It’s the ultimate time to cut loose for college students, when a combination of post-winter sunshine, academic stress, and newfound freedom boils over into party central. It’s spring break – a national phenomenon, an academic tradition, and, if done safely and responsibly, a time to build great and lasting memories with friends. But for a demographic embracing their first years of the legal drinking age, there’s also a certain amount of risk, and we’re not just talking about wearing sunscreen and not leaving valuables in your car.

Spring break: How to drink responsibly

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Decide before you go out what your limits should be. When you are sober and making clear-headed decisions is the best time to consider what you feel your personal boundaries should be. Do I want to drink tonight? If so, how much? Do I want to have sex tonight? If so, do I have protection? Deciding up front will make it easier for you later to make choices that you will be happy with after the party is over.

If you do decide to drink, know the liquor laws of wherever you’ll be vacationing.

Always keep an eye on your drink. If you go the bathroom, take your drink with you! Date rape drugs can be put into any drink, including non-alcoholic drinks. It is also important to remember that while drugs being slipped into drinks is something you should be aware of and guard against, alcohol itself is the most common date rape drug. In a 2007 study by the National Institute of Health, it was reported that 89% of female undergrad sexual assault survivors reported drinking before their assault. No survivor is to blame for their assault, but the links between alcohol and victimization are staggering and cannot be ignored.

Do not drink from open beverage sources like punch bowls, pitchers or tubs.

If you or one of your friends sees or feels the signs of predatory drugs: extreme wooziness, confusion, difficulty standing, or slurred speech, get to a safe place immediately and if the symptoms are severe, go to a hospital.

Drinking and driving is always a dangerous situation and illegal, so avoid this by having your safe mode of transportation home planned before you go out. Having a designated driver before the night starts can be great for driving and for keeping an eye out for everyone as well.

Avoid binge drinking. NIAAA (the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men – in about 2 hours. Binge drinking can lead to irreversible consequences.
Pace yourself if you choose to drink. If you are new to drinking or have very limited experience, a party setting away from home isn’t the best place to start figuring out your limits. Remember in pacing that while you can feel the effects of alcohol in as little as 10 minutes, sometimes it can take longer so, go slow, and see how you feel before ordering a second drink.

Don’t try to match friends drink for drink. The way alcohol affects your body will be different than everyone else based on how often you drink, what kind of alcohol, your weight, and how much you ate.

Eat before drinking. Drinking on an empty stomach can cause alcohol to affect you much quicker and can make you sick and those bowls of snack mix aren’t much substance to go on.

Be aware that some types of alcohol have stronger and faster effects, i.e. one beer is not going to have the same impact as one Long Island Tea. A standard drink in terms of consumption is 12 ounces of beer, but only 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.

Some of the most common side effects of alcohol usage are: reduced inhibition, slurred speech, motor impairment, confusion, and memory and concentration difficulties. In other words, you aren’t going to be at your most aware when drinking which can put you in the position of being targeted by criminals. Is this fair? No. Is it your fault? Never. However, if a mugger is looking for someone to steal a purse from and they have to choose between someone who is obviously intoxicated and someone who is not, the choice is simple. This applies to all forms of crime, including sexual assault.

For this reason, when drinking, is even more important to follow the golden rule of partying safe: Come with your friends. Leave with your friends. We need to look out for each other and if you see someone not in your group in a potentially bad situation, look out for them too. Being an active bystander is the best way we can work together to end violence of all kinds.