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Campus Life & Inclusive Excellence

Health & Counseling Center

Health Promotion

Alcohol

Whether you choose to drink or not, knowing how alcohol affects your body, how to reduce negative outcomes, and what resources are available on campus can help you to make informed decisions about drinking.

Some Facts about Drinking in College:
While it may seem like everybody in college drinks, in reality:

  • Approximately 2,400 DU students did not drink alcohol in the past 30 days.
  • When DU students do drink, most do so moderately by sticking to 4 drinks or fewer.

To keep themselves and their friends safe, when DU students drink:

  • 92% stay with the same group of friends when they go out,
  • 82% eat before and while drinking, and
  • 71% keep track of how many drinks they've had.

Source: National College Health Assessment, Spring 2019

How Much is One Drink?

Drinks contain differing amounts of alcohol - so before you can estimate how much alcohol you have in your system, you need to know what a "standard" drink is. One standard drink contains 0.6 oz of ethanol (pure alcohol). Beer, wine, and liquor have different amounts of alcohol in each:

A standard drink of alcohol= 12 fl oz of beer, 5 fl oz of wine, or 1.5 fl oz of liquor (80-proof)

Knowing how many standard drinks you have had can help you estimate how much alcohol you have in your system. A red party cup contains between 16 and 18 ounces - meaning if you fill it with beer, you may be drinking 1.33 to 1.5 beers. To make it easier to keep track, try to avoid premade punch drinks and pour your own drinks.

BAC levels & Biphasic Effect
Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) is the percentage of alcohol in someone's blood. For example, if someone has a BAC of .06, their blood is .06% alcohol by volume. At lower BACs, people experience stimulant effects of alcohol such as slight euphoria (feeling good), being more talkative, and feeling loosened up.

However, alcohol is classified as a depressant drug, meaning that at higher BAC levels it slows down the heart, lungs, and brain. The physiological effects of alcohol are determined by the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream.

At a BAC of .06 and above, a person starts experiencing depressant effects, including:

  • BAC of .07 - .09: Impaired balance, speech, judgment, reasoning, and reaction time
  • .10 - .12: Significant impairment of coordination, reaction time, and slurred speech
  • .13 - .15: Blurred vision, anxiety, increased risk of injury to self and others
  • .16 - .19: Nausea, "sloppy" drunk, increased memory loss, could pass out
  • .20 - .24: Disorientation, help needed to walk, vomiting, memory loss likely
  • .25 - .29: Severe mental, physical, sensory impairments, passing out
  • .30 - .34: Little comprehension, hard to walk, death possible
  • .36+: Coma and/or death likely
What is my BAC?

Knowing your approximate BAC can help you make more informed decisions by providing an estimate of how much alcohol is in your system. Several factors influence BAC, including weight and how many standard drinks you have.

You can use this interactive Blood Alcohol Concentration Calculator to get a personalized estimate of your BAC levels. To use the calculator:

  • Input your sex and weight
  • Enter the amount of drinks you've had
  • Enter the amount of time it has been since your first drink

Please note that BAC calculators and charts are only able to provide estimates, and do not account for all factors that might affect BAC. Remember, staying at a BAC of .06 or lower helps you avoid the depressant effects of alcohol and can help you and your friends stay safe.

Tolerance
Why is it that some people can appear sober even though they have had many drinks? They have likely built up a tolerance. Tolerance for alcohol means the body has adapted both physically and psychologically. When someone has tolerance, they need more alcohol to feel the effects they initially experienced.

Tolerance does not impact BAC itself, so while a person may appear to be "handling their alcohol well" and functioning normally, their BAC and level of toxins from alcohol in their body may be rising to dangerous amounts.

Tolerance can be dangerous because it causes people to lose awareness about their level of intoxication. For example, a person who has developed tolerance may feel like they are coordinated enough to drive when in fact their brain and body function are still impaired due to the amount of alcohol they had.

You can decrease tolerance by abstaining from drinking for 4 - 6 weeks or not drinking as frequently.

Blacking Out

Some students believe that there is nothing harmful about blacking out. However, the danger of blacking out is that someone can still speak, drive, and may seem less drunk than they are at this high level of intoxication. When someone blacks out because of alcohol consumption, they experience the inability to convert short term memories into long term memories. This means that when somebody is blacked out they will appear to be functioning normally when they are actually not.

Mixing Alcohol with Other Drugs

Alcohol is a depressant drug – it slows down your respiratory system, heart rate, and brain activity. When alcohol is used in combination with other drugs like stimulants, depressants, and cannabis, it can have a wide range of effects.

Alcohol and Stimulants – Some folks are prescribed stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin by their doctor and some people use caffeine to feel alert in the morning.

When stimulants are used in combination with alcohol, stimulants make you less aware of alcohol's intoxicating effects – making it hard to tell if you've had too much to drink. This could result in overdose and death if a person's BAC gets too high.

Alcohol and Depressants – Because alcohol is also a depressant, mixing depressants like heroin and Vicodin with alcohol strengthen the negative effects on the respiratory system, heart rate, and brain activity. When used in combination, this pairing could stop involuntary functions like breathing and lead to overdose or death.

Alcohol and Cannabis – Cannabis can have a variety of effects on people. In combination with alcohol, effects can be unpredictable. For some, it may increase their anxiety; for others it could increase their panic or paranoia.

Think before you drink and mix with drugs. Settings goals and limits is important for not only alcohol consumption but also drug use.

Tips for Safer Drinking
Different strategies work for different people. Overall, it is helpful to think about what strategies you might use. 99% of DU students who drink report using at least one strategy most of the time or always when partying to keep them and their friends safe (National College Health Assessment, Spring 2016).
  1. Eat before and while drinking. This helps slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream.
  2. Choose drinks with less alcohol. Some drinks have less alcohol in relation to their volume (e.g. beer or wine vs. straight liquor).
  3. Keep track. Remember your BAC Calculator and how many drinks it takes to get to your limit.
  4. Stay with the same group of friends. Look out for one another, get help if somebody needs it, and go home together.
  5. Plan ahead. Set your own personal limit ahead of time and have a plan to get home safely.
  6. Avoid drinking games. Drinking games often encourage drinking faster and in various quantities, making it difficult to keep track of how much you've been drinking.
Alcohol Poisoning
Alcohol poisoning is when a person consumes a large amount of alcohol over a short period of time and their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) may rise rapidly. If you think somebody may need help, you should be sure to:
  1. Check for signs of alcohol poisoning
    • Being passed out or difficult to wake up
    • Vomiting, while asleep or awake
    • Slow or irregular breathing
    • Cold, clammy, pale, or bluish skin
  2. Call 911 and Campus Safety. In any situation where you think somebody may need help, the best thing you can do is call 911 and Campus Safety, if you're on campus. Campus Safety is available in case of an emergency at 303-871-3000.

If a person is experiencing alcohol poisoning, their BAC will continue to go up until all the alcohol in their stomach has been absorbed, so you cannot assume someone will be okay if they just get taken home.

Medical Amnesty
In any situation where you think somebody may need help, the best thing you can do is call 911 and Campus Safety (303-871-3000), if you're on campus. Some students are worried about getting in trouble – however, DU's Medical Amnesty Policy says that Medical Amnesty applies to the person who called AND the person for whom help was sought. It is important to know that:
  1. When a student undertakes an intentional action to seek assistance from a University Official or emergency services are sought for themselves or others, the students involved will not be charged with an alcohol- or drug-related violation of the Honor Code, nor will an alcohol- or drug-related violation appear on their record.
  2. Medical Amnesty usually only applies to a student once.

Learn more about DU's Medical Amnesty Policy in the Honor Code.