HAMS: Harm Reduction for Alcohol

The College Student's Guide To Safe Drinking

Students for Safe Drinking offers some no-bullshit tips on how to survive the college party scene with your grades and your dignity intact. Have a ball in school and keep it safe and sane with these simple harm reduction strategies.

College is a great time in a person's life and college partying is damn fun! There is nothing in the world wrong with drinking alcohol or even getting intoxicated now and then. But waking up in bed with a stranger and no idea how he/she got there is not a part of the fun. Nor is flunking your final because you took the test with the hangover from hell, or contracting HIV, or having an unwanted pregnancy, or winding up dead in a traffic accident.

The good news is that implementing the following simple harm reduction strategies can help you to avoid all of the above:

  1. Eat First
  2. Be Well Hydrated
  3. Plan Your Transportation
  4. Travel In Pairs
  5. Schedule Your Drinking
  6. Carry Condoms
  7. Choose Your Drink
  8. Alternate Drinks
  9. Don't Let Strangers Pour Your Drinks
  10. Don't Drink Your Age
  11. Coffee Won't Sober You Up
  12. Drinking At Home
  13. Take Your Vitamins
  14. Get Support
  15. Maturing Out
  16. If All Else Fails--Substitute

1) Eat First. The surface area of the stomach is only a couple of square feet, but because of the presence of villi the surface area of the small intestine is roughly 2,600 square feet. What this means in practical terms is that the small intestine is very efficient at absorbing alcohol whereas the stomach is very inefficient. Between the stomach and the small intestine there is a valve called the pyloric valve. When you eat a good sized meal this valve closes to keep the food in the stomach for digestion. If the meal has a high fat content the valve can remain closed for up to six hours. Proteins pass through more quickly and carbohydrates pass through the quickest of all. So if you eat a big meal of fried chicken or pizza before you drink, the alcohol will be absorbed slowly, your BAC (blood alcohol content) will remain low, and you will not become intoxicated quickly. Drinking on an empty stomach will make BAC rise very quickly and you may well pass out or suffer a blackout. And what is the fun of a party which you cannot even remember? Note: eating after you have drunk has little or no effect.

2) Be well hydrated. Make certain that you drink plenty of water before you start drinking any alcohol. Alcohol is a diuretic and it will cause you to become dehydrated. The more alcohol you drink, the thirstier you feel. Having plenty of water in your system will keep you from feeling thirsty and you will drink more slowly. Drinking slowly is the best way to enjoy alcohol and avoid blacking out or passing out.

3) Plan your transportation. Never drive to a drinking event. The most sensible thing is to leave your car keys at home. Walking or using public transportation is the most sensible thing. If you drink at a friend's house you may even arrange to sleep over and leave when you are sober in the morning. Do not drink on impulse when your only means of getting home is driving. If you plan to ride use public transportation it is a good idea to travel with a friend for added safety.

4) Travel in pairs. It is always a good idea to have a good friend at your side when you participate in a drinking event. Friends can help keep each other safe when riding the subway--if one falls asleep the other is there to safeguard them. Pickpockets, muggers, and sexual predators all target the intoxicated. Merely being male does not safeguard one either. Having another person at your side is the best way to discourage these people from taking advantage of you.

5) Schedule your drinking. Plan to abstain from alcohol when you have important things to do the next day. The party is not worth blowing your final exam. Too many drinking days in the semester can take away valuable time needed for school works--so planning and scheduling your drinking days is an important priority.

6) Carry Condoms. Gay or straight, male or female, always carry condoms when you go drinking--and use them! You might feel that you are not the type for a one night stand--but alcohol has a way of loosening inhibitions--and soon one thing leads to another. Unplanned pregnancy or HIV are not worth the risk--carry condoms and use them!

7) Choose Your Drink. If you tend to get intoxicated easily then you might want to be very careful about what you choose to drink. Stay away from the shots--stick with beer or wine. Jello shots have a danger of going down too quickly and can lead to blackouts and nasty bouts of vomiting. Beer bongs are another good thing to avoid as they make people drink too fast. Drinks made with diet soda are absorbed more quickly than those made with regular soda. The whole idea is to slow down the pace of the drinking and enjoy it--not to black out, pass out, or vomit. Some people even add ice to their white wine to slow them down. Which leads us to the next point:

8) Alternate Drinks. Alternating alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic drinks can do a lot to help slow down the rate of your alcohol consumption. Follow a real beer with an NA beer then a real one then an NA and so on. Or order a glass of water with your glass of wine and sip from both. In between each rum and coke drink a plain coke. Slow down and enjoy more.

9) Don't Let Strangers Pour Your Drinks. There are a lot of creeps out there with date rape drugs in their pockets just waiting to slip them into your drink. Males are not immune from this either. Let the bartender pour your drink or pour it yourself.

10) Don't Drink Your Age. A new fad has emerged at birthday parties--drinking one shot for each year of your life. This can be fatal. Drinking a large number of shots in rapid succession can lead to alcohol poisoning. Don't try drinking your age--slow down and enjoy the alcohol. Don't ask your friends to drink their age either. Giving someone a case of alcohol poisoning is definitely bad form even if they survive. It can be criminal if they don't.

11) Coffee won't sober you up. The idea that coffee will sober you up is pure myth. The body metabolizes approximately one standard drink per hour until the alcohol is out of your system. Drinking coffee may make you more wakeful--but it will not make you fit to drive.

12) Drinking At Home. Drinking at home with your roommates or friends you have invited over avoids the pitfalls of going out. Just be careful that it does not become a habit which interferes with schoolwork. If you drink at home be extra careful to schedule it in well.

13) Take Your Vitamins. Alcohol depletes vitamins from your system--particularly B1. If you drink then it is a good idea to take your vitamins every day. A lack of B1 can lead to all sorts of unpleasant things including beriberi and neural degeneration.

14) Get Support. Peer pressure to party hearty all the time can be a lot to deal with, but if you can find a like-minded friend to support you in safe and sane drinking by all means do so. If you need more support than you can find immediately around you, Students for Safe Drinking was created specifically for the purpose of providing such support.

15) Maturing Out. If you like to get a bit intoxicated now and then you might hear someone around school saying that this is a sign of alcoholism which is a progressive disease that will only get worse unless you go to AA every day for the rest of your life. This is pretty much pure mythology. Studies have shown that nearly everyone who parties a bit in school settles down and parties less when they get out into the real world. This phenomenon is known as "maturing out"--and it is the norm--not the exception. Excessive worrying about drinking can drive one to drink.

16) If all else fails--substitute. If you have tried all of the above and you are still having problems with blacking out or passing out or drinking and driving--then perhaps it is time to come to the conclusion that alcohol is not a good drug of choice for you. Some people in this position just decide to choose to abstain from mood altering substances period. Some find that marijuana is a better drug of choice for them than alcohol since marijuana does not cause blacking out or passing out. The biggest downside to marijuana is that America's archaic and outmoded drug laws still make it illegal. But then underage drinking is illegal too--but rampant on American college campuses. In the end the decision is yours and yours alone.

Now--go forth armed with knowledge and have a ball in school! Party down and keep it safe and sane with these simple harm reduction tools!

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