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Alcohol Education




What is the most important thing I should emphasize when talking to my daughter about drinking?


What kinds of alcohol education takes place on college campuses?


I looked at my son’s high school health curriculum. When it came to alcohol, the only thing it addressed was drinking and  driving. Shouldn’t the schools be teaching more about alcohol and its dangers?


Don’t all college students experiment with drinking?




The Health Center staff keeps talking about low-risk drinking. I am not sure exactly what that means.


When I first started drinking I didn’t have a clue about alcohol. Now that I know more about it, I believe I make more responsible decisions.


I learned a lot during that alcohol presentation at orientation. I didn’t know you could actually die from drinking!


Alcohol has been enjoyed throughout history – and throughout history it has also caused many problems. As previously indicated, discussions about alcohol are most effective if they begin at an early age. Now that your son or daughter is entering college, the discussions take on a new tenor.


Although many new college students believe they already know everything about alcohol, my interactions with students across the country reveal a different story. True, many students arrive on campus with a great deal of knowledge about alcohol, but myths and misinformation abound. As a result, many students make decisions in a vacuum, totally unaware of the serious risks they are taking. Even those with an abundance of information may make decisions contrary to what they know is safe.


Facts for Parents


Clearly, the choice to consume alcohol or not is up to the individual student.  However, many factors will come into play when making that decision. Extensive research has been conducted on campuses around the country to better understand what some of those contributing factors may be.


Certain patterns have emerged that are consistent throughout the research.


Drinking rates are highest among 

  • incoming freshmen;

  • males;

  • members of fraternities or sororities;

  • athletes. 


Drinking rates are lowest among students who attend

  • two-year institutions

  • religious schools

  • commuter schools

  • predominantly or historically black colleges and universities. 


The Harvard School of Public Health has presented the following profile of student drinking:


  • Fifty percent of male and thirty-nine percent of female students said they had been binge drinking within the last two weeks. 

  • Residents of fraternities or sororities were four times as likely to be binge drinkers as other students. 

  • White students were twice as likely as other students to be binge drinkers.


Remember, for men binge drinking is defined as the consumption of five or more consecutive alcoholic beverages; for women, four or more.



Campus Alcohol Education Programs


On most college campuses, numerous programs offer alcohol education and abuse prevention information. More often than not these programs can be found in the residence halls, the student union, the athletic center, and in the classrooms. Other information can usually be found online, in the library, or through the campus health center. Most of these programs offer valuable information to assist students in dealing with the challenges associated with alcohol consumption. Encourage your son or daughter to take advantage of these opportunities.



Facts about Alcohol


Despite rules, regulations, policies, and programs, the majority of underage college students drink to some degree or another. With the understanding of this reality, it is essential that students make this choice armed with the appropriate information that will assist them in avoiding problems associated with that choice. For students under the age of twenty-one it is illegal to consume alcohol on campus but, since many of them will choose to drink anyway, basic information can help guide them in their choices.  


Reinforce with your student these basic facts about alcohol:


  • Alcohol is a depressant drug.

  • Alcohol is potentially addictive. Drinking too much too often leads to addiction regardless of the reasons for drinking.

  • A family history of alcoholism puts a student at a greater biological risk for addiction.

  • High tolerance is a sign of increased risk for addiction.

  • Beer and wine are not "safer" than hard liquor. A twelve-ounce can of beer, a four-ounce glass of wine, and one-ounce shot of 100-proof hard liquor all contain the same amount of alcohol and have the same effects on the body and mind. Average wine coolers tend to contain a bit more alcohol than average beer.

  • High-risk drinking can result in alcohol poisoning and death.

  • High-risk drinking can cause other problems such as academic failure, falls, injuries, risky sexual activity, and legal problems.

  • Alcohol affects different people in different ways. Reinforce that your child should not base drinking choices on the behaviors of others.

The misuse of alcohol by underage students and by students over twenty-one remains a problem for many. When talking to your student about his or her drinking choices, it would be more helpful to discuss the differences between low-risk drinking and high-risk drinking, rather than to simply condemn alcohol use in general or underage drinking in particular.



High-Risk Drinking


  • Drinking with the intention of getting drunk.

  • Drinking beyond a .05% Blood Alcohol Level. 

  • Chugging; drinking games; doing shots; drinking out of a punch bowl, trough, hose, or funnel.

  • Driving after drinking or riding with someone under the influence. 

  • Drinking too much too fast. 

  • Going to parties where people drink too much. 

  • Not knowing what is in your drink or leaving your drink unattended. 

  • Mixing alcohol with prescription medications or illegal drugs.

  • Drinking to deal with anger or stress or depression.

  • From a legal standpoint, underage drinking is always a high-risk choice.



Low-Risk Drinking


  • Thinking about whether you will drink – and if so, what you will drink – before going to a party. 

  • Setting limits on how much you will drink.

  • Eating before and during drinking.

  • Staying at or below a .05% BAL by pacing your drinking.

  • Knowing your own personal signs that you need to stop drinking (slurred speech, dizziness, giddiness).

  • Always knowing what you are drinking. Avoiding punch.

  • Alternating with alcohol-free drinks throughout the evening.

  • Never drinking and driving.

  • Planning how you will get home safely before going out.

  • Realizing that abstaining is acceptable and is the safest choice.

  • Remembering that the legal drinking age is twenty-one.

  • Adhering to all legal restrictions on alcohol consumption.



Bi-Phasic Response to Alcohol


Alcohol is a depressant drug. Relaxation combined with a euphoric feeling is the body’s initial response to a depressant drug. When it comes to alcohol, the initial response is often described by college students as a “buzz.” Students can learn to control their drinking by focusing on these pleasurable effects and not overdoing it. The most pleasurable effects of alcohol tend to occur at a Blood Alcohol Level of about .05%. At that level, tension is reduced, relaxation is enhanced, and inhibitions are a bit lower. Some people find these effects so rewarding that they continue to drink with the hope that the positive results will continue to increase. The mistaken notion is that, “Gee, if .05% feels good then .10% must be twice as good!”


Unfortunately, as the BAL rises above .05% the initial pleasurable effects subside and the secondary negative responses take over. The mild euphoric feeling begins to fade, leading toward depressed feelings. The risk for a host of negative effects, such as less emotional control, poor coordination, impaired judgment, hangovers, and obnoxious behavior, increases significantly.


Remember, though, that other factors could contribute to an increased risk of impairment problems even at a .05% BAL. Some of these factors include:


  • body weight

  • gender

  • food in the stomach

  • drinking experience

  • family history

  • what and how fast a person drinks

  • emotional condition of a person when drinking.


Therefore, a discussion with your son or daughter about maintaining a BAL of .05% if he or she chooses to drink will be extremely helpful. By concentrating on the initial pleasurable effects experienced at a BAL of .05% drinkers can enjoy alcohol even more. 


The Drink/Weight Index Chart in Appendix G will assist students in understanding the drinking pattern that will help them maintain a BAL of .05% or thereabouts. 


Also it would be helpful to familiarize your student with the Blood Alcohol Level chart in Appendix H which lists common behaviors associated with various levels of intoxication.





If your son or daughter will be participating in a college sport, be sure to impress upon him or her that alcohol consumption can have a significant negative impact on athletic performance for days after a drinking episode. The degree of impact depends on a number of variables: how regularly, how much, and when the athlete drinks; how much the athlete weighs; what the athlete drinks; the athlete’s metabolic rate; and so much more. After even one night of heavy drinking, such as those that many athletes engage in after a win, performance levels are reduced for a number of days. A major complicating factor is that the student athlete doesn’t even recognize the reduction in his or her performance.


Obviously, drinking heavily on the day prior to an event will negatively affect performance. But what about other drinking patterns? Student athletes should be aware of the following:


  • Alcohol has a diuretic effect causing fluid loss, either by increased sweating or urination. This extra fluid loss, added to what an athlete normally sweats out in training or playing, puts the athlete at high risk for dehydration.

  • Even moderate alcohol consumption decreases strength, power, and muscular and cardiovascular endurance, and impairs reaction time, balance, and coordination for as long as seven days after drinking.

  • Small amounts of alcohol can rob the body of B vitamins and minerals essential for converting food to energy, repairing body tissue after injury, and regulating enzyme and metabolic functions. The heart, liver, thyroid, and kidneys are affected by vitamin B deficiencies. Alcohol-related vitamin C deficiencies contribute to anemia, reduced resistance to disease, and over-stimulation of the adrenal gland. Alcohol-related vitamin A deficiency also reduces the body's resistance to disease.

  • Following alcohol consumption, the body excretes calcium at twice the normal rate. Calcium builds strong bones and helps heal fractures.

  • Drinking interferes with the body's ability to process uric acid. Breakdown in this mechanism is the same as an inflammatory joint condition called gout.

  • Research indicates that student athletes who drink can have twice the injury rate as those who abstain. Alcohol used while exercising or recovering from an injury hinders the muscles’ ability to replenish energy stores, leading to increased recovery time and rehab after an injury.

  • After heavy drinking, cognitive processes can remain impaired for up to seventy-two hours or more, even after alcohol has left the bloodstream. 


By the way, if your student is trying to buff up in the gym, here’s some important information: the buff appearance is a result of attaining a low body fat percentage. Alcohol slows down some of the metabolic functions, causing the accumulation of more fat.


Alcohol Use Disorder


First of all, let me suggest that you avoid appearing to be an “alarmist” when discussing alcoholism. To teens, alcoholism seems a distant, if not completely impossible, reality in their own lives. The fact of the matter is that most college students will not become addicted to alcohol, a condition known as alcoholism. Many, though, may experience impairment problems due to high-risk drinking. Even though most students will not actually become addicted to alcohol, the sad reality is that most will have some interaction with alcoholics at some point in their lives, if they haven’t already. It may be a friend, roommate, teammate, future spouse, future child, employer, or employee.  Given this reality, it would be helpful for students to have at least a basic understanding of an Alcohol Use Disorder, including alcoholism. The generally accepted definition of an alcoholic is someone who continues to drink despite the fact that the drinking is causing physical, emotional, psychological, financial, and/or spiritual problems; who can’t consistently control the amount or frequency of use of alcohol; and who, in the absence of alcohol, experiences varying degrees of withdrawal.


Myths about Alcoholism

  • Alcoholics drink every day.

  • Alcoholism happens only to depressed, lonely losers.

  • Alcoholism is caused by depression or low self-esteem.

  • College students are too young to become alcoholics.

  • If a person doesn’t drink alone or in the morning then he or she is not an alcoholic.

  • Alcoholism can’t be cured.

  • An alcoholic can be helped only when he or she is ready to be helped.


Realities about Alcoholism

  • Many alcoholics do not drink every day.

  • Alcoholism can happen to anyone who drinks too much too often – even rich, educated, healthy individuals.

  • Depression and low self-esteem may contribute to alcoholism and, they are often the results of alcoholism. However, the cause of alcoholism is drinking too much too often. The sign that someone is drinking too much too often is an increased tolerance to alcohol.

  • Young people can develop alcoholism long before they are old enough to graduate from college.

  • Although drinking in the morning and drinking alone are symptoms of possible alcoholism, many alcoholics do not drink in the morning or drink alone.

  • Many people recover from alcoholism through professional guidance and/or participation in support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Rational Recovery.

  • Although you may feel that someone you know who is suffering from alcoholism is not “ready” to seek help, alcoholics become “ready” through a kind and loving, yet serious and deliberate, confrontation of the drinking behavior.

There are many students that may be experiencing an alcohol use disorder. An AUD is classified as mild, moderate or severe.  Alcohol use disorders span a wide variety of problems arising from alcohol use and cover eleven different criteria. The DSM-5 allows clinicians to specify the presence and severity of an AUD, depending on how many symptoms are identified.  Assessment of a potential AUD consists of questions about the presence of certain symptoms exhibited by the drinker within the previous year:  



Impaired Control

1. Is alcohol consumed in larger amounts or over longer periods of time than was intended?

2. Has there been a persistent desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down or control alcohol use?

3. Has there been a great deal of time spent in activities necessary to obtain alcohol, use alcohol, or recover from its effects?

4. Have you experienced craving, or a strong desire or urge to use alcohol?


Examples for College Students: Your usual number of drinks has much less effect than before. You can now drink more than your friends who used to outdrink you. You might bring only a six pack to the party but then end up “mooching” off friends for more beer.  Your life beyond the party scene is diminishing. You are pre-occupied in class thinking about partying.  You feel a need to drink before social activities.


Social Impairment

5. Has there been recurrent alcohol use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home?

6. Has alcohol use continued despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol?

7. Have important social, occupational, or recreational activities been abandoned or reduced because of alcohol use?


Examples for College Students: You’ve been “written up” by residence hall staff due to an alcohol related incident.  You were arrested due to drinking.  You miss class and fail to submit projects on time.  You miss work.  Your athletic performance is diminishing.  You have inordinate problems with relationships including but not limited to violent arguments and/or fights with family members, friends, teammates, etc. You rely on alcohol to help you socialize.  In order to drink. you have given up or cut back on activities that were once important and/or fun for you, or gave you pleasure. Simple responsibilities such as proper diet, laundry, personal appearance may be neglected.


Risky Use of Alcohol

8. Has there been recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous?

9. Has alcohol use continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem likely to have been caused or exacerbated by alcohol?


Examples for College Students: More than once you have gotten into situations while, or after, drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (driving, boating, swimming, operating machinery, etc.). Risky sexual encounters may result in sexually transmitted infections, unplanned pregnancy, and/ or emotional complications.  You have ulcers, stomach problems or other gastrointestinal issues. You are depressed. You are experiencing blackouts.


Pharmacological Criteria

10. Has tolerance increased, as defined by either of the following:

a. A need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or desired effect.

b. A markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol.

11. Have you experienced withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following:

a. The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for alcohol

b. Alcohol (or a closely related substance, such as a benzodiazepine) is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.


Examples for College Students: Your tolerance has continued to increase. You drink significantly more alcohol now than when you entered college.  You drink significantly more than most of your friends even though you are smaller than them. You continue drinking long after your friends decide to quit drinking or leave the party. You drink in the morning to “cure” or relieve the symptoms of a hangover. If you quit drinking for an extended period, you experience trouble  sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, or a seizure? You “sense” things that were not there.


The presence of at least 2 of these symptoms indicates an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). The severity of the AUD is defined as:

  • Mild:          The presence of 2 to 3 symptoms

  • Moderate:   The presence of 4 to 5 symptoms

  • Severe:       The presence of 6 or more symptoms

Alcoholism is in the Severe category

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