By Nicole Arends
Rule alcohol, before it rules you
Are you like the rapper Kendrick Lamar and find yourself urged to fill a pool full of liquor and subsequently dive in it? If you’re a college student in your 20’s, there has probably been many a night when the answer to this has been a very enthusiastic yes. Who can blame you – with the constant stress of maintaining high grades, relationship problems abounding and global warming – drowning your sorrows is a very tempting quick fix. Add to that the general college drinking culture, friends urging you to head out for “one drink” and your residence neighbours knocking back shots on Friday night and the temptation becomes almost overwhelming. It’s like leading the horse to the water, and telling it not to drink.
The glimmering gold of the tequila bottle may seem all too appealing, but if you’re abusing alcohol it can cost you a whole lot of Rands, liver problems and trouble. Of course, you’re allowed to indulge in a few drinks, but the key to drinking is doing it responsibly. Instead of preaching another generic “drink responsibly” campaign I’ve gathered tips and tricks from my friends, party veterans and personal experience and present to you your definitive guide to responsible drinking.
Rule 1: Arrive Alive
The first rule is one you’ve been hearing since Life Orientation lessons in Grade 5 and is still relevant today – don’t drink and drive. This is quite an easy one to stick to – if you’re going somewhere where you know alcohol will be consumed, simply don’t drive there. You may be going for “one drink” but “one drink” escalates into four or five drinks far too quickly for it to be worth the risk. Make use of taxi services like Uber or Taxify, or alternatively a metered cab and split the costs with your friends. Another option is to assign a designated driver and ensure that they stick to water for the night. As the saying goes, “a little party never killed nobody” – but drunk driving definitely could.
Rule 2: Binge-drinking, Be Gone
As it goes – one tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor. Let’s be honest – binge-drinking is so 2001. It’s not cool to blackout, and conversely is rather dangerous. The science behind a blackout is essentially a form of amnesia caused by a rapid rise in your Black Alcohol Consumption (BAC) following the intake of copious amounts of alcohol in a short amount of time which blocks neurotransmitters in your brain from functioning. That sounds a lot scarier than something to casually bring up at breakfast or as part of your plan of action for the night. And frankly – it is. Not only can blacking out result in some embarrassing consequences like texting your ex, but can also have some very dangerous consequences such as going missing and sexual assault, to name a few. It is key to practice moderation when drinking. Know your limits and hold your friends accountable for theirs. Treat drinking like a sit-down dinner, rather than a buffet and pick a type of alcohol to stick to rather than mixing different alcohol beverages. Make sure you eat before you consume alcohol, pace yourself when drinking and drink lots of water to avoid waking up with a raging headache and an assortment of regrets.
Rule 3: A Friend in Drink, is a Friend Indeed
Prevention is always better than cure, but there will inevitably be a time when either you, or someone you know will have one drink too many. If you find yourself in a situation with someone that has had too much to drink, there are a few things you can do to help – no, taking Snapchat pictures of them doesn’t count. There are tell-tale signs that someone has had too much to drink like incoherent speech and slurring words, having trouble walking or standing and memory loss. The best thing to do in this situation is to make sure they get home as soon as possible. Never send someone in this condition home by themselves, as it puts them in a vulnerable and dangerous position. Call a cab and get them to bed, leaving a glass of water with them. When putting someone to bed who is either excessively drunk or has passed out, be sure to always lay them on their side to prevent potentially choking if they vomit in their sleep. If someone is passed out and can’t be awakened, or is excessively vomiting they’re at risk of having alcohol poisoning and that situation needs to be treated as an emergency. Signs to look out for include confusion, vomiting, seizures, slow or erratic breathing, blue-tinged skin or pale skin, low body temperature and unconsciousness. If this is the case, you need to get them to your nearest hospital or emergency centre as soon as possible. Check if the venue has medics on site or call an ambulance and once again never leave them unattended.
Rule 4: Reflect, don’t deflect
The fourth rule is one that many people may miss when drinking, which is asking yourself – why? This may be a recurring question when nursing your hangover the morning after but some introspection may uncover a deeper problem. If you’re drinking socially with friends, having some drinks with dinner or to let your hair loose after a busy week – sip on. But, if you’re using alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with deeper issues, you’re treading on dangerous terrain. In fact, studies have shown that excessive alcohol consumption aggravates mental health problems in young adults, and if you have a genetic susceptibility to mental disorders, excessive alcohol use may trigger that. It’s time to make yourself a priority and stop allowing your mental health issues to be clouded by sprits of vodka. If suffering from a mental health issue is the cause of your drinking, the first step is being honest. We’re living in a better time than any to speak out and seek help. Mental health has been largely destigmatized and this makes the transition into seeking help so much smoother. Speak to friends, family and a psychologist.
If you find yourself generally drinking to avoid responsibilities or other issues it may be an indication of alcoholism. In South Africa, the recommended guideline for “moderate drinking” is no more than two standard drinks (340ml or a half quart of beer) per day for women and no more than three standard drinks per day for men. If you’re consuming more than the recommended amount of alcohol regularly, there’s a high risk that you may have a problem. Don’t fool yourself into picturing the alcoholic as the run-down person on the side of the road. Functional alcoholism is a reality, and alcoholism often blends into normality almost seamlessly. Alcoholism isn’t solely based off the quantity of alcohol you consume but rather behavioural signs such as: missing work or important deadlines due to alcohol-related incidents, aggression when drinking, problems in your relationships caused by alcohol, drunk accidents, excessive feelings of guilt and regrets and regular blackouts. It can often be hard to detect, especially when you consider the fact that many 20 year olds are drinking excessively. There’s a nifty (free) app, called “Drinks Meter” which helps you analyse your alcohol intake and habits and performs and assessment using methods such as the World Health Organization’s Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test. Alcoholism, like any addiction or habit, is a hard one to break but luckily there are support groups out there to give you a helping hand. If you’re not one for groups, try speaking to an addiction counsellor. Furthermore exercise, art, spending time with friends and engaging in learning a new skill are all tried and tested methods of de-stressing and none of them put your liver through any anguish – double win!
Your relationship with alcohol can often be a tricky one to navigate, but it’s important to ensure that it’s a healthy one. Drinking responsibly is a very rewarding step to take and you’ll be a much happier person for it. When temptation calls … send it to voicemail.