Know about... alcohol

Let's face it, everyone wants to be liked, have lots of friends, be sociable and fun to be with. But this can be very daunting when you first come to university and you're feeling nervous and disoriented. You're eager to meet others and get on with them, but anxiety about how you come across to others can stop you being yourself, or the person you would like to be.

Most new students think a great deal about the first impression they want to make, and many use alcohol to help. After all, it's in the bar where most of the socialising happens and alcohol can help you feel relaxed. It appears to impact on all those pent up feelings, reducing inhibitions so that you feel better about things. So, it's not surprising that alcohol goes on to be at the hub of student social life, and if taken in moderation (within agreed health limits) it can help us relax and unwind with friends after a hard day.

However, all too often, we see some of the heartbreaking consequences of acting under the effects of alcohol, eg unplanned sex, pregnancy, accidents and relationship difficulties. This booklet provides some useful information to enable you to make informed choices about your alcohol consumption.

The facts about alcohol

From a health perspective, alcohol is usually measured in units:

  • 1/2 pint of standard beer = 1 unit
  • 1/2 pint of standard lager = 1 unit
  • 1 standard glass of wine = 1 unit
  • 1/2 pint of strong lager = 2.5 units

The Department of Health recently raised the sensible drinking limits for men and women and currently recommends no more than:

  • 3 or 4 units per day for men = 28 units a week
  • 2 or 3 units per day for women = 21 units a week

Students' comments...

'When I woke up experiencing - yet again - the 'never again' feeling - the hangover, the splitting headache, the bad guts, the short-lived madness and laughter, the expense and embarrassment of the night before, I asked myself - was it really worth it?'

'I woke up not knowing where I was or what I'd done or who he was - I started to think of the possibilities... and needed emergency contraception despite having always said I wouldn't get myself into that situation.'

'A few drinks feels fine but why do they have to drink so much, so often. You feel odd if you don't go to the bar but where else is it all supposed to be happening?'

'I'm broke and it's only week two.'

In a recent survey, 2,174 students in the North East were asked about their drinking habits and then classified as non, light, medium and heavy drinkers. When they were cross-tabulated against sexual and other risk-taking behaviour, heavy drinkers were found to be more likely to have unsafe sex without a condom or to have sex with someone who had had many partners.

What happens when you drink?

The short-term effects of alcohol consumption vary from person to person, but here is a summary of the side effects typical for a man of average build:

  • 1-2 units: cheerfulness and increase in self confidence

The first noticeable effect of alcohol is a gradual release of anxiety and tension combined with a feeling of relaxation. You begin to feel more carefree and social inhibitions become relaxed. Alcohol gives you 'Dutch courage,' making you feel less shy and able to circulate more freely in the Union or the pub. As with any other drug, the actual effects very much depend on how you feel, your expectations and the environment. However, common reactions are talkativeness, cheerfulness, contentment and sociability.

  • 2 units: increased risk of accident
  • 3 units: usually increased happiness, but significantly impaired judgement
  • 5 units: above the legal limit for driving (i.e. 80mgms per 100mls of blood). Potential loss of driving licence and cause of serious accident
  • 10 units: slurred speech, loss of self control, may be aggressive - Unfortunately, sometimes the relaxation of inhibitions can release normally controlled emotions. Alcohol can impair your judgement and alter your perceptions. Alcohol affects your negotiating skills. What is done at night while under the influence of alcohol is often regretted in the morning.
  • 12 units: inability to walk straight, loss of memory - Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which causes minor changes in blood circulation, e.g. a small increase in heart rate and the dilation of blood vessels in the skin. It causes sweating and can depress the temperature regulating mechanism in the brain, and causes inflammation of the stomach lining. Alcohol also diminishes sexual arousal and can inhibit male erection.
  • 18 units: approaching toxic levels. Continued drinking will lead to unconsciousness.

Did you know..?

  • 15 pints of beer at £1 a pint for 33 weeks of the year costs £495.
  • If you drink five standard pints it will take 10 hours to get your blood alcohol level down to zero.
  • Hangovers are caused by dehydration. For every 1 pint of alcohol you drink, your body loses 11/4 pints of water.
  • Your liver can only break down 1 unit of alcohol per hour.
  • If a man and a woman, of the same weight and height, drink the same amount of alcohol, the woman's blood will have a higher concentration of alcohol.
  • Women's bodies contain less body water than men's so with less water to dissolve the alcohol, the blood alcohol concentration is higher than the man's.

The drinking behaviour of students during college years may determine their drinking patterns for the rest of their lives.

How can I tell if I have a drinking problem?

Here are some quick clues:

  • Inability to control drinking - it seems that regardless of what you decide beforehand, you frequently end up drunk.
  • Using alcohol to escape problems.
  • A change in personality - turning from Dr Jekyll to Mr Hyde.
  • A high tolerance level - drinking just about everybody under the table.
  • Blackouts - sometimes not remembering what happened while drinking.
  • Problems at college or at work as a result of drinking.
  • Concern shown by family and friends about drinking.

If you have, or suspect you have, a drinking problem, there are many others just like you and there is help available.

Where can I get support?

You can talk confidentially to the student health adviser, the counsellors and the university chaplain who will listen and offer help and support. They can also act as the bridge between yourself and an outside support agency if you want further help. To make an appointment just call into the Student Centre or phone 01642 342277.

If you are living in halls, you can also talk confidentially to your sub warden.

The following organisations offer support:

  • The Albert Centre, 3 Albert Terrace (just off Linthorpe Road), Middlesbrough - 01642 221484
  • The Drug and Alcohol Advisory Service, 63 Kings Road, North Ormesby - 01642 242550
  • The Samaritans - local: 01642 217777 or national: 08457 90 90 90
  • Narcotics Anonymous - 020 7730 0009