Knowing University Policy
Consistent with the drinking laws in New Jersey, University policy prohibits the consumption and serving of alcoholic beverages by and to persons under 21. Intoxication is not a valid excuse for violating University regulations. For more information about Princeton University's alcohol policies, see the following: Alcohol and the Discipline Process – Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students
Effects of Alcohol on Your Body
What is BAC?
BAC stands for Blood Alcohol Content, and is the number of milligrams of alcohol per milliliter in your bloodstream. In New Jersey, the legal definition of drunkenness is a BAC of 0.08.
If you are a 120 lb. woman who drinks four drinks in one hour, your BAC will be 0.17. If you are a 160 lb. man who consumes 5 drinks in one hour, your BAC will be 0.14. Of 100 people with a BAC greater than 0.4, statistics show that one will die.
How does alcohol enter the bloodstream?
Alcohol will immediately be absorbed through the lining of your stomach and small intestine into the bloodstream. However, two factors affect the rate at which alcohol passes into your blood. If your drink is carbonated, the increased pressure in your stomach will force alcohol into your bloodstream faster; conversely, food in the stomach slows the absorption of alcohol by preventing it from going directly to the small intestine, where it would be absorbed much faster. Depending on gender, your liver can process about one ounce of alcohol each hour. Excess alcohol remains in the blood stream, resulting in an increased blood alcohol content (BAC). Ninety percent of the alcohol you ingest is metabolized, while the other 10% is excreted through urine and breathing. Vomiting directly after consumption may prevent some alcohol from entering the blood stream, but waiting too long will do little to reduce BAC.
How much alcohol is in one drink?
Because different drinks contain varying amounts of pure alcohol, you should be aware of the proportion of alcohol in everything you drink. A 12-ounce beer (5% alcohol by volume) has the same amount of alcohol as a 1.5-ounce shot of liquor (40% alcohol) or a 5-ounce glass of wine (13% alcohol).
Is it okay to drink while on medication?
Taken before or while drinking, many medications will multiply the effects of alcohol on your body. Aspirin and other drugs prevent the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (found in the stomach and liver) from breaking down alcohol, thus slowing the liver’s ability to decrease BAC. In other words, alcohol will accumulate in your blood faster and have longer lasting effects. Women on birth control pills will process alcohol slower than other women, because the hormones in the pill and alcohol both rely on the liver for processing.
Why can’t women drink as much as men?
Women possess a smaller quantity of the enzyme needed to break down alcohol (alcohol dehydrogenase), which means they metabolize alcohol at a slower rate than men. Additionally, women are generally smaller, so ingesting the same amount of alcohol as a larger man will produce a higher BAC.
What are the long-term effects of heavy drinking?
There is a plethora of serious health complications that can arise from excessive drinking. You may develop neurological problems, including impaired motor skills, deterioration of vision, seizures, and permanent brain damage. Long-term heavy drinking will also affect the heart, causing shortness of breath, enlarged heart and abnormal heart rhythm. You will be more likely to develop mouth and throat cancer and to have high blood pressure, putting you at greater risk for stroke and heart attack. Since alcohol is metabolized by your liver, you put yourself at risk for alcoholic fatty liver and cirrhosis of the liver (fatal disease).
Can I increase my tolerance by drinking more frequently?
Yes, but this is not a good thing. Higher tolerance means you can ingest more alcohol without showing signs of intoxication. If you drink frequently, your body will become accustomed to the effects of alcohol and you will not feel as drunk, but your BAC is not affected by tolerance and the alcohol still does the same damage to your liver and other organs. Increasing your tolerance will lead you to drink more to get the same effects, leading to greater liver damage and other health complications.
How can I cure a hangover?
Waking up after a night of heavy drinking is never fun. As part of a hangover, you are likely to experience a headache, body aches, fatigue, heartburn, nausea, and dehydration. Nothing can truly cure a hangover except time (which will vary according to gender, size, weight, tolerance, medications taken, food consumption, dehydration, and rate of alcohol consumption). However, you can lessen the symptoms by drinking lots of water to combat the dehydration caused by alcohol. You can also take pain relievers, but there are drawbacks to aspirin (e.g., Bayer) and acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol). Like alcohol, aspirin can irritate the lining of the stomach, increasing your chances of developing stomach ulcers. Acetaminophen is metabolized by the liver, and when combined with alcohol, can cause liver damage. Thus, to avoid further damage to your body, resist taking medication for a hangover unless absolutely necessary for your comfort.
To avoid suffering a hangover you should consider modifying your drinking habits. Not only should you drink less, eat while drinking, alternate alcoholic drinks with juice or water, and space your drinks to allow your liver to keep up, but you should also consider what you are drinking. Certain alcoholic drinks contain more congeners than others. Congeners are natural by-products of alcohol fermentation, and cause hangovers. Gin and vodka have the fewest congeners, while bourbon and red wine contain the most. Additionally, you should stick to one kind of drink for the entire evening. Mixing different types of drinks can lead to horrendous headaches and nausea. If you start drinking wine, don’t move on to beer, stay with wine for the night. Your body is already challenged to cope with alcohol, why complicate it’s job with trying to process many different foreign substances?
How to avoid danger (and a hangover) while drinking
- Set limits. One way to make sure you do not drink to excess is to decide how many drinks your body can safely handle and do not exceed this limit during the course of the night. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to keep track, especially when playing drinking games. Such games may provide entertainment and a chance to feel included in a social group, but they contribute to excessive drinking. The atmosphere created by drinking games is dangerous because it causes you to drink more than you would usually through peer pressure and rapid rate of consumption. Chugging alcohol will delay awareness of how much alcohol is in your body because of the time it takes to raise your BAC.
- Eat a meal before you drink. Food in the stomach will slow the entrance of alcohol into your bloodstream by preventing it from entering your small intestine which absorbs alcohol faster than the stomach. High protein foods, like cheese, are best at slowing down the effects of alcohol, and thus help prevent a hangover.
- Steer clear of carbonation and shots. The carbon dioxide of carbonated drinks, like beer and soda, increases the pressure in your stomach, forcing alcohol out through the lining of your stomach into the bloodstream. The high concentration of alcohol in shots also means that your BAC will increase rapidly.
- Alternate with non-alcoholic beverages. Not only will this slow your consumption of alcohol, but it will also counter the dehydrating effects of alcohol.
- Don’t combine alcohol with other drugs. 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. Other drugs have harmful interactions with alcohol as well, so it is best to consult a physician before drinking while on medication. The combination of illegal drugs and alcohol can also have adverse effects.
- Don’t drink if you’re suffering fatigue. Exhaustion magnifies the effect of alcohol on the body. Unfortunately, alcohol is often used as a reward after periods of high stress that have overworked the body to fatigue.
What to do when you're concerned about a friend's drinking behavior
When your friend’s drinking behavior endangers his or her own well-being, or the welfare of others, you may decide to discuss the issue with your friend. Here are some guidelines for approaching a friend whom you are worried about:
- Set aside time for private conversation. Make sure you have the complete attention of your friend in a comfortable environment, when neither of you is under the influence of alcohol. Without being critical or judgmental, raise the issue of your friend’s drinking habits and your desire to help improve the situation.
- Plan what to say. Before you meet with your friend, think about what you want to say to him and how you should say it. You can rehearse with another concerned friend or counselor, and anticipate possible responses (most likely defensive). Research what counseling you can recommend to your friend, but don’t push the information on him if he is not ready to meet with a professional.
- Listen. Allow your friend to speak candidly, and respond with compassion and without judgment.
- Avoid accusation; remain calm. Accusing your friend of having a problem will put her on the defensive and she will not listen to your concern with an open mind. To avoid causing your friend to take a defensive stance, point to specific behavior that affects you. For example, “When I saw you throwing up last night I was really worried.” There’s nothing in this statement that your friend can argue against. However, if tension arises and you start getting frustrated, don’t continue the conversation.
- Anticipate denial. Your friend will naturally react defensively to what he perceives as criticism. Do not force him to seek professional help that he does not want. Let him know you are available to discuss the subject another time. Problems with alcohol abuse may take years to solve, but broaching the topic is an important first step.
- Meet with a counselor to discuss your concerns. Even though your friend may not be ready to face her drinking problem, you may want to talk with a professional. The pain and stress caused by seeing a friend in distress may be reduced through conversation with a counselor at UHS. If you need to speak to a counselor, call UHS at (609) 258-3285, or after-hours at (609) 258-3139.
Helping a drunk friend
What you do to help depends on the state of your friend. Your friend doesn’t have to be passed out or throwing up to need your help. Other signs for concern:
- inability to maintain balance or eye contact
- slurred speech
- shortness of breath
- abnormal body temperature (either too hot or too cold).
If you observe any of these symptoms in your friend, but you’re not sure whether to get medical help, err on the side of caution and call 911. If you don’t believe it’s necessary to seek medical attention, here’s what you should do:
- Stop the person from drinking alcohol.
- Find a quiet place for the person to sit and relax (walking around is not the best idea if the person has lost coordination).
- Make sure your friend stays warm because a high BAC can lower body temperature, even if the person feels warm.
- Offer water, and food if the person feels hungry (eating after alcohol has already been consumed won’t help reduce BAC) remember that nothing except time can help a person “sober up.”
- If your friend wants to lie down, make sure he lies on his side and place something behind his back to prevent him from rolling over.
- Monitor your friend’s breathing while she sleeps to make sure it is not abnormally shallow or slow.
3 General Rules:
Rule #1: Don’t leave your friend alone, even if the person is conscious. Watch for signs of alcohol poisoning.
Rule #2: Do not assume that he/she will make it home safely. The full effect of the alcohol may not have hit yet. If the individual has vomited, lost motor coordination, or is not coherent, it may be necessary to seek medical attention.
Rule #3: Do not assume an unconscious person is sleeping. The individual may be suffering from alcohol poisoning.
How can you tell the difference between being passed out and alcohol poisoning?
There are three key symptoms that indicate alcohol poisoning:
- You cannot wake your friend, and observe that he/she has cold, clammy, or unusually pale or bluish skin.
- Slow or irregular breathing (less than eight times a minute or at least 10 seconds between breaths).
- The individual does not wake up during or after vomiting.
How can you help?
If you observe one or more of these three symptoms, call 911 immediately. Continue efforts to wake your friend, and make sure he/she is lying on the side of his/her body to prevent choking on vomit. Closely monitor breathing and perform CPR if breathing stops. If you don’t know CPR, find someone who does. In a non-emergency situation, call the Department of Public Safety at 609-258-1000.
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