Santa Clara University

Wellness Center

Alcohol and College Life

Now that you're in college, you've got the freedom to make your own decisions about your life. That includes how much and how often you drink. But before you start partying, get wise to a few facts you might not know. Like that you can die from drinking too much. Or that a certain blood alcohol level can put you in a coma. The responsible use of alcohol involves understanding the effects of alcohol physically, emotionally, socially, and cognitively. Learning to recognize potential warning signs of alcohol abuse is also an important part of responsible drinking.

What Effects Can Alcohol Have On Me?
Top 10 Myths About Drinking
Alcohol Use Continuum: Where do I Fall?
How to Find Help

Alcohol and Its Effects

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, that is, a drug that slows down the nervous system. As you drink, alcohol enters your bloodstream and affects your brain, where it alters your response time, your motor responses, reflexes, and balance, your muscle control, your judgment and ability to delay or inhibit your words and actions, and your emotions. Although alcohol use in moderation is considered socially acceptable in many parts of our culture today, excessive use and/or abuse of alcohol is associated with significant problems, for the individual and for society.

Physical Effects: loss of muscle control, impaired reflexes, vomiting, and unconsciousness. Because alcohol goes directly into the bloodstream, overuse of alcohol can effect almost every system in the body. Long term use can cause cancer, brain damage, cirrhosis of the liver, weight gain, and birth defects if drinking while pregnant. Excessive drinking can also cause serious accidents, injuries, and death. For example, more than one out of every three motor vehicle fatalities involves alcohol and one out of every four drownings are alcohol-related.

Psychological Effects: alcohol can affect your school work and family and social relationships. Studies have shown that students who drink alcohol to excess end up with poorer school grades and take longer time to complete their degrees. Because alcohol lowers inhibitions and impairs judgment, risky and violent behavior can result. For example, students impaired by alcohol often engage in vandalism and physical fights. Friendships and romantic relationships can also be jeopardized. Alcohol can lead people to say or do things they might regret, like making a bad decision about having sex with someone. Alcohol abuse can also lead to family conflicts and broken households.

Top 10 Myths About Drinking

1. Myth: Alcohol improves my sexual performance.
Fact:Although you may think that drinking makes you better in bed, psychologically alcohol reduces your performance.

2. Myth: I can drink and still be in control.
Fact:Drinking impairs your judgment, which increases the likelihood that you will do something you'll later regret such as having unprotected sex, being involved in date rape, damaging property, or being victimized by others.

3. Myth: Drinking isn't all that dangerous.
Fact:One in three 18 to 24 year olds admitted to emergency rooms for serious injuries are intoxicated. And alcohol is also associated with homicides, suicides, and drowning

4. Myth: I can sober up quickly if I have to.
Fact:It takes about 3 hours to eliminate the alcohol content of two drinks, depending on your weight. Nothing can speed up this process - not even coffee or cold showers.

5. Myth: It's ok for me to drink to keep up with my boyfriend.
Fact:Women process alcohol differently. No matter how much he drinks, if you drink the same amount as your boyfriend, you will be more intoxicated and more impaired.

6. Myth: There is no point in postponing drinking until I'm over 21.
Fact:Research shows that the longer you postpone drinking, the less likely you are to ever experience alcohol-related problems.

7. Myth: I can manage to drive well enough after a few drinks.
Fact: About one-half of all fatal traffic crashes among 18 to 24 year olds involve alcohol. Your impairment is related to your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Depending on your weight, you can have a BAC of 0.02% after only one drink, which can slow your reaction time and make it difficult to concentrate on two things simultaneously. A BAC of 0.03% can significantly impair your steering. At 0.04% your vision begins to focus on the center of the road and you cannot respond as well to street signs, traffic signals and pedestrians. By 0.05% your driving will be noticeably erratic, especially to the police.

8. Myth: I'd be better off if I learn to "hold my liquor."
Fact:If you have to drink increasingly larger amounts of alcohol to get a "buzz" or get "high," you are developing tolerance. This increases your vulnerability to many serious problems, including alcoholism.

9. Myth: I have to drink to fit in.
Fact:Your peers don't drink as much as you think they do. A recent survey of more than 44,000 college students shows that most students drink little or no alcohol on a weekly basis.

10. Myth: Beer doesn't have as much alcohol as hard liquor.
Fact:A 12-ounce bottle of beer has the same amount of alcohol as a standard shot of 80-proof liquor (either straight or in a mixed drink) or 5 ounces of wine.
Source:National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (National Institute of Health)

Alcohol Use Continuum

Alcohol use, like most human behaviors, exists on a continuum from Non-Use to Addiction. The potential negative consequences of alcohol use also exist on a continuum with the most negative consequences occurring as you move toward dependence. Be aware the family history of alcohol or substance abuse places you at a much higher risk for developing problems yourself.

0 - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - - 3 - - - - - - - - 4
Non-Use        Social Drinking      Regular Use      Freq./Heavy Use       Addiction


  • No drinking related problems
  • Approximately 30% of adult population
  • Reasons: religious, cultural, personal
  • Use (Low Risk) Use does not effect any other aspect of person's life.
  • No family history of problem use.
  • Is part of an activity or event--not the main focus.
  • Do not use to the point of drunkenness.
  • Low frequency/little quantity.

Social Drinking

  • Maintains a safer Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)
  • BAC of <.05 (usually about 1 drink per hour)
  • Uses the substance to enhance an activity such as celebrations, meals or a special event; it is not the main focus of the activity
  • Occasional hangovers
  • Some embarrassing behavior
  • No major negative consequences

Regular Use

  • More frequent hangovers
  • Aggressive feelings
  • Possible fights
  • More arguments
  • Danger of addiction

Frequent and/or Heavy Use

  • 5 or more drinks, three times a week
  • Hangovers
  • Possible sickness
  • Need more to "feel it" (tolerance)
  • Conflicts with others
  • Possibilities of blackouts
  • Likelihood of addiction
  • Denial begins to develop


  • Drinking is part of daily functioning
  • Use causing problems in any area of person's life and continues to use despite the problems.
  • Uses alcohol in inappropriate ways.
  • Changes in tolerance (increases then decreases).
  • Behavior no longer matches person's value system.
  • Decisions made so not to interfere with the drinking.

As alcohol use increases toward the frequent heavy use range of the continuum, problems managing one's life become unavoidable--alcohol becomes more important than our responsibilities, our activities, our friends (unless they're "drinking buddies"), and our families. Problems toward the left side of the continuum are much less frequent and much more manageable. By the way, frequent heavy use is defined as five or more drinks at least three times a week; addiction may occur with very heavy use (8-10 or more, drinks per drinking occasion) only once or twice a week (the binge drinker). If you fear that you are creeping too far to the right on the continuum, or one of your friends is, seek help or talk to your friend about what you see happening. Consulting with a counselor in either case is a real good idea; some valuable information and support become available once you take that step. And if you vehemently deny, or your friend denies, that substance use is a problem, that often indicates that it is a problem. To get one's life back under control requires using less (or not at all); if you can't do it on your own, seek help.

More Warning Signs to Watch For:

  • Drinking before class, or in the morning
  • Inability to stop drinking once started; getting drunk when the intention was to have a couple drinks.
  • Drinking to cope with or escape from pressures
  • Drinking and driving under the influence of alcohol
  • Injuries, accidents, aggressive behavior as the result of drinking
  • Frequently drinking to the point of intoxication
  • Developing a tolerance; requiring more and more alcohol to achieve the same effect
  • Blackouts or memory loss as a result of drinking
  • Drinking in order to feel comfortable with others socially
  • Drinking alone
  • Drinking to cope with anger, sadness, frustration or other unpleasant emotions
  • Legal involvement related to drinking: DWIs, charges of drunk in public or drunk and disorderly

Help Is Available

If you are concerned about your own or a friend's drinking behavior, please do not hesitate to call some of the following resources:

On Campus:
Counseling Center   554-4172
Health Center 554-4501
Wellness Center 554-4409

Off Campus:

Find a Treatment Center in Your Community (Nationwide)

Alcoholics Anonymous
(408) 374-8511
274 E. Hamilton Ave.
Campbell, CA

Al-Anon and Alateen Information (408) 379-1051
**for family and friends of alcoholics

Narcotics Anonymous
(408) 998-4200
Greater San Jose Area Service Committee
of Narcotics Anonymous
P.O. Box 59114
San Jose CA 95159

**PLEASE NOTE: Santa Clara University does not endorse or collaborate with any of the above programs.Contact the SCU Wellness Center for more information.(408) 554-4409

Mary Washington College
Princeton University Health Services
Missouri University of Science and Technology

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