Helpful Tips on Drinking

By Grace Wakim, M.A.

When you first came to USF as a student, you may have had some preconceived notions about how alcohol might influence your college experience. Maybe you felt excited to drink in college and pictured yourself at big parties, having fun and making memories. Maybe you felt some anxiety around alcohol and worried that you would be pressured to drink when you didn’t want to. Maybe you assumed that USF was not a “party school" due to its Jesuit status or assumed the opposite due to its location in San Francisco. Whatever your thoughts, fears, and hopes about alcohol and college, chances are that there was some myth and some truth in each. 

One common myth is that all college students drink regularly. This is not true. According to a 2019 Centers for Disease Control fact sheet, only about half of college students reported drinking in the past month. It is not a myth that drinking can get out of hand: The same fact sheet states that of those college students who drank in the past month, a third engaged in binge drinking (4 or more drinks for a woman or 5 or more drinks for a man in 2 hours or less).

As a result of drinking too much or too frequently, many students encounter academic difficulties, depression, social and romantic complications, legal problems, injury, or even death. Although these issues are alarming, it is important to recognize that if you do choose to drink, you can take steps to reduce or avoid these negative consequences and have the college experience you hoped for.

Following are some harm reduction strategies to help you minimize risk and maximize positive experiences if you choose to drink.

Before You Drink

  • Eat a full meal.
  • Decide before going out if you will drink, and if so, how many drinks you will have. (Know your limits and what constitutes riskier amounts of alcohol.)
  • Plan your transportation for getting home. Don’t travel alone.
  • Make sure your cell phone is fully charged and you have your MUNI pass, rideshare app, and/or emergency taxi money.

While You Are Drinking

  • Keep track of the number of drinks you have consumed.
  • If you're having a mixed drink, know how much alcohol is in it — "one drink" may actually be two or three drinks by alcohol content. Same goes for beers and wines that have higher-than-average alcohol content.
  • Drink water or other nonalcoholic beverages between alcoholic drinks and throughout the course of the night.
  • Pace yourself. Spread your drinking out over the evening (no more than one drink per hour). Avoid or minimize doing shots, as you can have too much before you realize it. Avoid drinking directly out of a liquor bottle, which makes it harder to know how much you've had.
  • If you decide to play drinking games, be sure to take breaks to avoid becoming too intoxicated.
  • Stay with your friends.
  • If you do choose to leave your group, let your friends know where you are going and who you are going with.
  • Watch your drink. To avoid the risk of someone drugging your drink, don’t leave it unattended or accept drinks from strangers.
  • Don't let others pressure you into drinking more than you planned on and/or what you can tolerate.

After Drinking

  • Don’t take over-the-counter painkillers (such as Tylenol or ibuprofen) while there is still alcohol in your system. Using alcohol with acetaminophen-based pain relievers can damage your liver, and drinking while using ibuprofen can cause stomach issues and other side effects.
  • Before you go to bed and as soon as you wake up the next morning, drink plenty of water to rehydrate yourself. Coconut water can also help to replenish electrolytes after a night of drinking, although it's really dehydration, not electrolyte imbalance, that causes hangover symptoms. (So, drinking Gatorade or Pedialyte may not help much either, although any nonalcoholic drink will help rehydrate you.)
  • If you drank a lot the night before, avoid driving the next morning: You might still be legally intoxicated and risk getting a DUI. Your liver can only metabolize a certain, predictable amount of alcohol per hour. For example, it will take about 8 or 9 hours for the blood alcohol level of a 140-pound male who has had five drinks to go back to 0; it will take about 9 hours for the blood alcohol level of a 120-pound female who has had four drinks to go back to 0.
  • Eat a healthy breakfast the next morning to settle your stomach and help give you energy.
  • For women, beware that hormone changes during certain times of the month may result in it taking longer for your liver to metabolize alcohol in your system.

Other Important Reminders

Avoid drinking when …

  • You are sleep deprived.
  • You haven’t eaten sufficient food that day.
  • You are feeling sad, angry, or emotionally overwhelmed: Drinking can make you feel worse than before and/or prevent you from trying healthier coping strategies.
  • You feel pressured to do so or for others' approval.
  • You are with people you don't trust, don't know well, or feel uncomfortable around.
  • You have recently taken another substance or medication. Using alcohol with drugs and medications that have sedative effects (e.g., anxiety medications, heroin, methadone) can be particularly dangerous. Visit the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse website for more information on alcohol and medication interactions.

Understand Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)

When You Need Additional Help

If you find that you are having problems related to your drinking and/or have had trouble making changes on your own, or you are concerned about someone else's drinking, you can contact CAPS for help. Listed below are additional resources.

Self-Help & Peer-Led Support Groups

Harm-reduction information and tips for cutting down on drinking:

If you have a friend you believe has a drinking problem:

Overall ... trust your instincts ...  watch out for yourself ... and watch out for others.