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College Students and Binge Drinking: Facts and Tips

     

College is an exciting and rewarding experience for many students. For many, alcohol can seem like a fundamental part of the college experience, as it may accompany game-day tailgates, parties or social activities. Since drinking alcohol lowers inhibitions, it can act as an icebreaker during situations that may otherwise feel uncomfortable; however, it is important to recognize the potential dangers of consuming large amounts of alcohol, especially over a short period of time.

Binge drinking generally occurs when men consume five or more drinks and women consume four or more drinks over the span of about two hours. Most people whose drinking qualifies as binge drinking are not dependent on alcohol, but young adults who binge drink are more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder later in life.

What are the risks of binge drinking?

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Binge drinking can have many harmful physical and mental health effects, including:

  • Unintentional injuries (such as falls, burns or drowning)
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Engaging in risky sexual behaviors, which increases exposure to sexually transmitted diseases and likelihood of unintended pregnancy
  • Sexual assault or intimate partner violence
  • Problems at school or work
  • Health problems including high blood pressure, heart disease and liver disease
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What can you do to avoid binge drinking?

In social situations, especially when there is peer pressure, drinking too much may feel hard to avoid. Here are some tips that can help.

  • Know the size of a standard drink. Drinks are often over-poured, which can lead to drinking more than you intended. A standard drink is a 5 oz glass of wine, 12 oz of regular beer, or 1.5 oz of hard liquor.
  • Consume alcohol slowly. Take a few sips of a drink at a time and consider alternating between an alcoholic beverage and soda or water. Remember, the body absorbs alcohol up to 90 minutes after consuming a drink, so you may not feel the effects of intoxication right away.
  • Spend time with friends who are also trying to avoid binge drinking. Surround yourself with friends who are respectful of your choice to not binge drink. Pressure from friends to consume more alcohol makes it more difficult to stick to your limits.
  • Avoid situations that encourage binge drinking. Staying away from events where alcohol is the focal point (for example, parties with drinking games) can help avoid binge drinking. Seek out fun activities around campus that don’t involve alcohol.

Knowing the dangers of binge drinking and strategies to avoid it can help college students make positive decisions when it comes to alcohol use. Having open conversations with friends about binge drinking can be helpful, too.

If you or someone you know is struggling to control their alcohol use, you can take an online screening from Screening for Mental Health. You can also call SAMHSA’s national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit the online Treatment Locator.

By Maggie Kaiser, medical student,
University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health
Reviewed by Claudia L. Reardon, M.D.

     

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