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6 Ways to Moderate Consumption if You Choose to Drink

February 28, 2014

It’s not news that some college students choose to drink alcohol. That some of these drinkers actually choose to, or unintentionally, become intoxicated while drinking and experience an array of consequences is likewise no secret. What may be a revelation for some is learning that most publications regarding collegiate drinking focus almost exclusively on these consequences and imply that they are proof that all collegiate drinking is problematic.

If “the problem” is all collegiate drinking, then there can be but one possible objective of prevention: abstinence. However, such a goal raises questions. Can there ever be a time when no college students drink? We have been more concerned about the consequences after students drink than in pursuing a better understanding of the meaning students ascribe to alcohol and drinking. We could better understand the factors that influence their decision to drink in the first place, those factors that affect individual decisions to drink, when to drink, how to drink, or determine what circumstances warrant drinking.

So if collegiate drinking is not the problem, but rather the drinking some college students do is, here are a couple of suggestions to minimize the likelihood of untoward consequences, should you choose to drink:

  1. Water is a frequently cited nonalcoholic beverage many students report consuming. Remember that when drinking, the more nonalcoholic beverages that are consumed, the longer the time between alcoholic drinks and the slower the absorption rate of the alcohol already consumed. In addition, alcohol is a diuretic meaning that it absorbs water out of body tissue. Drinking water re-hydrates and may lessen some hangover symptoms. Ideally, those drinking alcohol should consume an 8-ounce serving of water for each standard alcoholic beverage.

  2. Students are creatures of habit. A routine of consuming “X” drinks at a sitting can yield the perception that “X” is moderate consumption, especially if friends are also drinking “X” or “X+1, 2, etc.” Consider your routine consumption. Multiply your “usual” amount by the number of days a week you drink. Multiply that by the number of calories per drink: 90 for lite beer, 130 regular beer or  “per shot” in a mixed drink (do not forget to add calories for any mixer). The total is the number of calories consumed in a week/month/year. Get exact calorie readings for 100 different beers at (remember that 12-oz of beer = 350 ml).

  3. Track your drinking over a couple typical weeks. Once you have a baseline, divide the number of drinks by the hours spend consuming them. This is your “drinks per hour” ratio. Once the pace has been determined, for example, “4/hr,” consider if you were to have a drink every 20 minutes instead of every 15. By simply adding 5 minutes between drinks you affect a 25% reduction in drinks consumed for the evening - from 4 per hour to 3. What happens if you add 15 minutes between drinks? A 50% reduction in drinking.

  4. Next explore creative ways to add those 5 - 15 minutes between drinks. Drink a nonalcoholic beverage like bottled water or don't stand right next to the keg. Lastly, consider what benefits might come from the simple change, like fewer hangovers, better class attendance, fewer regrets the next morning, fewer calories consumed, more money saved, etc. All this by simply adding an extra 5 – 15-min between drinks.

  5. Ask yourself, when you have a headache, how many aspirin, Tylenol or Advil do you take? Chances are you take two, perhaps three. If they work so well, why don’t you take 6 or 10 or 15? Before you shake your head in disbelief at this apparently idiotic question, remember that most individuals that report drinking alcohol get the desired effect of alcohol from 1 to 3—and no more than 5—standard drinks (12-oz domestic beer, 10-oz malt liquor, 5-oz table wine, 1.5-oz 80 proof spirits) during an outing, yet go on to drink 6 or 10 or 15+ and find themselves dealing with the consequences of heavy college drinking.

  6. I like to ask students what time they generally eat dinner. If they live on campus, most dining halls are open from 4:30 PM – 7 PM, with many students eating between 5:30 and 6:30, “just like home.” Then I ask what time they generally go out when they socialize. Chances are pretty good most students go out after 9 PM, many not until 10 PM or later. If the time between dinner and socializing is 3+ hours, the student is essentially drinking on an empty stomach. Students could eat dinner later on nights they intend to go out and snack before leaving for a night out and throughout the outing. 

Although no tips will prevent a drinker intent on becoming intoxicated from reaching that goal, those who choose to drink and limit the likelihood of untoward consequences may find one or more of these tips useful.

By Robert Chapman, PhD, Associate Clinical Professor, Behavioral Health Counseling Department