Alcohol | Tobacco
As a student at Taft College, your life extends beyond the classroom. Learning to make healthy decisions, including whether or not to use substances like alcohol, caffeine, tobacco and marijuana is just one of the challenges you will face.
These pages are written with the following principles in mind:
- There are risks involved with any drug use, including alcohol. Most people who choose to experiment with drugs realize there are health risks involved, but they often don't know what all of those risks are. Many people don't realize that a person's blood alcohol concentration can increase for several hours after drinking, putting them at risk for alcohol poisoning.
- Alcohol and other drug use increases the risk of being injured, experiencing unwanted sexual activity, and having academic problems. There are also legal and disciplinary consequences for underage drinking and illegal drug use.
- You can make safer choices with more accurate information. If you choose to use drugs or alcohol, you can make safer choices. The information provided on this site can help with that decision-making process.
- Respect the rights of people who do not use alcohol or drugs. Many students on campus do not drink alcohol or use other drugs. People abstain for many reasons, including religious beliefs, personal experiences, family history and legal consequences
Drinking in college is not a given. It doesn't have to be a rite of passage. The stereotype of heavy drinking in college is not reality for most students. Understanding what alcohol does to your body and the risks associated with alcohol use can help you in many ways:
- You can make a more informed decision about whether or not to drink.
- You can recognize the warning signs of dangerous intoxication and call EMS for a friend.
- You can reduce the risks associated with using alcohol, including injury, unwanted sex and being a victim of crime.
- If you choose to drink, you can make safer decisions about drinking.
- You can get help for yourself or for a friend.
I. Alcohol: The Basics
What kind of substance is alcohol?
Alcohol is classified as a depressant because it slows down the central nervous system, causing a decrease in motor coordination, reaction time and intellectual performance. At high doses, the respiratory system slows down drastically and can cause a coma or death.
It is particularly dangerous to mix alcohol with other depressants, such as GHB, Rohypnol, Ketamine, tranquilizers or sleeping pills. Combining depressants multiplies the effects of both drugs and can lead to memory loss, coma or death.
How does alcohol move through the body?
Once swallowed, a drink enters the stomach and small intestine, where small blood vessels carry it to the bloodstream. Approximately 20% of alcohol is absorbed through the stomach and most of the remaining 80% is absorbed through the small intestine.
Alcohol is metabolized by the liver, where enzymes break down the alcohol. Understanding the rate of metabolism is critical to understanding the effects of alcohol. In general, the liver can process one ounce of liquor (or one standard drink) in one hour. If you consume more than this, your system becomes saturated, and the additional alcohol will accumulate in the blood and body tissues until it can be metabolized. This is why pounding shots or playing drinking games can result in high blood alcohol concentrations that last for several hours.
What is "one drink"?
Knowing how to count a standard drink is necessary for calculating blood alcohol concentrations*. Too often, people underestimate how much they have had to drink because they aren't using standard measurements.
- One drink = one 12-ounce beer. This is normal-strength beer (4% alcohol). Micro-brews and malt liquor have a higher percentage of alcohol (look at the label).
- One drink = 1.5 ounces of liquor (40% alcohol or 80 proof). This is how much whiskey, vodka, gin, etc. is in a measured mixed drink or in a "shot."
- One drink = 5 ounces of standard wine -- this is most table wines: white, red, ros, champagne.
- One drink = 3 ounces of fortified wine -- this is wine with more than 13% alcohol content, such as brandy, cognac or sherry.
REMEMBER: mixed drinks may not be measured and often contain far more than 1.5 ounces of alcohol. Drinks with a higher proof (like grain alcohol, Everclear, or 151 proof rum) should also be treated with caution.
|* In California, if you are over 21 the legal BAC limit for driving is
.08. Even though driving with a BAC of .05 is technically legal, your risk of
having an accident increases by 100%. If you are under 21 the BAC limit is .02
-- that's less than 1 drink for women under 250 lbs. or for men under 225 lbs.
DWI penalties in California include fines, license suspension, community service, alcohol education classes and/or treatment.
Are there long-term risks to drinking? There is some evidence that moderate drinking (1 to 2 drinks a day) may be good for the cardio-vascular system. However, any positive effects disappear at higher levels of drinking.
What is tolerance? Tolerance refers to a reduction in the effects of alcohol (or other drugs) over the course of repeated use. So, someone developing tolerance to alcohol must drink more to feel the same effect that had been achieved with fewer drinks.
Tolerance can be a warning sign for alcoholism. If a person can drink large amounts of alcohol and not feel the effects, you are at risk for becoming dependent on alcohol. If you don't feel those effects until much higher amounts of alcohol, you are developing tolerance. The body's organs do not develop tolerance. They are damaged by the alcohol no matter how well a person can function. Tolerance does not protect you from lethal amounts of alcohol. Although someone feels that he can "hold his liquor," he is still at risk for alcohol poisoning.
Tolerance is a complex physiological process, and the research literature defines several different types of tolerance, including acute tolerance, environment-dependent tolerance and learned tolerance. For an in-depth discussion, go to the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism and search the site for research on tolerance.
Why are men and women different?
Because of several physiological reasons, a woman will feel the effects of alcohol more than a man, even if they are the same size. There is also increasing evidence that women are more susceptible to alcohol's damaging effects than are men. Below are explanations of why men and women process alcohol differently. Women have less body water (52% for the average woman v. 61% for the average man). This means that a man's body will automatically dilute the alcohol more than a woman's body, even if the two people weigh the same amount. Women have less dehydrogenase, a liver enzyme that breaks down alcohol, than men. So a woman's body will break down alcohol more slowly than a man's. Premenstrual hormonal changes cause intoxication to set in faster during the days right before a woman gets her period. Birth control pills or other medication with estrogen will slow down the rate at which alcohol is eliminated from the body. Women are more susceptible to long-term alcohol-induced damage. Women who are heavy drinkers are at greater risk of liver disease, damage to the pancreas and high blood pressure than male heavy drinkers. Proportionately more alcoholic women die from cirrhosis than do alcoholic men.
What other factors affect your response to alcohol?
Having food in your stomach can have a powerful influence on the absorption of alcohol. The food will dilute the alcohol and slow the emptying of the stomach into the small intestine, where alcohol is very rapidly absorbed. Peak BAC could be as much as 3 times higher in someone with an empty stomach than in someone who has eaten a meal before drinking. Eating regular meals and having snacks while drinking will keep you from getting too drunk too quickly.
Some people of Asian descent have more difficulty metabolizing alcohol. They may experience facial flushing, nausea, headache, dizziness and rapid heartbeat. It appears that one of the liver enzymes that is needed to process alcohol is not active in these individuals. It is estimated that up to 50% of Asians are susceptible to these reactions to alcohol.
First-degree relatives (children, siblings or parents) of alcoholics have been estimated to have a seven times greater chance of developing alcoholism. The male relatives of male alcoholics are at particularly high risk, with the expectancy of becoming an alcoholic ranging from 20% to 50%. It appears that this risk factor is not just genetic; growing up with an alcoholic parent contributes to a person's drinking behavior.
What is the difference between a blackout and passing out?
"Blackouts" occur when people have no memory of what happened while intoxicated. These periods may last from a few hours to several days. During a blackout, someone may appear fine to others; however, the next day s/he cannot remember parts of the night and what s/he did. The cause of blackouts is not well understood but may involve the interference of short-term memory storage, deep seizures, or in some cases, psychological depression.
Blackouts shouldn't be confused with "passing out," which happens when people lose consciousness from drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. Losing consciousness means that the person has reached a very dangerous level of intoxication; they could slip into a coma and die. If someone has passed out, S/he needs immediate medical attention.
Alcohol poisoning occurs when someone drinks to the point that their blood alcohol content (BAC) reaches dangerous levels and causes the central nervous system to slow down. Breathing and heart rate become slower and slower, and the person can lose consciousness, slip into a coma and die. If someone is unconscious and begins vomiting, they could choke to death on their own vomit. The severe dehydration of alcohol poisoning can cause seizures or permanent brain damage. Alcohol poisoning is most likely to happen when someone drinks a large amount of alcohol very quickly. Because the liver can only process roughly 1 drink per hour, a person's BAC can continue to rise for several hours.
What are the effects of blood alcohol content on thinking, feeling and behavior?
|0.02 - 0.03||Legal definition of intoxication in CA for people under 21 years of age. Few obvious effects; slight intensification of mood.|
|0.05 - 0.06||Feeling of warmth, relaxation, mild sedation; exaggeration of emotion and behavior; slight decrease in reaction time and in fine-muscle coordination; impaired judgment about continued drinking.|
|0.07 - 0.09||More noticeable speech impairment and disturbance of balance; impaired motor coordination, hearing and vision; feeling of elation or depression; increased confidence; may not recognize impairment.|
|0.08||Legal definition of intoxication in CA. for people 21 years and older.|
|0.11 - 0.12||Coordination and balance becoming difficult; distinct impairment of mental faculties and judgment.|
|0.14 - 0.15||Major impairment of mental and physical control; slurred speech, blurred vision and lack of motor skills; needs medical evaluation.|
|0.20||Loss of motor control; must have assistance moving about; mental confusion; needs medical assistance.|
|0.30||Severe intoxication; minimum conscious control of mind and body; needs hospitalization.|
|0.30 - 0.60||This level of alcohol has been measured in people who have died of alcohol intoxication.|
|0.40||Unconsciousness; coma; needs hospitalization.|
What is a hangover and can I prevent it?
Hangovers are the body's reaction to poisoning and withdrawal from alcohol. Hangovers begin 8 to 12 hours after the last drink and symptoms include fatigue, depression, headache, thirst, nausea, and vomiting. The severity of symptoms varies according to the individual and the quantity of alcohol consumed.
People have tried many different things to relieve the effects of "the morning after," and there are a lot of myths about what to do to prevent or alleviate a hangover. The only way to prevent a hangover is to drink in moderation:
- Eat a good dinner and continue to snack throughout the night.
- Alternate one alcoholic drink with one non-alcoholic drink.
- Avoid drinking games or shots. Drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short amount of time is the most likely way to become dangerously intoxicated.
Here are some of the things that WON'T help a hangover:
- Drinking a little more alcohol the next day. This simply puts more alcohol in your body and prolongs the effects of the alcohol intoxication.
- Having caffeine while drinking will not counteract the intoxication of alcohol; you simply get a more alert drunk person. Excessive caffeine will continue to lower your blood sugar and dehydrate you even more than alcohol alone.
- Giving water to someone who is throwing up. Once the stomach is irritated enough to cause vomiting, it doesn't matter what you put into it -- it's going to come back up. Any liquid will cause a spasm reaction and more vomiting.
- It's best not to take a pain reliever before going to bed. Give your body a chance to process the alcohol before taking any medication.
Here are some things that MIGHT help a hangover:
- When you wake up, it's important to eat a healthy meal. Processing alcohol causes a drop in blood sugar and can contribute to headaches.
- Drink plenty of water and juice to get rehydrated.
- Take a pain reliever, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen when you wake up. DO NOT take one of these pain relievers BEFORE going to bed because it will tax your liver. Let your body process the alcohol while you are sleeping. We do not recommend aspirin because of Reyes syndrome, a rare but serious illness in teenagers and children.
- Avoid excessive caffeine as it may contribute to dehydration. However, if you drink coffee every morning, have your first cup not more than a couple of hours after your regular time. Don't force your body to go through caffeine withdrawal in addition to alcohol withdrawal.
- An over-the-counter antacid (Tums, Pepto Bismol or Maalox) may relieve some of the symptoms of an upset stomach.
- Do not go too many hours without food as this will increase the effect of the low blood sugar caused by alcohol.
- Eat complex carbohydrates like crackers, bagels, bread, cereal or pasta.
Is it dangerous to mix alcohol and other drugs?
Alcohol can be dangerous when mixed with other recreational drugs or medications. Below are some of the reactions that might take place after mixing alcohol with different types of drugs:
Using alcohol with GHB, Rohypnol, Ketamine, barbiturates, tranquilizers or sleeping pills will multiply the sedative effects of both drugs, which can slow down your central nervous system enough to cause loss of consciousness, a coma or death. Sedatives like GHB and Rohypnol have been used as date rape drugs because of this dangerous combination.
Using alcohol with marijuana can decrease motor control and mental concentration and greatly impair your ability to drive. Because marijuana suppresses the gag reflex, you may not be able to throw up alcohol when your body needs to.
Using alcohol with narcotics such as heroin, codeine or Darvon slows down the central nervous system and can cause your breathing to stop, a coma and even death.
More than 150 medications interact harmfully with alcohol. Alcohol's effects are heightened by medicines that depress the central nervous system, such as sleeping pills, antihistamines, antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and some painkillers. In addition, medicines for certain disorders, including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, can have harmful interactions with alcohol. Using alcohol with a prescribed drug or an over-the-counter drug may effect your liver's ability to metabolize the medication and can decrease the medication's effectiveness. The combination of drugs can also multiply the effects of the alcohol and the medication and may cause liver damage. Call your pharmacist to ask about using alcohol with any prescribed drug or over-the-counter drugs.
Recognizing a Problem with Alcohol
If you are concerned about yourself, read the following statements and keep track of how many times they apply to you.
- It is difficult for you to stop drinking after you've had one or two drinks.
- When you drink, you always wind up drunk.
- Even after your friends say they've had enough alcohol, you want to continue drinking.
- You turn to certain "drinking buddies" or to a specific environment when you drink.
- You crave a drink at a specific time every day, like after class or after work.
- When you're out with friends, you sneak a few drinks without their knowledge.
- A significant part of your day is spent obtaining, consuming, or recovering from the effects of alcohol.
- You sometimes have a drink to help you fall asleep.
- You sometimes stay drunk for several days at a time.
- The day after drinking, you have trouble remembering what you did while you were under the influence.
- You sometimes feel guilty about your drinking.
- You've done something sexual while you were under the influence of alcohol that you later regretted.
- You always have a hangover or headache after you've been drinking.
- When you're sober, you regret things you said or did while you were drinking.
- After drinking, you have experienced severe anxiety, shaking, or visual or auditory hallucinations.
- Drinking has caused you to be late for class or work.
- Your performance at school or work has suffered because of your drinking.
- You have gotten into an argument or a fistfight while you were drinking.
- Your drinking has led to financial difficulty.
- You have neglected your classes, job, family or other obligations for two or more days in a row because you were drinking.
- You have been arrested for intoxicated behavior or driving under the influence of alcohol.
Drinking and Emotions
- When you're in a social situation and no alcohol is provided, you feel uncomfortable.
- You use alcohol as an escape when you're angry, disappointed, or otherwise upset.
- Your personality is altered when you consume alcohol.
Family and Friends
- Your family or friends have expressed concern about your drinking.
- You get irritated when your family or friends want to discuss your drinking.
- You have lost a friend or created a rift with a family member based on their feelings about your drinking.
You've tried to change
- You've promised yourself to slow down or stop drinking, but you can only keep the promise for a few days or weeks at a time.
- You have tried switching from one kind of alcohol to another in an effort to cut down or remain in control of your drinking, or to try to avoid getting drunk.
If you answered yes to 4 of the above, you may have a problem with alcohol or have the potential to develop one. Examine your habits honestly. Patterns of heavy drinking in college could lead to a more serious problem down the road. You can reduce your drinking with some of the ideas listed in Ways to Cut Down.
If you answered yes to 5 or more of these statements, there's a strong chance that you frequently misuse and abuse alcohol. NOW is the time for you to change your drinking patterns and behaviors. The habits you develop in college can continue and worsen throughout your life.
Ways to Cut Down
Do I need to cut down? I Do's and Don'ts for cutting down I How to hang out with drinkers when you're not I Links you can use
How do I know if I should cut down? If you think you might be drinking too much, it's a good idea to take a look at your drinking patterns. Most students only need to reduce their drinking to safer levels; however, some people have more serious problems. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you drink alone or because you feel angry or sad?
- Do you do things that you regret when you're drinking?
- Does your drinking worry your family or friends?
- Do you ever drink after telling yourself you won't?
- Do you ever forget what you did while you were drinking?
Do's and Don'ts for Cutting Down Do formulate a mission statement. Why is it you want to cut down or stop your drinking? Whether it's to help you lose weight, to feel healthier in general or to stop getting into fights with your family, write down your reasons. Put the list someplace where you will be reminded, like your refrigerator or your wallet. It'll make you take the challenge more seriously.
- Don't go out with people who make you feel uncomfortable if you're not drinking. If you ever feel as though you could be easily persuaded to drink, make alternate plans with friends who are less inclined to include alcohol in their fun.
- Do set a liquor limit. Telling yourself you will not drink during the week, or that you'll have no more than one drink a day, will get your mind set not to exceed your maximum.
- Don't guzzle. When you are drinking, take hour-long breaks between drinks. Drinking faster than your body can feel the effects can get you into real trouble. Avoid drinking games because you'll end up drinking more alcohol more quickly than your body can handle.
- Do alternate alcoholic beverages with non-alcoholic drinks, like soda or juice.
- Don't keep alcohol in your room or apartment. It'll be easier to resist if it simply isn't there.
- Do take a vacation from drinking. Notice how good you feel, physically and emotionally, during that time. If you don't start to feel better, you may have a problem. You can get free and confidential help from [these resources].
- Do save the cash you don't waste on alcohol. Whenever you refuse an alcoholic beverage, put the amount of money you saved in a jar. You can put your dollars toward spring break, dinner with friends or some new clothes.
- Do eat before you start consuming any alcohol, and continue to munch while you drink. Eating while you drink slows down how quickly you get drunk.
- Don't go to places where you'll be bored if you're not drinking or where you'll feel socially uneasy if you don't have a drink in your hand.
- Do keep a drinking diary. Write down how many drinks you consume over a month-long period and how much it costs you. When you realize how much money you're sinking on drinking, it might give you incentive to cut down even more.
- Do stay active: What would you like to do instead of drinking? Use the time and money spent on drinking to do something fun with your family or friends. Go out to eat, see a movie, play sports or a game.
- Don't drink when you are angry or upset or have a bad day. Find other ways to relax and handle the stress.
Drinking & Alcohol: Overview of Issue
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Effects of Alcohol and Drug Abuse
- College Alcohol Inventory
- National Youth Resource Center Alcohol on Campus
- UCI Health Education ~ Avoid Or Stop Binge Drinking
- About Binge Drinking
- Binge Drinking Affects Brain, Memory
- Binge Drinking in Adolescents and College Students
Student Athletes Drug and Alcohol Issues and Information
- For Student Athletes: Alcohol, Tobacco & Other Prevention Programs /Vanderbilt
- American College of Sports Medicine
- Choices In Sports- NCAA Drugs in Sports
- Higher Education Center: Info facts Resources: College Athletes and Alcohol and Other Drugs
Substance Abuse Resources
- How Much Is Too Much? Alcohol Screening.org
- California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs
- American Medical Association: Alcohol & Drug Abuse