If you choose to drink, drink responsibly. You can reduce your risk of an alcohol-related problem.
How does alcohol affect your body?
The amount of alcohol in your blood determines its effects on you. The standard way of measuring how much alcohol is in the blood stream is the Blood Alcohol Content ( BAC), which measures the percentage of alcohol in your blood. A BAC of .10 means one-tenth of 1% (or 1/1000) of your total blood content is alcohol. Understanding the BAC will allow you to make informed decisions about drinking:
At .05 BAC you are impaired, at .08 BAC you are legally drunk in every state in the U.S., at .15 BAC there is the possibility for blackouts and vomiting, at .40 BAC you are in a coma, and a BAC of .50 and above can be lethal.
- Expected BACs for a 150 lb. male on an empty stomach after one hour are as follows: 2 drinks = .05 BAC, 4 drinks = .10 BAC, 8 drinks = .20 BAC, 12 drinks = .30 BAC
- Expected BACs for a 120 lb. female on an empty stomach after one hour are as follows: 2 drinks = .08 BAC, 4 drinks = .17 BAC, 6 drinks = .26 BAC, 8 drink = .33 BAC
Responsible drinking means taking steps to reduce your risk for experiencing an alcohol-related problem.
- Eat before you drink: food slows the rate of alcohol absorption.
- Reduce the rate at which you drink. Sip, don't gulp!
- Choose drinks with fruit juice mixers, which allow for slower alcohol absorption.
- Choose drinks with low alcohol content. A standard drink is: one 12 oz. bottle of beer or wine cooler, one 5 oz. glass of wine, or 1.5 oz. of 80-proof distilled spirits
- Limit your intake: consider a maximum of two drinks per day for men, one per day for women, and consider not drinking on more than four days per week.
- Have only one drink per hour and alternate booze with non-alcoholic beverages.
- Do not mix alcohol with prescription or illicit drugs.
- Do not engage in sexual activity under the influence of alcohol: your decision making skills and judgment are impaired.
Recognizing a problem
Problem drinking behavior can be divided into two major categories:
Alcohol abuse: When drinking interferes with any aspect of daily living. This includes:
- Repeated, dangerous drinking that interferes with social, academic, emotional, professional, financial, legal, or physical aspects of a person’s life.
Alcohol dependence (also known as alcoholism): When someone becomes psychologically or physically dependent on alcohol. It includes four major symptoms:
- Craving: A strong need, or urge, to drink.
- Loss of control: Not being able to stop drinking once drinking has begun.
- Physical dependence: Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety after stopping drinking.
- Tolerance: The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get “buzzed.”
Answering the following four questions can help you find out if you or a loved one has a drinking problem:
- Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
- Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
- Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
- Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?
Just one “yes” answer suggests a possible alcohol problem. More than one “yes” means it is highly likely that a problem exists. If you think that you or someone you know might have an alcohol problem, it is important to see a doctor or other health care provider right away.
Types of drinking behaviors
Compare you or your friend’s drinking habits to those described below. The following list contains examples of common behaviors exhibited by social, problem, and alcohol-dependent drinkers. It is not necessary for a person to exhibit every behavior listed to fit into one of these categories. It is also important to recognize that social drinkers do not ordinarily become problem drinkers, and problem drinkers do not necessarily become alcoholics.
A social drinker typically:
- Drinks slowly (no fast gulping).
- Knows when to stop drinking (does not drink to get drunk).
- Eats before or while drinking.
- Never drives after drinking.
- Respects nondrinkers.
- Knows and obeys laws related to drinking.
A problem drinker typically:
- Drinks to get drunk.
- Tries to solve problems by drinking.
- Experiences changes in personality; may become loud, angry, violent, silent, remote or reclusive.
- Drinks when he/she should not, such as before driving or going to class or work.
- Causes other problems, including self-harm or harming friends, family or others.
- May have blackouts and cannot remember what they did while drinking, although they may have appeared normal to others.
An alcohol-dependent person or “alcoholic” typically:
- Spends a lot of time thinking about drinking and planning when and where to get the next drink.
- Keeps bottles hidden for quick “pick-me-ups.”
- Starts drinking without conscious planning and loses awareness of the amount consumed.
- Denies drinking.
- Drinks alone.
- Needs to drink before facing a stressful situation.
- Goes from having hangovers to more dangerous withdrawal symptoms, such as delirium tremens (“DTs”), which can be fatal.
- Has or causes major problems with police, employers, friends or family
Helping someone who may have a drinking problem
Talking with someone who may have a drinking problem or has had too much to drink can be difficult. Remember, it is a process. Preparing yourself, getting the proper support you need, and understanding what you can expect from the confrontation can decrease some of your fear and make you feel more confident. Here are some things that you can do before, during, and after a confrontation with a friend:
Before the confrontation,
- Become informed about the problem.
- Examine your own values and attitudes about the problem and about your friend.
- Develop a plan to communicate your concern:
- Should you be the person to intervene?
- Who else should be involved?
- What are the appropriate referral sources?
- Know the basic facts regarding drinking behaviors and use these facts to substantiate your concern (see below).
- Expect to encounter: excuses, promises of behavior change, attempts to change the conversation, attempts to pass the behavior off as “no big thing”.
During the confrontation,
- Communicate your care and concern for your friend.
- Confront behaviors, not values: state specific examples of problem behaviors.
- Do not label or criticize.
- Maintain the offensive: don’t let your friend put you on the defensive about your own drinking behavior.
- Stick to the issue: the problem is alcohol and the resulting behavior.
- Mention choices: the person needs to take action but they have options.
After the confrontation
- Provide ongoing support.
- Help your friend make and keep referral appointments.
- Do not get discouraged if the intervention does not work—if your friend is not ready to make a change there is little you can do.
- Get help for yourself if you are negatively affected by the confrontation or your relationship with your friend.
More alcohol help
- Uncle Joe’s Peer Counseling and Resource Center has a 24-hour hotline at (314) 935-5099. If you wish to speak with someone in person, their office is in the basement of Gregg Hal, 10p.m. - 1a.m. nightly.
- Call St. Louis Alcoholics Anonymous (“AA”) at (314) 647.3677
- The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse maintains an office in the St. Louis area, which can be reached at (314) 962-3456
- The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information - 1 (800) 729-6686
- The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has information on prevention and intervention for college drinking.
- Go Ask Alice has many Q&As for common problems facing college students.
- There is more information on alcohol and substance abuse at FamilyDoctor
- Screening for Mental Health has information on self-evaluation for a drinking problem, as well as other mental health resources. (enter wuhealth as keyword)