes Understanding the connection between alcohol and sexual assault can help us foster stronger, more respectful communities.

Making social gatherings fun for everyone: A guide for hosts and guests

Reading Time: 11 minutes Social events are an important part of the college experience. Whether you’re a host or a guest, here’s how to make your next gathering fun for everyone.

With someone who drank too much? How you can help

Reading Time: 10 minutes Follow these four steps if you’re with someone who drank too much, and when in doubt call 911.

Ask the doc: Can drinking alcohol impair my ability to learn?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

—Jayden*, Portland State University, Oregon

Yes, in ways both large and small. Are there students who drink from time to time and still manage to get good value out of their investment in higher education? Of course. In fact, most students would fit this description. But alcohol can still impair your learning experience. Here are several ways that this can happen:

Time lost to intoxication, hangovers, and/or injuries

If you’re drinking, you aren’t in a state to concentrate or remember, meaning you aren’t learning. For many college students, drinking is part of blowing off steam and relaxing after a hard few hours of academic work. In moderation, this may not present any problems. You just have to weigh the risks and be conscientious in your decision-making. It’s certainly the case that drinking to the point of being sick or having to go to the hospital, or getting in fights or injured, will likely soak up much more time than you’ve budgeted. If you have a big paper due Monday, perhaps it would make sense to take a weekend off from drinking so you have plenty of time to complete your work at a high-quality level. I often challenge students to take two to three weeks off from drinking just to prove to themselves that they can, and to see what it’s like.

Reduced sleep quality and impaired memory formation

Learning has several components. You have to be concentrating when exposed to ideas, in order to form short-term memories. While you sleep, those short-term memories are consolidated into long-term memories. Research has shown a linear relationship between hours of sleep and GPA—in other words, the more you sleep, the better you do academically.

Not sleeping enough, or getting poor-quality sleep, impedes long-term memory formation and thus the learning process. Drinking often affects decision-making, leading you to stay up later than you’d planned, and the sleep that you get when intoxicated is relatively poor quality (though it’s healthier than engaging in other activities while intoxicated; e.g., driving).

Reduced control of emotions (e.g., higher risk of depression)

There are many reasons not to drink on a particular night. Maybe you’re sick or taking medication. Maybe you have a big test the next day, or want to do well at tryout. Maybe you just don’t feel like it. At the top of the list is depression and anxiety. If you are unhappy, don’t drink. Very few things in this world are 100 percent true, but this is one of them: Drinking will worsen your experience of depression. There are much better medicines than alcohol. Ask for help at your student health center or counseling center.

Relationship complications causing upset and distraction from learning

Drinking amplifies most emotions. This can lead to euphoria, arousal, the belief that you’re an amazing dancer, and so on. Drinking can also lead to drama, and sometimes physical violence.  It’s your life, of course. Personally, I find my life complicated enough without alcohol ramping things up.

Getting in trouble

Getting in trouble for underage possession, intoxication, vandalism, or anything else does not provide any short-term benefit to your educational experience.

Addiction

For some students, the stakes are much higher than getting a B instead of the A- you were capable of. About 10–15 percent of people are at particularly high risk for addiction. Their brains are wired in such a way that they struggle to control their relationship with alcohol and/or other substances.  Unless they get help, and that help is effective, they are at high risk for suffering serious consequences, such as damaged relationships, financial difficulties, and the inability to complete their schooling on schedule. Sometimes it takes a serious consequence, like failing out of school, to help them come to terms with their condition. But ideally the problem would be identified and rectified before the consequences became profound.

(*Name changed)

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.

The student guide to going out

Reading Time: < 1 minutes

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Going to a party? Or throwing one? Party-throwers and party-goers play a vital role in shaping the sexual culture of your campus. Party-throwers are the social engineers who design the spaces in which students meet, dance, talk, and sometimes drink or hook up. A well-planned environment helps everyone to make mindful decisions. And as a party guest, you can do a lot to make this easier for your host and more fun for yourself and others. Every time you demonstrate mutual respect, you reduce the likelihood of campus sexual assault and/or alcohol poisoning. Here’s how to throw a great party and be a great guest.

The minimum legal age for consuming alcohol in the US is 21.

How to make your party work for you

Invitation

INVITATION

+ More

How invitations can set the tone and expectations

Set the tone
How you talk about a party can go a long way in helping your guests imagine what it will be like. What’s the tone or vibe you want for your party? For example:

  • If you don’t want people throwing up on your couch, don’t advertise the party with lots of alcohol images.
  • Party themes can be fun—if they’re inclusive and thoughtful. Themes based on racial or gender stereotypes set up the party for failure.
  • Consider how many guests you can realistically handle: the  more people, the more potential for problems.

Set expectations
Are there “house rules” you want your guests to know about? For example:

  • You’d like to know in advance if they’re bringing friends
  • Certain spaces in your venue are off-limits
  • Behavioral tip-offs:
    • “Costumes are optional; respect for everyone is required”
    • “Please help us with cleanup before you leave”

 

Designated greeter

DESIGNATED GREETER

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“Oh, hi there!” Why it helps to have a designated greeter

Set a friendly tone
Consider explicitly assigning someone (or a few people) the task of greeting guests and inviting them in.

House rules
If there’s stuff your guests need to know, like when this thing is shutting down, consider posting it in the entryway.

Check in with arriving guests
Are they arriving alone? Slurring their words? Wobbly on their feet? You might want to check in with someone’s friends, get them medical attention, or not serve them any more alcohol.

Send people home safely
Make sure your guests have a safe way to get home. Check in with them as they leave. Post info about taxi and ride services, as well as medical response resources in case of accidents or alcohol poisoning.

 

Check in with neighbors and campus security

CHECK IN WITH NEIGHBORS AND CAMPUS SECURITY

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Give certain people a heads-up

Here’s why that works out better for you:

Check in with your neighbors

  • Let them know you’re planning a party. Better yet, invite them! Let them know the day and time of the party (start to end).
  • Give them your phone number. Ask them to call or text if they have any concerns. Ideally, any noise complaints would be communicated to you first, rather than to the police. Don’t forget to pay attention to your phone during the party.

Check in with your campus security department

  • They will get in touch with you if something happens in your area that you and your guests should know about.
  • They may give you a call if they get a noise complaint rather than showing up and shutting the party down.
  • They may be able to help people get to and from the party safely.

Check campus policies and state laws

  • For example, if alcohol is being served and you do not have a liquor license, it may be illegal to collect money at the door—for any reason.

 

Dance and Chill Space

DANCE SPACE & CHILL SPACE

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Why parties need several spaces and options

Not everyone has fun the same way all the time.

Dance space
When you’re putting together the playlist or choosing entertainers or DJs, think about how well they fit your values and priorities for the party. Avoid music that seems derogatory or aggressive.

Chill space
Provide a quieter, more well-lit space where your guests can hang out, catch their breath, and talk. Play softer music. It’s a good idea to stock this space with cold water bottles and low-salt, high-protein snacks.

A set-up that makes room for conversation will help your guests communicate more clearly. This is especially important if two people are considering going home together.

Think about adding activities (apart from dancing) that don’t involve alcohol, like Jenga®, board games, and trivia.

 

Off-limits area

OFF-LIMITS AREA
& ISOLATED SPACE

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What to do about isolated spaces

If there are isolated spaces in your party venue, decide whether or not to keep them open and accessible.

If not: Lock the door, rope off the space, and/or hang signs saying the space is closed.

If you keep isolated areas open, assign someone the task of checking in on those spaces throughout the party.

 

Host

GET MEDICAL HELP IN CASE OF ALCOHOL POISONING & HANDLE DIFFICULT GUESTS

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How to trouble shoot at parties

Get medical help in case of alcohol poisoning
Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the medical response resources available on your campus or in your community. If everything goes according to plan, your guests will drink safely and won’t need to use them.

Any of the following symptoms indicates alcohol poisoning
Call for medical help immediately:

  • Can’t walk unassisted
  • Unconscious and unresponsive
  • Vomiting continuously

Handle difficult guests
Keep your cool. Controlling tone and body language can be tricky, but it’s crucial to prevent the situation from escalating further.

  • Make clear “I” statements. Telling someone that they are too drunk or too aggressive invokes defensiveness. Try something like “I’m sorry but I can’t give you another drink” or “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
  • Ask for help. If the situation seems volatile, enlist the help of others: your co-hosts or close friends, or friends of the person causing trouble (ask them to take their friend home).

 

Host

WEAR SIGNATURE CLOTHING, CHECK IN ON GUESTS, & SUBTLY DISRUPT UNCOMFORTABLE SITUATIONS

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How to be the party-thrower of party-goers’ dreams

Make yourself noticeable
Pick a certain color, a silly hat, or a large pin (“Here to help!”). This lets guests know where to turn if anything comes up. If a large group is throwing the party, consider trading off “hosting duties” through the evening.

Model supportive social dynamics
Party-throwers are especially attuned to the general mood. You get to take the lead on looking out for one another and treating guests with respect. If you drink alcohol, stop after one or two.

Make the rounds
Introduce people and troubleshoot issues as they come up.

Check isolated spaces, such as bedrooms, closets, and yards.

Subtly disrupt uncomfortable situations
Maybe a guest is getting unwanted attention or someone is pressuring others to drink. It’s your party: You can check in whenever you notice something, no matter how small. The most effective interventions happen early and subtly. Distract people, change the topic, make a joke or an introduction.

 

Designated server

BAR—IF YOU’RE SERVING ALCOHOL

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How to help your guests make mindful choices

If you plan to serve alcohol, aim for an environment in which everyone can make mindful, deliberate choices about whether they want to drink and how much. A successful party does not have to involve alcohol.

If you serve alcohol:

  • Keep it in one place. This way, your guests drink only if they’ve made an active choice to do so. Having alcohol in multiple places suggests that drinking (and often drinking heavily) is the default.
  • Have ice on hand. Your cocktails and mocktails (nonalcoholic cocktails) will feel fancier and your guests will take their time sipping their drinks.
  • Use narrow cups and proper measuring tools. If you’re serving hard liquor, use a 1 oz. shot glass.
  • Offer one or two nonalcoholic mocktails; promote them on signs or posters. Look online for recipes.

 

Designated server

DESIGNATED SERVER

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Why it helps to have a designated server

For guests, this set up makes drinking an active choice rather than a default. It’s easier for people to count their drinks over the course of the evening.

Designated servers are awesome at these party skills:

  • Mixing tasty cocktails that complement the party theme, or just serving beer or wine.
  • Not over-pouring drinks.
  • Keeping an eye out, noticing who needs to switch to something nonalcoholic.
  • Offering nonalcoholic options, including mocktails.

Many campuses and community organizations offer classes on bartending skills and safe serving practices—often for free.

 

How to get invited back

Invitation

NOTICE THE TONE, HOUSE RULES, & PLAN AHEAD

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Pay attention to the invitation

Notice the tone 
The invitation (whatever form it takes) should give you some idea of what your hosts have in mind. Big house party? Chill get-together?

Respect their house rules 
Validate the hosts’ trust in you. They might want to keep certain areas off-limits, or they may need to end things at a certain hour.

Plan ahead
Think about what you want out of the party. If alcohol will be served: Do you want to drink? How much? You can have a great time at any party without drinking any alcohol. If you do plan to drink, a good rule of thumb is one standard drink every hour or 1½ hours.

Be a good sport about the theme 
If your hosts have gone through the trouble of coming up with a theme, do your best to play along. A good theme will make room for everyone to participate in whatever way they feel comfortable, so feel free to find your own.

  • Does something about the theme seem off to you? Playing to racial or gender stereotypes is unlikely to end well. If the theme raises a red flag, bring that up with the hosts ahead of time. They would probably prefer to tweak things early on than end up with a lousy party.

 

Text message

TOUCH BASE WITH THE HOST

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Touch base with the host in advance

Get in touch with your host at least a day in advance. Do they need help setting up? Or staying late to help clean up? This a great way to show your appreciation.

If you want to bring something, consider snacks (preferably low-salt and high-protein ones, like Greek yogurt dip or hummus with veggies) or mixers. These go quickly at parties, and your hosts will appreciate having extras.

 

A guest waving hello to the host

WELCOME THE NEWBIES,
& SAY HI TO THE HOST

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Say hi to the host and the newbies

Find the host when you arrive
You’re here to see them, and they’ll be happy to know you made it. Ask if they could use a hand with anything.

If you don’t know many people there, tell your host
They want you to have fun. They probably have a good sense of who you’ll get along with, and can introduce you.

If you see new faces in the room, say hello
Offer to show them around, and introduce them to other guests. You’ve been that newbie—remember the relief when someone made you feel welcome in a new space.

If you’re the newbie, branch out

  • Parties are a great place to meet new friends. Foolproof conversation starters: “How do you know [the host]?” and “Got any tips or intel for rookies about life at [this school]?”
  • Trust your instincts. You may be new to this particular space, but you’re very good at knowing when you’re having fun and feeling welcomed. If you’re feeling pressured or getting an uncomfortable vibe from someone, pull a third person into the mix or come up with an excuse to leave the interaction.

 

Dance Space

RESPECT OTHER PEOPLE’S LIMITS – AND YOUR OWN

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Respect other people’s limits – and your own

Fun means different things to different people. Some people would rather hang out and talk than spend the night on the dance floor. Some people will be more comfortable getting physical than others. Whatever it is, pay attention to the cues you’re getting, and respect them.

  • Most of us are very good at reading the subtle communicative cues we get from other people—including in romantic and sexual situations.
  • We can tell when someone is engaged and enthusiastic versus disengaged and uninterested. We notice things like whether the other person is leaning in or pulling away, intensifying or slowing down.
  • Ideal encounters happen when there is mutual enthusiasm. If you encounter anything less than that, take a step back and reassess. Hold out for a better situation.

 

A group of students taking a selfie

LOOK OUT FOR YOURSELF AND OTHERS

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Look out for yourself and others

If you notice a troubling dynamic, think about how best to step in
Perhaps you notice someone experiencing unwanted attention or being pressured to drink more than they want to. Maybe you see some broken glass or someone in need of medical attention.

Whatever it is, there’s always something you can do
This is your community, and you play an important role in making it a positive and supportive one. You could:

  • Check in: Say hello, ask a question, ask for help. A small distraction like that can give someone the out they need.
  • Engage the hosts: Let the people who are throwing the party know sooner rather than later. The sooner you spot potential trouble, the easier it is to redirect things unobtrusively.
  • Find the friends: If you don’t know the people involved, you can find their friends and see if they can intervene.

If you’re worried that your friend is pressuring others
This can be a great opportunity for a stealthy intervention—for example, by joining a conversation or people on the dance floor. If you’re close to your friend, you can always demand that they consult you about something important in the other room.

 

Designated server

IF YOU CHOOSE TO DRINK, DO SO MINDFULLY

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If you choose to drink, do so mindfully

People have different limits when it comes to alcohol
Many people make the decision not to drink alcohol at all. Pressuring someone to drink beyond their limit puts them at risk and creates more work for your host. That guest who drinks too much may get sick, need medical attention, or be unable to get home safely.

Trust your own limits
Be especially cautious if you are stressed or sleep-deprived, taking medication, have alcohol misuse in your family, or have diabetes. If you’ve chosen to drink alcohol, remember to pace yourself so that you’re sober enough to enjoy the party and the company of your friends. Tips for drinking safely:

  • Think ahead to the party and decide if and how much you want to drink.
  • Limit yourself to one drink per hour or 1½ hours.
  • Hydrate! Alternate alcoholic drinks with water, seltzer, or soda.
  • Ask and remind friends to support your decision about drinking limits.
  • Avoid drinking games. “Drinking games are designed to have you fail and promote more drinking,” says Dr. Scott Lukas, a researcher in substance use and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Include people who don’t want to drink

  • Offer nonalcoholic options if you’re offering to get the next round of drinks: “Does anyone want another beer or soda?”
  • Suggest conversation and dancing—activities that don’t center on drinking. Think of something that everyone can take part in.
  • Model reasonable drinking habits so that sober people feel comfortable being around you. Feel free to turn down a drink you don’t want with a quick “No thanks” or “Still working on this one.”

 

Designated greeter

CHECK IN AGAIN BEFORE YOU LEAVE

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Check in again before you leave

Thank the host for a great party
Ask if they need anything before you head out: Can you lend a hand cleaning up? Can you walk someone home or give them a ride?

Don’t leave your host in the lurch
If your host is dealing with drunk or unruly guests, ask what you can do to help. Maybe you could suggest that everyone head out for pizza, help find the stragglers’ friends, or offer them a ride home.

 

Text message

FOLLOW UP

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Follow up the next day

Thank your host
They’ll be happy to hear what you enjoyed. If their party planning supported different ways to have fun, say how much you appreciated it.

Check in with anyone you may have been concerned about at the party

  • If you weren’t able to act in the moment, don’t assume the opportunity has passed. You can always check in afterward: “I saw you at the party on Saturday. I was concerned. Did that work out OK?”
  • This is especially effective if you are noticing an ongoing dynamic. You might get coffee with a friend to talk about their new relationship. You can also check in with a friend if their behavior has been a little pushy lately.
  • If you are concerned about a friend’s behavior, it can be useful to talk to them later when there is time to sit down.
  • Avoid taking an accusatory tone. Voice your concerns about the particular situation or pattern of behavior.
  • Make sure your friend knows you’re bringing this up because you care about them and you want to look out for them. You can say something like: “I know you meant well” or “You know that I think you’re a great person.”
  • You know your friend best: You’re equipped to figure out how to have a conversation about why it’s wrong to use pressure.

[survey_plugin] Article sources

Melanie Boyd, PhD, assistant dean in student affairs at Yale University; lecturer in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies.

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