Top 10 Things Every College Freshman Must Know About Alcohol (Whether They Drink or Not!)

College HangoverWorried about how your kid will deal with ALCOHOL in college? You’re not alone! If you’re focused on your student not drinking and driving, though, let me reassure you that this generation does a far better job than their parents! Please send them off with an UBER or LYFT gift card to support responsible choices, but meanwhile, let me share the top ten things every freshman needs to know about college drinking:

  1. College drinking today often starts with doing vodka shots, rather than sipping on beers. Pro tip: If you choose to drink, skip the shots and grab a BEER instead!  The actual volume of beer tends to fill you up and slow down your consumption enough to keep you out of trouble.
  2. If you drink alcohol while you have ADHD medications in your system, their stimulant effect can blunt the early “buzz” and subsequent signs of alcohol intoxication so that you feel nothing (as you have multiple drinks) until suddenly you feel sloppy, unpleasant drunk. Note that Adderall and Vyvanse both stay in your system around fourteen hours.
  3. “Black out drunk” means you have a permanent memory gap from when your blood alcohol level rose too high, too fast, which temporarily turned off your brain’s ability to create long-term memories (via shutting down your hippocampus, which ordinarily converts short-term memories to long-term.) Not surprisingly, blackouts typically are caused by doing a bunch of shots. Unfortunately, social media has popularized the rallying cry of “black out or back out” as students head out with the purposeful intent to party hard enough to literally erase their memory,  competing to see who can down the most shots- obviously an incredibly dangerous game. Often people experience patchy temporal memory loss, where they remember bits and pieces, (rather than losing a solid block of time) and this is referred to as a “brown-out” or “grey-out.”
  4. A drunk person cannot give consent. Period. Exclamation!
  5. You may not realize that someone you are with is, in fact, drunk. What’s more, they may drink enough tonight to have a black out memory gap tomorrow, which could include having no memory of what you believed was enthusiastic, ongoing, verbalized consent. Lawyers who specialize in this area generally suggest that you assume anyone drinking ANY alcohol is off limits for physical intimacy because they are unable to give consent.
  6. If someone says they don’t remember, they DO NOT rememberCould they be lying to spare themselves further embarrassment? Yes, but frankly, it’s not your place to judge that- you have literally no way of knowing. I cannot adequately share the ocean of tears, regret, embarrassment, and even terror (of pregnancy, STIs, damaged reputation, photos, etc.) that I’ve witnessed in the exam room from young adults in this situation- all genders and sexual preferences, lest you assume otherwise.
  7. Passed out means unconscious. You can wake up a sleeping drunk person by shaking their shoulders a bit and loudly calling their name. If they do not respond, assume they are unconscious, and you need to seek help immediately.
  8. Not everyone drinks in college! Roughly 20% choose not to drink. Of the majority that do drink, most drink responsibly- but since social media is dominated by the hard core “black out or black out” bunch, most students assume that culture to be the norm.
  9. Your BFF that never drinks may choose to help you when you are intoxicated but remember this is a kindness and not an obligation! Please be aware that your sober friend who is always the designated driver, hair-holder (during puke-fests) and cleaner-upper of physical, emotional and sometimes even legal messes is carrying a heavy burden, even if appears somewhat self-imposed.
  10. The drinking age is still 21. “Minor in possession of alcohol” consequences vary by state but carry a significant fine of $200-500 with possible community service and temporary driver’s license suspension. Possession of a Fake ID can range from a slap on the wrist (and confiscation of your ID) from a bouncer at a college-friendly bar, to a misdemeanor fine (up to $2000) and/or community service, to actual jail time or even a FELONY charge in some situations and states (like Florida and Illinois.) Even though you may hear “everyone has a fake”-do you want to be the one caught? It’s really not worth it.

Bonus Tip: Every young adult should have an EXIT STRATEGY. Students should make firm plans before they go out, designating who’s leaving with whom, and have a CODE WORD or phrase with their friend group that means “I need to leave immediately,” no questions asked. (A pet name works great and is easy to slip into conversation. “Hey, did I tell you I saw a dog on campus today that looks just like the picture of your dog, Rascal?”) When anyone in the group says that code word, someone else suddenly remembers they were supposed to meet “Emily” or “Matt” and they need to head out right away (or pretend to get a text that says that.)  And if all else fails, consider “accidentally” spilling a drink on the “overserved” party (yourself or your friend) and insist on leaving to get cleaned up.

Bottom Line: An ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure! If you’d like more tips and information, including how to recognize and treat alcohol intoxication, and what to do if you’re worried you were drugged or sexually assaulted, check out The ULTIMATE College Student Health Handbook: Your Guide for Everything from Hangovers to Homesickness.  

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