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Think before you drink

Do you think you know how much alcohol is too much? I teamed up with Erin Crossland from Counseling Services to bring you some important facts on alcohol that university students need to know.

“Binge drinking” is defined as five or more drinks in a two hour period for men and four or more drinks in a two hour period for women. Yes, alcohol does have more of an effect on women than men, even if they weigh the same amount. There are a few reasons for this.

Men’s total body weight is composed of more water than women’s; the more water you have in your body, the more diluted alcohol gets – and no, you can’t change this by drinking lots of water before you go out. Men also have higher levels of a stomach enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase, an enzyme that aids in the breakdown of alcohol before it enters the bloodstream.

Finally, hormonal changes through the menstrual cycle make it more likely for women to stay intoxicated longer one week before and one week after their period. So, for the average size man or woman, having that many drinks in a two hour period produces a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08, which is considered legal intoxication.

Did you know that binge drinking on Saturday night will have a negative impact on your school performance on Monday (or maybe even Tuesday or Wednesday)?

This is because alcohol intoxication interferes with sleep not only on the night that you drink, but on the next night or two as well, depending on how much you drink and how late you stay up. Research shows that lack of sleep decreases your response time and your ability to concentrate. As a result, exam performance is significantly worse after a night of heavy drinking and subsequent poor sleep.

Ever consider the risks of binge drinking? It is important to know that binge drinking significantly increases the chance that a female (or male) will be the victim of a sexual assault. Likewise, the use of alcohol significantly increases the chance that someone will commit a sexual assault. Binge drinking also leads to decreased inhibitions, so both men and women are more likely to engage in risky activities like having unprotected sex and sex with new or multiple partners. This can lead to unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and a lot of stress.

Something else to think about – alcohol is a depressant. With excessive consumption, the depressive effects will be magnified and can lead to sadness, guilt and anxiety, especially for someone with a history of depression or anxiety. Alcohol can even interfere with certain types of medications like anti-depressants and antibiotics. Finally, the risk of injury and even death due to alcohol-related accidents is completely preventable by safer alcohol consumption.

Canada’s Low Risk Drinking Guidelines advise knowing your limits.

Guideline #1: To reduce short and long term alcohol-related health risks, women should have no more than 10 drinks per week, with no more than two drinks per day most days. Men should have no more than 15 drinks per week, with no more than three drinks per day most days. To avoid developing a dependence on alcohol, make sure you don’t drink every day. (And take note – you can’t save up your drinks for the week and have them all on one day.)

Guideline #2: Reduce your risk of injury and harm by drinking no more than three drinks for women and four drinks for men on any single occasion. Plan to drink in a safe environment. Alcohol can harm the way the brain and body develop, so people in their late teens to age 24 years, should never exceed the daily and weekly limits outlined in Guideline #1.

When you have plans to drink, try some simple strategies so that you don’t end up drinking too much. For example, set a limit on the number of drinks you plan to have and then keep track. Take a limited amount of money with you to the bar and leave your Debit/Credit cards at home – if you don’t have it, you can’t spend it.

Eat before you drink – alcohol is absorbed more slowly when there is food in your stomach. Switch to drinks that are lower in alcohol, or alternate drinks between beverages that contain alcohol and ones that don’t. Finally, slow down the pace of your drinking, and avoid drinking games so that you can enjoy your evening without risking alcohol intoxication.

We know that there are lots of events in university that involve alcohol, but there are lots that don’t too. Find a balance so that you can enjoy your university experience and be successful in achieving your goals. If you do choose to drink, stay safe and remember –support is here on campus at your Student Health Centre and Counselling Services

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