The night probably starts with a pre-game in your room with friends, where you begrudgingly take shots of some fruity vodka to get your “alcohol coat” so you won’t freeze on the walk to Frat Row or your friend’s apartment. When you get to the party, you play a few rounds of beer pong, maybe take some more shots, or mix yourself a few drinks. It’s a typical night, and you’re just having fun.
Before you know it you’ve had 6 or 7 drinks or, if you’re a self-proclaimed “heavyweight,” you could have had as many as 10, 15, 20. Maybe you black out, maybe you puke in the back of the Uber, or maybe you wake up the next day completely fine and cheerfully go to your 9 am lecture (and if you’re that last one, we all hate you).
You know “binge drinking” (drinking 4-5+ drinks in one night) is bad for you and unsafe even though you were probably texting through the entire alcohol safety presentation you had to sit through your freshman year (it’s okay if it’s your mom, right?).
But this is just a phase, and you’re totally going to calm down once you graduate. Besides, everyone drinks this much during college and they’re fine!
And you’re right, sort of. 72% of people have a period of heavy drinking in their life which usually lasts 3-4 years, peaks from age 18-24, and overlaps with college. Most people “grow out” of this period of heavy drinking by changing their habits and drinking far less.
But what happens when they don’t?
Binge drinking doesn’t automatically stop when you get a diploma. College graduates drink almost 20% more than those who have not gone to college, and these graduates tend to congregate in places where heavy drinking is still the rage, no pun intended.
Cutthroat work or graduate school environments (aspiring businesspeople or lawyers, listen up) can then encourage a “work hard, play hard” mentality. They often incorporate alcohol into their social events, such as after work drinks or networking, making it easy for recent college grads to keep binge drinking.
20% of college students already meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder when they graduate, and when they go straight into one of these environments, it can be extremely dangerous. Even if you’re just working at an entry-level job or back in your hometown post-grad, binge drinking can be very tempting.
College grads can have a very hard time “readjusting” to healthier drinking habits. “After I graduated, binge drinking was “reliving the college experience”” says Jessie M. a writer from XOJane who wrote an article about how binge drinking after college became a dangerous part of her life.
(Side note: I thought it was screwed up that the ads on the website were for beer, but that’s for another article.)
So what do you do if you find yourself still binge drinking as a college grad? If you’re a college student or a high school student (35% of students started drinking before college) and you binge drink, does that mean you’re going to become an alcoholic?
No, but it is always important to pay attention to for red flags for alcohol abuse such as frequent or intentional blackouts, obsessing or planning your social life around alcohol, drinking daily, always needing to pre-game, and drinking alone or as a reaction to emotional situations.
Even if you don’t exhibit any of these behaviors, it’s a good idea to look at your drinking habits and try to reduce any binge drinking because it’s really, really bad for your brain.
A Duke University psychology professor explained that “You are still young enough that your native intelligence may be allowing you to compensate for the negative effects that alcohol has on your brain…that won’t last forever.”
None of us want Fireball Fridays to turn into Failed Finals, and when we graduate we want our boss to think we’re Employee of the Month and not Hot Mess of the Month.
We all want to have fun in college, but here are 5 ways you can reduce binge drinking behaviors and party a little smarter.
1. Drink beer rather than hard liquor at parties
We all know how easy it is to take a few shots in a row rather than sip a few beers, but the outcome can be dangerous when you don’t realize how fast you are getting drunk. Drinking beer makes more sense if you are trying to avoid binge drinking because you will naturally drink slower and it is easier to pace yourself. Plus you will gain excellent practicing time on your beer pong skills.
2. Drink socially or with meals rather than for “no reason”
European teens start drinking much earlier than in the U.S., yet U.S. residents are more likely to be involved in fatal alcohol-related accidents or die from other alcohol-related causes. When alcohol is viewed as a culinary event or a social event and not just an opportunity to get drunk, kids learn to use it differently. So have that fancy wine and cheese night of your Pinterest dreams.
3. Switch up your going out group
If your friends are heavy drinkers as well, you are more likely to binge drink and justify your behavior since it is what you see around you. So spend some time with friends who don’t drink so much or don’t drink at all. You won’t feel the need to “catch up” with your friends’ drinking, and you might be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to go out or be social without being wasted.
4. Take a break from drinking
Want better sleep and better health? Stop drinking for a few weeks. Alcohol is a depressant so taking a break from it can boost your mood and give you more energy, and anything is worth not having to spend $5 on a latte to make it through class.
5. Stop pre-gaming
Yes, I know you didn’t want to hear that, but students who pre-game before attending an event generally consume more alcohol than students who only drink at the event. When you go to a party already drunk you are more likely to make unsafe decisions about how much alcohol to drink, so limit yourself to drinking at or before an event and avoid doing both.
PS: These tips are not an effort to combat the serious problem of alcoholism, and if you or a friend or family member show signs of alcohol use problems, there are many resources such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Heath Services Administration, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Al-Anon Family Groups available online.