How To Drink In College Without Ruining Your Life Or Liver

Clear eyes, full stomachs, can booze. Safely.

College is a wonderful time of self-discovery and reading Emily Dickinson on the quad. Also, for some, guzzling Franzia straight from the bag and shotgunning Natty Light in a frat basement.

It’s been happening on campuses across the country since way before "Animal House." While plenty of people choose not to drink in college, roughly 3 out of 5 students did as of 2013, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIAAA found at the time that 39 percent of students between the ages of 18 and 22 reported engaging in binge drinking (5 or more drinks on one occasion) in the past month.

The best way to stay safe is to avoid binge drinking, of course, but if you're going to drink in college, you might as well be smart about it. As you get ready head back to campus, here are some tips for having fun while remaining safe.

Just don’t drive.

Really, truly, don’t drive. It is so uncool to drive drunk. Nobody is impressed and everybody is scared.

"Never get in a car with a drunk person, either," says Dr. David Rosenbloom, a professor of health policy at Boston University. "You should think about whether or not their mother would approve." (Hint: She probably wouldn't.)

Call a taxi or a friend to come get you. If you’re at a house party, spend the night where you are and figure out a ride in the morning. Drinking doesn’t improve your ability to do much, but drunk people can -- and do -- fall asleep absolutely anywhere. You could sleep inside a box! Or you could sleep by dirty socks! Or you could sleep on top of chairs, or on a couch or on the stairs! Just don't drive.


If you drink eight ounces of water for every alcoholic drink, you'll wake up chipper and ready to hit the dining hall for chocolate chip pancakes while your roommates are pulling down the shades and popping Advil. Did you miss a few ounces here or there? Just get a glass in before you go to bed and you’ll feel at least a little bit better.

Order a giant pizza before you go out.

This is your gift to yourself for making it to the #weekend! Or #Thursday!

Drinking on an empty stomach gets you drunk faster, often to dangerous levels. To some college students, this sounds more like an amazing miracle than a disaster, but while it shoots your BAC up fast, it also leads to a quick crash. Moreover, drinking before you’ve eaten can take a toll on your liver, kidneys, cardiovascular system and digestive system.

"It changes completely the absorption of alcohol," said NIAAA Director Dr. George Koob. "It's really hard to control your level of intoxication when you have a completely empty stomach. Yeah, that first few minutes might be fun, but it can very rapidly turn into lack of control."

So don't hit the bar before you’ve stuffed your face with all the carbs. Or, if you’re trying to be healthy, go for asparagus, eggs or almonds.

Get to know your own body and alcohol tolerance.

If you are 4'11" and going beer-for-beer with your 5'9" friend, you are probably in for a rough evening and a worse morning. Never try to match others, and be aware of how much you've been drinking. You don't have to document each shot in Sharpie on your forearm, but keep track of how much you’ve had to drink in a note on your iPhone or by snapping a picture each time you get a new cup. Knowing the amount of alcohol in each drink is important, too. Koob recommends looking up the alcohol content in different drinks before hitting the bar.

When you've hit your limit, grab something nonalcoholic (see "water") to sip. If you're nursing a drink, no one will try to buy you another rum and Coke or pressure you into taking a tequila shot. Just tell ‘em it’s straight vodka. You're channeling your inner Putin. (Pro tip: If you're at the bar, ask the bartender to top off your drink with some more soda after you've finished half of it. It's free!)

Slow down.

The faster you drink, the harder it’s going to hit later.

"I think that for a number of kids, the impact can be delayed, and so they continue drinking, thinking, 'Oh, this isn’t affecting me at all,' and then it does," Rosenbloom said. "Lo and behold, the kid is sick as a dog before he or she knows it."

It takes about 30 minutes to feel the effects of alcohol, so if you’re throwing back shots every five minutes, you’re going to have a short, painful night. Chill out and sip. Drinking slowly looks classy af, anyway.

Bring at least one sober human with you.

Having just one sober friend around to keep everyone's "ish" together can prevent a whole lot of dangerous shenanigans. Kim Dude, director of the University of Missouri's Wellness Resource Center, tells students to bring at least one sober person for every five who will be drinking.

"If everybody in the group has had too much to drink, people aren't going to notice the warning signs," she said.

Rotate the person assigned to sober duty every time you go out, and when it’s your turn, be patient and watchful. Then, when you’re on the other side, be extra-nice to your sober friend. Pay their cover and buy them lots of delicious Shirley Temples, because they are doing you a solid here.

Take care of your friends.

When you go out with friends, you’re committing to sticking together. Nobody leaves without telling the squad where they’re going, and nobody has to get home alone at the end of the night.

"It's a big responsibility to be a friend, but that’s what being a friend is about: taking care of each other," Dude said.

The easiest way to do that is to prevent each other from getting too intoxicated in the first place. Try to intervene if you see a friend who might be drinking too much too fast. If a friend does get too drunk, though, it falls on you to make sure they are safe.

First, check for signs of alcohol poisoning. If your friend fits the bill, call an ambulance. You need to get them to a hospital ASAP, even if you’ve also been drinking and are underage. Never avoid calling authorities at the expense of a friend’s health and well-being. More than 200 campuses have some form of a “good Samaritan” policy anyway, which protects the caller from legal punishment.

If signs don’t point to alcohol poisoning, there are a few things your friend needs: water, water, water and, eventually, somewhere to lie down. If possible, try to snag someone else (hopefully sober) to help you. Grab your friend a glass of water, instruct them to drink it like it's the elixir of life, and come up with a game plan for getting them to sleep.

It's disgusting, but going to sleep when you’re too drunk comes with the risk of choking on your own vomit. To keep the chucks out instead of in, lay your friend on their side -- not their back or stomach. It helps to put a heavy bottle of laundry detergent in a backpack and make your friend wear it. This will keep them from turning over onto their back in their sleep. Dude recommends you stick around to monitor your friend even after they’re asleep, in case all the alcohol hasn’t hit them yet.

"Check to see they’re breathing, check their pulse, check to make sure their fingernails aren’t turning blue," Dude said. If you see any warning signs, get medical help.

Guess who gets to buy you breakfast in the morning?

Mix drinks, not drugs.

Sometimes a bad night isn’t about what you’re drinking -- it’s about what you’re drinking it with.

"People don’t realize that you should not be ingesting alcohol with other sedatives or hypnotics," Koob said. "If you drink on top of them, it's sometimes 2 + 2 = 5."

Combining alcohol with other drugs can cause all kinds of side effects, from vomiting to fainting to blacking out. Some anti-anxiety medications, sleep medications and even over-the-counter drugs do not play well with alcohol. Read labels and be smart about what you’re mixing.

Bring a phone charger.

Going out with a dead phone means you can’t take any selfies. It also means you won’t be able to call a friend or a taxi to come get you, and you won’t have Google Maps to direct you back to your apartment if you’re walking (with friends, of course). Make sure you are fully charged before you leave, and keep your portable charger with you for when your battery starts getting low, low, low, low, low, low, low (sorry).

When it's time to leave the game.

Of course, if you find yourself at a point where you want to give up alcohol altogether, that's the best way to stay safe. And if you feel that your drinking has turned into a problem, you have many options.
Your campus most likely has a counseling center with resources for addressing alcoholism, and there are local Alcoholics Anonymous chapters in virtually every city, not to mention options for support through religious groups and treatment from mental health professionals or rehabilitation centers. Look through the NIH website if you're trying to decide what's right for you.

Now go forth and prosper, young collegian! May you rock a toga like the best of them, drink in hand or not.

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