It seems like every weekend (and thirsty Thursday), your college friends are bellying up to the bar and knocking drinks back until they can’t tell the difference between a priest and a pogo stick. You don’t want to miss out on the fun, but your brain, wallet, and stretchy pants are screaming at you to slow down. What’s the key to avoiding alcoholism, overdraft fees, and a beer gut? Be mindful of your drinking practices, and develop a clear set of personal ground rules for your alcohol use. This is how to drink less in college and avoid the issues that can creep up in the form of alcoholism.
Alcohol Abuse Among College Students
Young adults often love to explore and experiment. Whether that be with party drugs, relationships, school courses, traveling the world, or intense personal hobbies, there seems to be an obsessive pattern when it comes to discovering ourselves in the world.
But one of the most popularized and glamorized things to do in college is, of course, drinking! It’s the social norm– things can’t be fun unless there’s alcohol involved, right? (Hint the sarcasm.)
Even though university students are apparently drinking less than they did two decades ago, alcohol is still a serious problem. Every year in America, more than 1,800 students die from accidents involving alcohol in some way. Alcohol abuse is unfortunately quite a common occurrence. Binge drinking, blacking out, and painful hangovers are all too common among young adults ages 18 to 25. And the reality is, sometimes, your close friend or roommate might never grow out of that lifestyle.
How Can You Drink Less in College?
There’s a strategy for drinking less, or even quitting alcohol altogether. The first, most important thing is to know why you want (or need!) to make the change. If you don’t have a solid answer to “Why do I want to drink less?” you might not pursue a consistent strategy. As an example, here are some ways to really understand how to drink less for your time at college, in years to come.
Define Your Goals.
Maybe you want to drink less for your mental health. This is a huge reason many people want to stop drinking altogether. Perhaps you want to join a wine tasting club but still, be able to drive yourself home. Whatever your goals are, be specific and write them down. As you think about your goals, keep in mind that you are unique. What works for somebody else might be totally unacceptable to you. Remember to account for your age, family history, risk factors, health problems, medications, and lifestyle.
Establish Guidelines for Yourself.
What personal ground rules will help you to stay in line with your goals? For example, your goal might be to avoid health problems by sticking to “low-risk” alcohol use. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “low-risk” alcohol use for healthy adults is defined as no more than two drinks per day for men and one for women. Based on this, you might set a personal guideline to enjoy just one glass of wine (5 oz) per day. If wine isn’t your thing, the NIAAA also defines one standard drink as 12 oz (one bottle) of beer or 1.5 oz of 80 proof hard liquor, which is about one shot glass.
Test Your Gameplan
Once you’ve got your goals and guidelines laid out, you can sidle into the saloon and take your new plan for a test drive. Here are the main tips you can practice:
- Number it: Count your drinks. The act of keeping track of your drinks may help you to drink less. This is where mindfulness can be handy. Don’t carry around a notebook and fountain pen? No worries—look into a handy drink tracking smartphone app like Drinksmart or Intellidrink. You can even go one step further and invest in a personal breathalyzer like the BACtrack S80. How’s that for accountability?
- Nurse it: Don’t guzzle that martini—sip it slowly. About one drink per hour is a standard rule of thumb.
- Nix it: Go mocktail style and order it virgin. Have the bartender make your favorite drink without the alcohol. Nonalcoholic favorites include club soda and lime, cranberry juice and soda, Shirley Temples, or just straight-up Diet Coke. Newsflash: everyone’s out to have a good time—nobody really cares what you’re drinking.
- Nosh it and wash it: Start your night out with some absorbent carbs and protein that will stick to your ribs. If you’ve got a little something lining your stomach, not only will you feel better, you’ll keep from getting too tipsy too soon. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it will dry you out. Stay hydrated by slurping up a tall glass of water between drinks. Your body and your wallet will thank you tomorrow.
- Name your weaknesses: Be aware of people, places, or scenarios that influence you to overindulge; make a plan to avoid them.
- Never numb it: Be aware of how you’re feeling when you start drinking: are you potentially using alcohol to self-medicate? Is the bar serving you as your numbing agent for anxiety, sadness, or physical pain? Maybe it’s time to step away from using Jose Cuervo as your personal counselor. Instead, try using those feelings as an opportunity to build positive coping skills, such as working out, hiking, having coffee with a friend, or learning a new skill.
- No alcohol days: Designate several days of the week to be alcohol-free. For example, you might schedule a Wineless Wednesday in between Hot Toddy Tuesday and Thirsty Thursday. This is not your excuse to binge drink once a week, though– wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of your entire “drink less” goal?
- Naked Cabinet: Don’t keep alcohol at home. Save your drinking for when you’re at the bar or a restaurant on weekends. Fill your cupboards with other fun things to drink at home, like hot cocoa, sparkling water, or Starbucks refreshers. You’d be surprised how often you reach for a beer just because it’s there and it’s cold. Find your new favorite replacement!
- Nickel and Dime it: Let’s face it: the money you spend on karaoke night could feed a small country. Try being intentional with that money—nobody ever gets to go on their dream vacation by accident. Set a specific goal with the money you’d save if you quit drinking. People will be very understanding if you tell them you’re foregoing Cosmopolitans in favor of a week-long cruise to Cozumel.
- Never give up: Stay positive and don’t quit, even if you get off track. If you slip up and drink seven drinks on a Friday night after midterms, don’t give up and condemn yourself. Remember that perfectionism is the enemy of progress. Get back up, dust yourself off, and use your missteps as opportunities to learn how to do better. Ask yourself: what was at the root of your slip-up? Is there a person, place, or situation consistently getting in the way of your goals? Do you need to adjust your goals or guidelines?
When to Get Help for Alcohol Addiction
Learning to drink less is a process, not an event. However, if you find yourself repeatedly out of control or think you might suffer significant withdrawal symptoms, you might need a higher level of care. Sometimes the strongest thing you can do is reach out for help. Don’t panic—just because you can’t stop drinking on your own doesn’t mean you need to totally throw your life away.
There is always recovery support available if you can’t control your alcohol habits. The different types of professional help can range from a few counseling sessions to a full stay at an alcohol detox treatment facility. Your needs likely fall somewhere in between. Need help getting started? Check out the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s Alcohol Treatment Navigator.
If you’re in the Southern California area, reach out to us at Opus Health. We see adults from all walks of life find freedom from alcohol abuse every day and you can, too.