University of California, Santa Barbara

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Alcohol

The UCSB Alcohol and Drug Program acknowledges that abstinence from alcohol is the only no-risk alternative and the only legal option for those under 21 years of age.

At the same time, the program believes that underage college students who choose to drink should learn to do so with the least risk and harm possible.


What kind of substance is alcohol?

Alcohol is classified as a depressant because it slows down the central nervous system, causing a decrease in motor coordination, reaction time and intellectual performance. At high doses, the respiratory system slows down drastically and can cause a coma or death.

What we see at UCSB:

  • Alcohol is the “drug of choice” in college.
  • About 20% of UCSB students report abstaining from substance use so approximately half of our students either don’t drink or choose to drink in moderation when they do drink.
  • High risk drinking puts students at greater risk for negative consequences such as blackouts, injuries, driving under the influence, diminished academic performance, sexual assault, and unplanned and unprotected sex.

Why do people drink?

A group of students were asked this question as part of a national college alcohol study in 2001. Among the students who drink, here are the most common responses:

  • To have a good time with friends -- 91%
  • To celebrate -- 90%
  • To relax or relieve tension -- 74%
  • Because they like the taste -- 69%

Not surprisingly, no one who chooses to drink intends to get arrested or end up in the emergency room. Most people enjoy drinking because of the pleasant effects that occur within the first few drinks. So if you choose to drink, know your limits, trust your surroundings and be educated about the risks involved in any kind of substance use.

Consider how often things happen that you DON'T intend and then ask yourself what you can do to make safer choices!!


How does alcohol move through the body?

Once swallowed, a drink enters the stomach and small intestine, where small blood vessels carry it to the bloodstream. Approximately 20% of alcohol is absorbed through the stomach and most of the remaining 80% is absorbed through the small intestine.

Alcohol is metabolized by the liver, where enzymes break down the alcohol. In general, the liver can process one ounce of liquor (or one standard drink) in one hour. If you consume more than this, your system becomes saturated, and the additional alcohol will accumulate in the blood and body tissues until it can be metabolized. Very small amounts of alcohol are excreted via lungs, sweat and urine (2-5%). This is why pounding shots or playing drinking games can result in high blood alcohol concentrations that last for several hours.


What are some common effects of drinking alcohol?

Alcohol may: **

  • Cause mood swings.
  • Make you less patient.
  • Give you a false sense of confidence.
  • Make you more aggressive.
  • Impede your ability to make responsible decisions.
  • Make you less cautious

Alcohol may impair: **

  • Memory
  • Muscle coordination
  • Balance
  • Sense of touch
  • Hearing
  • Sense of Control
  • Your ability to react and form judgments
  • Vision by decreasing:
  • Peripheral (side) vision.
  • frontal vision and focusing
  • ability to recover from glare
  • number and speed of scans
  • depth perception
  • color sensitivity

**These effects increase substantially when alcohol is combined with other drugs**


What are the short-term risks of drinking?

When you're drinking, one of the first things to go is your judgment. So, celebrating or having fun with friends can quickly turn into embarrassing yourself, getting hurt, throwing up or nursing a hangover. These statistics show the very real risks of drinking in college:

  • 70% of college students admit to engaging in unplanned sexual activity primarily as a result of drinking or to having sex they wouldn't have had if they had been sober.
  • At least 1 out of 5 college students abandons safer sex practices when they're drunk, even if they do protect themselves when they're sober.
  • Heavy drinkers consistently have lower grades.
  • One night of heavy drinking can impair your ability to think abstractly and grasp difficult concepts for as long as a month.

What is the difference between a blackout and passing out?

"Blackouts" (sometimes referred to as alcohol-related memory loss or "alcoholic amnesia") occur when people have no memory of what happened while intoxicated. These periods may last from a few hours to several days. During a blackout, someone may appear fine to others; however, the next day they cannot remember parts of the night and what they did. The cause of blackouts is not well understood but may involve the brain’s diminished ability to store short term memory, deep seizures, or in some cases, psychological depression.

Blackouts shouldn't be confused with "passing out," which happens when people lose consciousness from drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. Losing consciousness means that the person has reached a very dangerous level of intoxication and could slip into a coma. If someone has passed out, seek help immediately for emergency medical attention.


What is a hangover and can I prevent it?

Hangovers are evidence of the body’s withdrawal symptoms from alcohol use and the body's reaction to the toxicity of alcohol. The severity of symptoms varies according to the individual and the quantity of alcohol consumed.

Symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Headache
  • Thirst
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

There are many myths about how to prevent or alleviate hangovers, and people try many different approaches to relieve the effects of "the morning after.”

The only safe way to prevent a hangover is to drink in moderation:

  • Eat a good dinner and continue to snack throughout the night.
  • Alternate one alcoholic drink with one non-alcoholic drink.
  • Avoid drinking games or shots. Drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short amount of time is the most likely way to become dangerously intoxicated.

Here are some of the things that WON'T help a hangover:

  • Drinking a little more alcohol the next day. This simply puts more alcohol in your body and prolongs the effects of the alcohol intoxication.
  • Having caffeine while drinking will not counteract the intoxication of alcohol; you simply get a more alert drunk person. Excessive caffeine will continue to lower your blood sugar and dehydrate you even more than alcohol alone.
  • Giving water to someone who is throwing up. Once the stomach is irritated enough to cause vomiting, it doesn't matter what you put into it -- it's going to come back up. Any liquid will cause a spasm reaction and more vomiting.
  • Be advised about taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) for a hangover headache. When the body has to process both alcohol and acetaminophen, it may produce substances that are toxic to the liver.

Here are some things that MIGHT help a hangover:

  • When you wake up, it's important to eat a healthy meal. Processing alcohol causes a drop in blood sugar and can contribute to headaches.
  • Drink plenty of water and juice to get re-hydrated.
  • Avoid excessive caffeine as it may contribute to dehydration. However, if you drink coffee every morning, have your first cup not more than a couple of hours after your regular time. Don't force your body to go through caffeine withdrawal in addition to alcohol withdrawal.
  • An over-the-counter antacid (Tums, Pepto Bismol or Maalox) may relieve some of the symptoms of an upset stomach.
  • Do not go too many hours without food as this will increase the effect of the low blood sugar caused by alcohol.
  • Eat complex carbohydrates like crackers, bagels, bread, cereal or pasta.