• Alcohol plays a social role in many college students’ experiences, as they celebrate the end of final exams or football victories.
  • While there’s nothing wrong with having a drink if you’re of legal drinking age, it’s important to have a game plan first, which is where our safe drinking tips for college students come in handy.
  • Learn about the mental health effects of hangovers, the importance of advocating for yourself, and how to enjoy yourself safely while at a party or bar.
  • You should never use alcohol as a coping mechanism, and if you are, this may be a sign of alcohol use disorder (AUD), depression, or another condition.
  • Talk with a mental health professional if you’re masking any difficult emotions with alcohol — they can help you stop this cycle and learn healthier means for coping.

For many undergraduate college students (as well as those who’ve since graduated), drinking alcohol seems synonymous with the university experience. It can be a way to celebrate getting through final exams or winning a home football game. Most notoriously, a drink in hand can also loosen our social inhibitions, to the point that we can (actually!) feel confident while talking to the people around us. But because of its legality and wide social acceptance, alcohol can be easy to misuse. After all, are you likely to view having a hangover as a sign of substance abuse?

Realistically, drinking in college often occurs during our “growing pains”. In our late teens and early twenties, it’s important to try new experiences and allow our perspectives to remain open as we explore university life. Part of that process may involve drinking — but there are risks associated with drinking that shouldn’t be ignored. 

Drinking adds a new layer to our social environments in adulthood, something we all contend with. It’s important for college students to evaluate the who, what, when, where, and why when deciding to drink. Here are a few safe drinking tips for college students that’ll help preserve their physical and mental health when consuming alcohol: 

  • Make sure to attend parties, games, and other events involving alcohol with people you’re comfortable around: Plan to meet up with friends that you trust, and don’t feel bad about trusting your gut in unfamiliar party or bar environments—it’s better to play safe than to play it cool. Establish a place to meet at your arrival and departure, and create a group chat to link in everyone who’s heading out with you.  
  • Know your limit AND the signs of alcohol poisoning: It’s prudent to acknowledge your limits. It’s common for young adults, especially men, to binge drink, which can potentially lead to alcohol poisoning, a life-threatening condition. Alcohol poisoning symptoms include shallow breathing, cold sweats, blacking out, vomiting, and unresponsive behavior. 

Important: Never leave someone who’s blacking out unattended: It’s easy for them to asphyxiate while asleep or passed out. Seek medication attention if needed—and if no one can drive, call an ambulance. Keep their head elevated, and be sure to help them if they’re nauseous, and don’t force them to drink water if they can’t hold it down.

  • Use alcohol to celebrate, not to commiserate: Using alcohol as a coping mechanism is a form of self-medication, and it could be a sign that you may have a mental health condition, such as a form of depression or alcohol use disorder (AUD). Alcohol should never be used to forget about our emotional pain or stress, even if others are willing to join us. Consider putting down the glass or bottle, and picking up the phone. Talking to a mental health professional, if you’re drowning your woes, can help stop the cycle you feel trapped in. 
  • Advocate for yourself: Despite what our brain may scream at us, it’s surprising how often the word “no” will actually be accepted by our peers. If you don’t want another shot, if you’d rather not drink something that’s been handed to you, or if you’re feeling coerced into an action or situation that makes you uncomfortable, it’s absolutely fine to pump your brakes. There’s nothing that’s preventing you from changing direction with your evening or festivities if you’d rather not drink. Besides, making a habit of committing your time to a party, event, or date that you’re really not that interested in will get old—fast. 
  • Remember that drinking can negatively affect your mental health: As if being hungover couldn’t get bad enough, studies indicate that hangovers can actually mimic depression and anxiety symptoms. Hangovers occur when our brain becomes chemically off-balance the next day, causing nausea, slowed processing skills, and feelings of anxiety or depression. If your mental health appears to be taking a hit from frequent hangovers, consider whether cutting back on your alcohol consumption could help re-stabilize your mood.  

Before you head out for the evening, remember our safe drinking tips for college students. And if you find yourself feeling stressed, sad, or simply strung out the morning after a night of drinking, reflect on the negative mental health effects that drinking can cause. And most importantly, decide whether you need to set healthier drinking habits in place.