Drinking in college is not a given. It doesn't have to be a rite of passage. The stereotype of heavy drinking in college is not reality for most UCSC students. Most UCSC students don't drink or drink at very moderate levels: 

  • 45% of UCSC students describe themselves as abstainers, infrequent drinkers, or light drinkers
  • Of UCSC students who drink, 65% have only 1-4 drinks when they go out. 
  • 98% of UCSC students reported usually doing or always doing one or more protective behaviors while drinking:
    • alternating non-alcoholic with alcoholic beverages 
    • using a designated driver
    • eating before and/or during drinking 

Understanding what alcohol does to your body and the risks associated with alcohol use can help you in many ways: 

  • You can make a more informed decision about whether or not to drink
  • You can recognize the warning signs of dangerous intoxication and call EMS for a friend
  • You can reduce the risks associated with using alcohol (including injury, etc) 
  • If you choose to drink, you can make safer decisions about drinking
  • You can get help for yourself or for a friend

what's a standard drink?


Knowing how to count a standard drink is necessary for calculating blood alcohol concentrations. Too often, people underestimate how much they have had to drink because they aren't using standard measurements. 

Beer: One drink = one 12 oz. beer. This is normal strength beer (4% alcohol). Micro-brews and malt liquor have a higher percentage of alcohol (look at the label). 

Liquor: One drink = 1.5 oz. of liquor (40% alcohol or 80 proof). This is how much whiskey, vodka, gin, etc is in a measured mixed drink or in a "shot". Mixed drinks may not be measured and often contain far more than 1.5 oz. of alcohol. Drinks with a higher proof (like grain alcohol, Everclear, or 151 proof rum) should also be treated with caution. 

Wine: One drink = 4-5 oz. of standard wine. This is most table wines: white, red, rose, and champagne. One drink = 3 oz. of fortified wine. This is wine with more than 13% alcohol content, such as brandy, cognac, or sherry. 


understanding levels of intoxication


  • What You See: no drinking related problems, low risk use doesn't affect other aspects of life, reasons for drinking can be religious, personal, social
  • What You Do: support a friend's decision to choose not to drink, be sure non-alcoholic beverages are available
  • The Facts: Approximately 30% of the adult population is at this level.

Stage 2 - feeling buzzed (~0.02 - 0.04)

  • What You See: people talking easier, shy people become more social, feeling better, doing things they normally would not do, catching a "buzz", more relaxed
  • What You Do:  encourage a friend to slow down, space drinks out, eat more between drinks, encourage non-alcoholic beverages, give feedback about behavior
  • The Facts: This level can be reached very quickly.

Stage 3 - Questionable Decisions (~0.05 - 0.07)

  • What You See: uplanned sexual behavior, person thinking they can drive/walk home alone, accepting rides from strangers, misplaced personal items, mood swings
  • What You Do:  take away their car keys, arrange for a safe escort, encourage them to stop/slow down, do not laugh at stupid statements, do not overreact, do not argue but be assertive
  • The Facts: If you're helping a friend at this level, be action oriented rather than trying to reason with individual.

Stage 4 - Talking Loud/Getting Injured (~0.07 - 0.10)

  • What You See: louder music/voices, all brands of beer taste the same, less sensitivity to pain, cannot focus well, misjudge distances (depth perception is off), generally all senses are dulled
  • What You Do:  establish your own safety first, try to get your friend to stop/slow down, seek medical and/or professional assistance in case of injury
  • The Facts: The drinking person has impaired judgement and reason; give them simple instructions. Physical and/or verbal aggression may occur. Know your limitations and seek help from staff, police, sober friends. 


  • What You See: slurring, staggering/bumping into things, spilled drinks, frequent bathroom trips, falling down/injuries, aggressiveness, inability to control excretion
  • What You Do:  remove alcohol immediately, secure your own safety, seek help, do NOT leave this person alone
  • The Facts: The person at this level should NOT be drinking any more and should NOT be left alone. This person cannot make sense out of the world around them. You should be responsive to your friend, not responsible for them. 


  • What You See: semi-consciousness, unconsciousness/passing out, low breathing rate (< 12 breaths/min)
  • What You Domonitor person continually (breathing rate, state of consciousness, etc), seek medical/professional help
  • The Facts: 1700 college students between ages of 18 and 24 die each year die from alcohol-related causes.


Knowing Your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC)

Understanding BAC is key to understanding how alcohol affects your body and the serious danger zones of alcohol poisoning. BAC measures the ratio of alcohol in the blood. So, a BAC of .10 means one part alcohol for every 1000 parts of blood. To calculate your BAC, select the appropriate chart - for males or for females - then find the row with your approximate weight. Then select the number of drinks consumed. This BAC figure would result if the total number of drinks were consumed in one hour. The Time Factor table can be used to calculate BAC over more than one hour. 



Note: these charts give you good general guidelines, but there are many factors involved in a person's reaction to alcohol, including body composition, use of medication or other drugs, mood changes, and metabolism. 

Is it dangerous to mix alcohol and other drugs?

Alcohol can be dangerous when mixed with other recreational drugs or medications. Below are some of the reactions that might take place after mixing alcohol with different types of drugs: 

Alcohol x Sedatives

Using alcohol with GHB, Rohypnol, Ketamine, barbiturates, tranquilizers, or sleeping pills will multiply the sedative effects of both drugs, which can slow down your central nervous system enough to cause loss of consciousness, a coma, or death. Sedatives like GHB and Rohypnol have been used as date rape drugs because of this dangerous combination. 

Alcohol x Marijuana

Using alcohol with marijuana can decrease motor control and mental concentration and greatly impair your ability to drive. Because marijuana suppresses the gag reflex, you may not be able to throw up alcohol when your body needs to. 


Using alcohol with narcotics such as heroin, codeine, or Darvon slows down the central nervous system and can cause your breathing to stop, a coma, even death. 

Alcohol x Prescription Drugs

More than 150 medications interact harmfully with alcohol. Alcohol's effects are heightened by medicines that depress the central nervous system, such as sleeping pills, antihistamines, antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and some painkillers. In addition, medicines for certain disorders, including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, can have harmful interactions with alcohol. Using alcohol with a prescribed drug or an over-the-counter drug may effect your liver's ability to metabolize the medication and can decrease the medication's effectiveness. The combination of drugs can also multiply the effects of the alcohol and the medication and may cause liver damage. 



Cover Image by: Greg Ma