Other than Salt-n-Pepa, does anybody actually talk openly and honestly about sex?

sexual communicationOther than Salt-n-Pepa, does anybody actually talk openly and honestly about sex? Turns out the answer is YES for Carolina students!  91% of UNC-Chapel Hill first years say they’d communicate with a partner about what they want in a sexual situation.  Now, we know that all first- years are not the same; different groups of students have different attitudes and beliefs. However, interestingly enough this statistic doesn’t change a whole lot across different gender identities, races, and sexual orientations (ranges from 88%-93%).

 

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Alicia Keys Photo by Intel Free Press, Flickr Creative Commons

Not convinced?  Famous musical artists across the decades would agree with 91% of UNC first-years, and have rather good advice and examples of how to communicate about sex. Salt-n-pepa kicks us off with the obvious, “let’s talk about sex, baby, let’s talk about you and me”. Coldplay chimes in about getting it on with, “Turn your magic on, to me she’d say ,…  ‘Oh you make me feel like I’m alive again’”  John Legend and Marvin Gaye (respectively) ask for affirmative verbal consent singing, “I just need permission, so give me the green light” and “I’m asking you baby to get it on with me, I ain’t gonna worry, I ain’t gonna push, won’t push you baby”.  Lauryn Hill talks about what she likes singing, “The sweetest thing I’ve ever known is your kiss upon my collar bone.” And then there’s Alicia Keys showing us how to set some boundaries, “There’s an attraction we can’t just ignore, but before we go too far across the line I gotta really make sure that I’m really sure.”

 

 

 

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Coldplay Photo by pinero.beatriz, Flickr Creative Commons
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John Legend Photo by Fantasy Springs, Flickr Creative Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking of talking about sex… what does “sex” refer to anyways?  Study after study after study has shown that everyone defines sex very differently.  So, for the remainder of this blog, we’re going to focus on “sexual behavior/ activity”, which can include wide a range of behaviors done with ourselves or others including hugging, kissing, vaginal sex, holding hands, oral sex, abstinence, (mutual ) masturbation, different forms of physical intimacy, anal sex, the list goes on.  Some people have oral/ anal/ vaginal sex, other people are sexual in other ways, and some other people choose to abstain from some/ all of these things! Side note: it turns out lots of UNC students are abstaining in lots of different ways as well; click here to learn more! Moral of the story is, no matter what kinds of sexual behaviors you are or aren’t engaging in with other people, learning to talk about wants/needs and boundaries is important, and practice can help. 

Back to the point. If someone is interested in being sexually active, or is sexually active, why does everyone think talking about it with the people involved is such a good idea?  The long and short: talking means everyone is on the same page and everyone will have a better experience if there is clear communication. Loveisrespect.org would say that you’re the only person who knows what’s on your mind, so your partner won’t know unless you say it!  Along the same lines, you can’t know what your partner is thinking or wanting until you ask them and talk about it. We don’t always know how to talk about sexual activity, especially since we don’t always see representations of this in the media, and because we don’t often learn about how to communicate on this topic in school or from our families. However, it’s important for everybody to talk about what they like, don’t like, and what their boundaries are.  It’s also super important to listen to your partner, and respect the things they say and the boundaries they set.  Even if they have previously consented to intimacy, but do not desire to this time. This will show the person that what they say matters to you, and they’re more likely to trust you and listen to you as a result.

Some people think talking about being sexual is for folks in serious, long-term, committed relationships, however, this is just as, if not more, important for people who choose to have casual/ short-term sexual interactions! Why’s that?  Casual/ short-term sexual interactions often occur between people who don’t know each other well, and/or are interacting sexually for the first time.  Therefore, talking about expectations, limits and boundaries for sex (in ways that are comfortable, clear, and sexy) is even more important to make sure everybody is on the same page and having an equally positive experience. There are also people who choose to abstain from some or all sexual behaviors.  Do they need to talk about being sexual?  Absolutely!  Making sure there are clear lines of communication about what everyone wants in these situations is more important than ever so that everyone’s boundaries are understood and respected.

Sound hard/ challenging/ uncomfortable?  It’s easier (and sexier) than it sounds!  And, if someone knows what you like (and you know what they like), and everyone knows what’s on and off the table, it’ll be a lot more safe and satisfying, too. Here are some phrases our sexual wellness counselors recommend to get you started!

  • Do you want to…?
  • How would you feel about…?
  • How far do you see things going?
  • What do you want to do?
  • Would you like it if I…?
  • I want to…
  • I don’t want to…
  • That sounds amazing
  • Nope, not for me
  • I’m down to do… but I’m not into …

Still perplexed? Click here to take a free online course about creating and sustaining healthy relationships, INCLUDING skills around how to communicate and talk about sex in healthy ways. While the information is applicable to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, these modules are centered on the experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Trans*, Intersex, Queer, Questioning, Two Spirit, and Same Gender Loving communities. Whether you are looking to strengthen your own relationship skills or support others in their relationships—this course is for you!

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Have additional specific questions?  Make a free private SHARE appointment to talk about talking about sex.SHARE

We encourage you to think about one way you or a friend could communicate about healthy relationships and sex in an open and positive way.  If you or your friend feels uncomfortable talking about this, remember that 91% of your peers and several pop stars have your back and support talking it out! Continue reading

What Is One Act?

What are Intervention and Prevention?

These two words are thrown around pretty frequently when it comes to violence prevention work, and it is important to understand them before we discuss One Act. Imagine that you are sitting on a riverbank and suddenly a drowning person comes floating down the river, struggling to keep their head above water. You save them, but before you can catch your breath, another person comes drowning down the river, then another and another! Instead of saving each individual person, you run upstream to see why so many people are coming down the river. In this analogy, saving the people drowning can be viewed as intervention work while running upstream to solve the problem can be viewed as prevention work (CDC). Both intervention and prevention are equally important in the field of ending violence.

How One Act Changed My View of Bystander Intervention

One Act is a bystander intervention training that teaches people how to identify warning signs of violence and find safe ways to intervene. Before I attended, I had a very specific idea of what that meant. To me, it meant being at a large, loud party and noticing one person making advances that may be unwanted onto another person, things potentially getting physical, and then someone stepping in to try to prevent a violent situation from unfolding. While this example of violence prevention certainly occurs, it is not the only kind of scenario that One Act addresses.

One Act addresses risky situations including the party scenario I previously mentioned, as well as potentially less obvious situations including noticing a friend exhibiting signs of experiencing mental, physical, emotional, or financial abuse from a partner. One Act incorporates both aspects of prevention and early intervention into its training while also addressing healthy relationships, campus and community resources, and consent.

One Act treats everyone as an active bystander with the potential to prevent or stop violence. I like how One Act offers students’ different ways to intervene based on their identity, personality, and level of comfort intervening in a potentially dangerous situation. One Act really emphasizes ‘meeting people where they are’ and recognizes that not everyone feels safe intervening in the same way, which is why they offer options.

The One Act Model

One Act and One Act for Greeks are on-campus trainings that offer participants the skills to intervene in the situations mentioned previously. The trainings teach participants to be active bystanders all of the time, for strangers at parties as well as for friends and family. The training outlines a 4-step process of dealing with a risky or unsettling situation where you suspect violence or a potential for violence:

  1. Observe
  2. Assess
  3. ACT
  4. Follow Up

One Act acknowledges that every bystander and every situation is different and therefore provides multiple options on how to act. The ACT acronym offers the options:

A – Ask for Help

C – Create a Distraction

T – Talk Directly

One Act on Campus:

Preventing violence sounds like a big, daunting task, but One Act breaks it down into small, doable actions that can make a huge difference. It can be as simple as asking a friend how their new relationship is going, if they feel safe with their partner, or just making yourself available to talk if they ever want to. Outside of trainings, One Act also holds several events on campus to spread awareness for violence prevention. One such event is Dos and Donuts, which is held in both the Fall and Spring semesters. Dos and Donuts offers donuts to students who participate in activities promoting healthy relationships, checking in with friends and family, and self-care. This event helps students who have not been One Act trained learn to be an active bystander in their own lives.

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Here is our Healthy Relationship Donut! We asked students ‘what makes a relationship sweet’ and they added their sprinkle to the donut. Check out more pictures from the event here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/OneAct/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1367790649927800

My Final Thoughts:

One Act gives students the knowledge, skills, and confidence to recognize early warning signs of violence, and teaches them how to take steps to prevent that violence from unfolding. Students who have attended One Act have said that they are more willing to engage in conversations regarding sexual assault and consent since being trained.

I have learned so much since being One Act trained and since working with the program this semester and I strongly believe that this training has and will continue to contribute to a safer UNC-CH environment. I believe that everyone in the Carolina community should get One Act trained in order to foster an environment of looking out for and helping one another.

You can find the dates of our Spring trainings and sign up for information or a training here: https://studentwellness.unc.edu/oneact

This blog post was written by Rachel Maguire, One Act’s Fall 2016 Social Media Intern. Rachel is a third year Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies double major who became involved with One Act through the WMST 340: Violence in Leadership Prevention class.

How is HIV different than AIDS? An HIV primer

This year marks 35 years since AIDS was first recognized by the CDC. News of the highly-fatal AIDS epidemic was initially met with profound concern, panic and confusion. Still today, there are plenty of misconceptions about what HIV and AIDS are, and who is affected.  In honor of World AIDS Day, we’ll provide an abbreviated history of the discovery of HIV and AIDS, discuss how they’re different, and talk about how you can get tested for FREE!

AIDS and HIV: A super-duper brief history

In 1981, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) received several reports of a rare cancer, typical only among those with severely compromised immune systems and the elderly, among young gay men. Suspecting that there may be other factors at-play, the CDC began an investigation. At this stage of the epidemic, there was no identifiable cause and no single name for the phenomenon. Various organizations referred to it with different names, among them “gay-related immune deficiency” (GRID).  As the epidemic spread, it became clear that several groups were affected, including injection drug users, hemophiliacs and Haitians.  The CDC proposed using a unifying name for the condition, as there was mounting evidence that it was not limited to the gay community. In 1982, with over 400 cases reported globally, the CDC proposed the term “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome” or (AIDS). Around the same time, cases of mother-to-child transmissions of AIDS were reported, and a child who had received blood transfusions also appeared to have developed AIDS. Cases of AIDS among women who have sex with men were recorded. All of these cases provided evidence that an infectious agent was likely responsible for AIDS, and suggested several possible routes of transmission: through blood, breast milk, and sexual activity. In 1986, at least five years after AIDS cases were initially reported, the name for the virus that causes AIDS was born: “Human Immunodeficiency Virus”, or HIV.

AIDS vs. HIV?

The history of AIDS and HIV helps clarify how and why they’re different. Contrary to the widespread belief, HIV is not a disease. It is a virus – but a pretty serious one. Our bodies are able to fight off other viruses like the common cold, but for some reason, we just can’t rid our bodies of HIV. Our immune system is comprised of various types of cells, each having special roles to fight off infections. HIV attacks one such cell, the CD4 cell. The higher your CD4 cell count, the stronger your immune system is and the better you are at fighting infections. HIV attacks our CD4 cells by entering them and becoming part of their life cycle. Think of…mind control. When HIV takes over a CD4 cell, it no longer thinks it is a CD4 cell. When the CD4 cell (with its brain taken over by the virus) tells itself to ‘replicate,’ HIV replicates. This leads to an increase in HIV, a decrease in CD4, and a compromised immune system. If the CD4 cell count drops significantly, an individual has AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

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Image from http://aids.gov

AIDS refers to a syndrome, meaning the presence of clinical features or phenomena (example:  weakened immune system). HIV is a necessary but not sufficient cause of AIDS. In other words, HIV infection always precedes AIDS, but HIV doesn’t always develop into AIDS. HIV can be detected with a variety of tests that identify either HIV itself or circulating HIV antibodies. AIDS diagnosis is more complicated, and requires the presence of certain signs and symptoms, such as decreased white blood cell count and certain  AIDS-defining illnesses.

Who gets HIV?
Given that HIV can be transmitted through sex, contaminated sharp instruments or breastfeeding, almost all individuals are at risk. HIV transcends geographic, socioeconomic, political, racial, and gender boundaries. Some individuals have a higher risk than others depending on how often they are exposed to the following four fluids that transmit HIV: blood, vaginal fluid, semen and breast milk.

A person’s sexual network (a group of people one individual is connected to through sexual contact), which may be influenced by race, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation, may also influence his/her/zir risk for contracting HIV. Think of it in terms of probability. Let’s say Person A is an African American man who has sex with other men, and Person B is a White man who does not have sex with other men. Person A has a smaller number of potential sexual partners than Person B. In other words, Person A has a smaller sexual network. In terms of numbers, this means that if someone in Person A’s network becomes infected with HIV, he has a higher chance of also becoming infected even if he engages in the exact same level of “risky sexual behavior” as Person B.

HIV Prevention and Treatment
The key to prevention is education. With a lack of education about the truth, millions of individuals become infected because they believe HIV can’t impact them. In reality, specific communities have higher infection rates due to historical inequitable access to care and modern institutions that keep these communities at a lower socioeconomic status which maintains unequal access to care. Treatments for HIV exist, but are expensive.

Other than breaking down myths (which the Center for Aids Research is excellent at doing!), everyone needs to understand risks of sexual transmission BEFORE they put themselves in high-risk situations. The four fluids of HIV transmission (do you remember what they are? Blood, vaginal secretions, semen, and breast milk) along with education on proper condom use help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections and diseases -and (bonus!) unintended pregnancy. Everyone who has sex should get tested once a year or before embarking on a new sexual encounter, whichever comes first. Testing should be a regular part of healthy relationships.

HIV Testing

In honor of World AIDS Day, Student Wellness is hosting a FREE, walk-in HIV testing event in the Carolina Union from 10AM-4:45PM on December 1st (TODAY!). Please see our event page for more information. Additionally, at UNC Campus Health Services, we offer a rapid oral test (results available in about 20 minutes), and a blood test available every weekday. More information about HIV testing at UNC is available on the Campus Health webpage; for more information about making an HIV appointment with Student Wellness call 919.962.9355.

 

This post was compiled and updated based on two previous Healthy Heels blog posts, one written by Diana Sanchez, a PhD student in Public Health Epidemiology in 2012 and the other written by Jani Radhakrishnan, a MPH and City and Regional Planning Master’s Student. Both writers served as graduate student staff with wellness at UNC. 

Crisis Plans or “Mad Maps”: Creating Your Own Path Through Mental Health Crisis

In 2015, 18% of UNC students surveyed reported that anxiety had interfered with their school performance in the past year and 13% said depression had affected school in the same period. People with depression and anxiety are at an increased risk for experiencing mental health crisis, which is “any situation in which a person is not able to resolve the situation with the skills and resources available” (source). Crisis can feel like being so overwhelmed that it seems impossible to accomplish daily tasks, being suicidal, or being out-of-touch with reality, in the case of psychosis. Because UNC students experience depression and anxiety, we need to take care of our own and our friends’ mental health so that we all stay healthy, safe, and out of crisis. This post will help you learn about crisis-planning, which is one tool you can use to keep you and your community safe.

What is a Crisis Plan?

A crisis plan is a plan you create that guides you and the people around you to prevent mental health crisis, and respond to crisis effectively if it happens. Think of a crisis plan as a letter from your calm, reflective self to your future, struggling self, and the people who will support you then. Crisis plans are often documents that include information about what triggers you to feel emotional distress, what helps you feel better, and who to reach out to for support.  Your crisis plan uses your wisdom and knowledge of your own needs to guide your future self through hard times and back to stability.

How do I Make a Crisis Plan?

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“Subway Style Mind Map,” by Sharon Brogan. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Your crisis plan can be as simple or complex as you like, and it can include any information you think would be relevant to your future self and your support people–everything from when your friends should feed your cats to what metal songs you like to cry to.

This is one great crisis plan template you can use.

The Icarus Project, the radical mental health collective, refers to its crisis planning tool, available here, as Mad Maps. The Icarus Project’s mission is to “advance social justice by fostering mutual aid practices that reconnect healing and collective liberation,” so its Mad Maps guide includes questions like “what does oppression feel like to you?”

Crisis plans can also be in the form of:

  • A psychiatric advanced directive, a legal document you can complete that will inform healthcare professionals how to best support you in the event that you are hospitalized for mental health reasons. Advance directives are intended for healthcare providers to read, so they include information like what medications you should and shouldn’t be given, and which of your support people doctors should communicate with about your care.
  • self-care boxes with actual stuff in them that helps you feel better
  • lists of activities you can do to perk up
  • this website , which is an interactive guide to navigating hard times . Bookmark it for exam week!
  • Safety Plan, a crisis plan app (available for free on Android and Iphone) that keeps your personalized crisis plan in your back pocket.

Why Make A Crisis Plan?

Here are some reasons folks create their own crisis plans, if you’re still not convinced.

  • Crisis planning keeps you in control of what happens to you. Crisis can be a time that other folks step in and take control to make sure you’re safe. By documenting your wishes for when you’re in crisis, you can stay both empowered AND safe during hard times.
  • Crisis planning helps you learn more about yourself. The questions you need to ask yourself in the process of developing a crisis plan prompt you to develop a richer understanding of yourself, your mind, and your unique strengths.
  • Crisis planning is tool to communicate with your  support people. Emailing your crisis plan to your friends and family can start (or continue) a conversation about mental illness–a difficult topic–on your own terms. Crisis planning also demonstrates to those around you that you are taking care of yourself, and so it could help your mom worry less about you. (But no promises on that one!)
  • Crisis planning builds more self-reliant communities. Communities with disproportionately high rates of mental health crisis, like LGBTQ  folks, also have too many negative experiences with mental health professionals and histories of oppression in mental health fields. Crisis plans encourage conversation and collaboration about mental health support within marginalized communities, so that when folks from these communities reach out to professionals, they are also grounded in networks of  friends who understand their struggles and can advocate for them.
  • Finally, a crisis plan prepares you for scary times, and that makes them less scary! Knowing that you are ready for the worst times reminds you of your inner strength. A crisis plan serves as a reminder that you always have a path out of even the darkest spots.

If you’d like help planning for–or navigating–crisis, contact the Counseling Center.  If you’re having trouble keeping up with school work because of mental health issues, contact the office of the Dean of Students for support.  If you are  experiencing mental health crisis after-hours, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Textline at 741741.

Anole Halper is a graduate intern with Student Wellness. They are getting a dual Masters in social work and public health. Their research interests include sexual violence prevention and LGBTQ health equity issues.

How to Make Healthy Choices Concerning Alcohol and Other Drugs

Know the Facts
Know the Facts

Enjoying alcohol responsibly can be a healthy part of your college life. When it comes to alcohol and other drugs, the first step in making healthy choices is to understand what you’re putting into your body, what the substance’s effect on your body will be and the potential risks involved. These guides can help you. The second step is to recognize how you personally react to specific substances in various doses. According to the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies at UNC Chapel Hill, most of the harmful effects of alcohol come from drinking too much. For example, it may be important to know that you should avoid tequila because things get out of control when you start taking shots. The third step is to recognize the situations in which you find it difficult to control yourself or in which you make decisions that you later regret. Do you always end up drinking more than you originally planned when you go out with certain friends? Have you not remembered a single Halloween since you started college except through embarrassing Facebook photos the next day?

The following tips may be helpful if you want to pay more attention to your drinking habits.

Before going out. Let your friends know how much you’re planning to drink before you go out. You can watch out for each other and step in before a friend has had too much. This also requires that you count the number of drinks that you have over the course of an evening, which is always a good thing. You count how many tacos you eat at the food truck, don’t you? Speaking from purely anecdotal evidence, people seem to draw the line at 4 tacos in one sitting.

When you’re out. Don’t accept alcohol or other drugs unless you know what’s in it. Are you really going to drink whatever is in that red cup from that sketchy guy that’s been hitting on you all night? If you don’t know what kind of alcohol, how much alcohol, and what else might be in your drink, politely decline and ask for a Zima. That way they’ll know you’re a person of impeccable taste.

Throughout the night. Alternate alcoholic beverages with water. Alcohol causes dehydration because it’s a diuretic and effects the balance of vitamins and minerals in the body. The liver also requires water to process alcohol, leading to further dehydration. Drinking lots of water throughout the night slows down your drinking, gives your body a chance to process the alcohol, and prevents next-day hangovers.

When school gets stressful. Some students may turn to alcohol and other drugs as a way to cope with stress, which may gradually turn into dependence – and that’s a high price to pay for the temporary respite you might gain. If you are concerned about your alcohol or drug habits, check out the Student Wellness website for resources or write us an email to set up a one on one appointment with a trained staff member. We are here to help.

This blog was originally posted on August 31, 2011. It has been edited for clarity. 

Alcoholism. It’s just for after graduation…right?

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“It’s not considered alcoholism until after you graduate,” so the saying goes.  You may have heard these words echoed throughout UNC’s campus before.  In fact, it’s not uncommon for this saying to be heard on any campus in this country.  Someone, somewhere formulated an idea that drinking excessively in college is not only okay, but normal.  However, once you leave college, drinking in abundance no longer becomes okay or normal.  With a degree in hand, you are suddenly an alcoholic.  Here is some word-math to break the saying down:

college student + drinking excessively = not an alcoholic.

college graduate + drinking excessively = you’re an alcoholic.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t necessarily believe this math adds up.  I decided to dig into the research and see what real scientists and doctors have to say about this.

For starters, alcoholism has no age limit.  Alcoholism can affect anyone, at any time.  Of course, alcoholism doesn’t just happen out of the blue.  It takes time.  I’m not talking about the few seconds it takes to walk across the stage to grab your diploma and head off into the sunset, I’m talking months to years.  So how, then, does alcoholism start to brew? (Yes, pun was totally intended.) Well, this time period can be characterized by an “almost alcoholic” stage. Let me explain…

There is a common belief in our society that you are either an alcoholic or not.  You have a problem with alcohol, or you don’t.  Unfortunately, it’s not as clear cut as that.  Two doctors, Doyle & Nowinski, found that there is a spectrum when it comes to drinking behavior.  The spectrum ranges from “Normal Social Drinkers” to “Almost Alcoholics” to “Alcoholics”.

The “Almost Alcoholics” stage is characterized by these traits:

  • You continue drinking the way you always have despite one or more negative consequences. (Like getting an underage drinking ticket, DWI, getting into trouble in the dorms, having a hangover, being sent to the emergency room, etc.)
  • You look forward to drinking. (For example, not drinking all week and anxiously waiting to get drunk on the weekends.)
  • You drink alone and not just socially. (This doesn’t necessarily mean going “ham” by yourself. A lot of different factors come into play here, mainly your reasoning behind drinking alone.)
  • You sometimes drink to control an emotion or physical symptom. (For example, drinking to relieve social shyness, anxiety, stress, boredom, or physical pain.)
  • You and/or your loved ones are suffering as a result of your drinking. (This could include saying or doing things you did not intend to a friend/family member while you were drinking, or a friend having to care for you while you are drunk, etc.)

You may be thinking, what’s the big deal? A lot of college students have some of these qualities associated with being an “almost alcoholic,” and they’re all fine.  I had the exact thoughts.  A lot of people may view it this way too.  It’s because, in the world of college, the “almost alcoholic” stage has been normalized.  It is being replaced with the label: “being a college student.”  No one ever talks about this, because they assume it’s just how young adults behave for a period of time until they graduate college and enter “real life.”  The thing is, real life is always happening.  Whether you are in college or not.

These doctors did not decide to make up the “almost alcoholic” part of the drinking behavior spectrum to crush spirits.  I am pretty sure they are just trying to say, “Hey, sometimes drinking can cause problems, and sometimes if you don’t take a step back to think about these problems, it could turn into a disorder like alcoholism.” And a disorder like alcoholism, is nothing to joke about.

This post is not meant to point fingers, and say, “You are definitely an ‘Almost Alcoholic’, you need to get yourself together.” But it is meant to inform you about the spectrum of drinking behavior, and how part of that spectrum has been normalized in college culture.

If you are looking for more resources on this topic, here are a few:

You can also make an appointment in the BASICS program to talk to an Alcohol and Drug Prevention Specialist about concerns/questions you may have about drinking.  BASICS stands for Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students.  BASICS is completely confidential, and free if you refer yourself.  You can contact basics@unc.edu at any time!

Flashback Friday: How to be social without drinking

This blog post was originally published on September 24, 2015.

Feel like social life revolves around drinking?

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Here are 10 alcohol-free ways to have fun in the Triangle.
(TIP: Always ask about a student discount!)

  1.  Host or attend a game night FREE
  2. Join an intramural sports team FREE
  3. Group outing to the theatre! FREE-$$$
  4. Go ice skating or bowling $$
     
  5. Join a student organization FREE
  6. Check out a local farmer’s market over the weekend FREE
  7. Attend local community events FREE-$$$
  8. Check out student group performances (search category: performance) FREE-$
  9. Learn a new dance/go out dancing (all types of dancing) FREE-$
  10. Watch an outdoor movie or a CUAB movie (seasonal) FREE-$
“Movies Under the Stars” in Downtown Chapel HIll

Or, maybe you want to go to parties and just not drink!

Have you ever been out trying to have some alcohol-free fun, and people won’t stop  bugging you? Here are some ideas of things to say, but they are dependent on your personality type, individual needs, or safety/comfort concerns!

  1. “I’m not drinking tonight, but thank you!”
  2. “I’m good for now, I just had one.”
  3. “I’m taking it easy tonight.”
  4. “I have to wake up early tomorrow/study, etc.”
  5. “I’m driving home tonight.”
  6. “I’m the designated driver tonight.”
  7. “I’m just trying to be a bit healthier right now.”

Not a talker? No worries! There are other ways to ward off peer pressure, again – dependent on your personality type, individual needs, or safety/comfort concerns. For example, some people have suggested holding a drink in their hand and not actually drinking, drinking alcohol-free drinks (like a rum and coke….minus the rum), or attending a party as a sober attendee and playing the games either with water or an alcohol-free drink!

Is alcohol actually bad for your brain?

I’m sure you’ve heard people say something like this before: “Your brain doesn’t stop developing until your mid-twenties, and alcohol can negatively impact your development.” But what does that even mean? Is it just a blanket statement for why alcohol is bad? Is it a scare tactic to keep you from drinking? If you’ve wondered this before, here’s some info about what’s actually going on in your brain when you’re drinking:

  1. The communication between your brain cells slows down. Alcohol is a depressant, which means that it depresses synaptic activity, or the communication happening between neural cells. As a result, your central nervous system and cerebral cortex slow down, which means that you can’t process information from your senses as quickly, and it takes longer to send messages from your brain and spinal cord to the rest of your body. Ever felt like everything was happening in slow motion when you were drinking? This is why.
  2. You get a dopamine rush. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that causes you to feel a sense of pleasure. It gets released as your BAC (blood alcohol concentration) rises. Sometimes people keep drinking once the rush is over so that they can experience it again—unfortunately, this can lead to dangerously high levels of alcohol in your blood (and no additional pleasure).

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    From “Alcohol, Drugs, and Brain Development,” http://www.speaknowcolorado.org
  3. Your frontal lobes are impaired. This is important, because your frontal lobes are basically the CEO of your brain. They monitor what’s going, make plans, and coordinate action—allowing us to solve problems and make decisions. That’s why you might feel like your judgment is seriously different than normal when you’re drinking enough to impair your frontal lobes (Note: This starts happening at a .04 to .05 BAC, which depending on your size and some other factors, could be as few as 1-2 drinks).
  4. Balance and coordination are a struggle. This is because alcohol enters your cerebellum, which normally helps you walk, hold onto things, balance, etc. Your cerebellum generally starts feeling it at a BAC of approximately .07 to .08.
  5. You have to pee—a lot. This is partly because alcohol is a diuretic. It’s also because alcohol impacts your hypothalamus, which regulates a number of bodily urges like thirst, hunger, and yes—the urge to urinate. While the impact on your hypothalamus makes your body temperature and heart rate decrease, it makes your urge to urinate increase.
  6. Your memory is impacted, sometimes to the point of blackout. Your hippocampus, which is the primary structure in your brain that forms memories, is not able to tolerate alcohol as well as other parts of your brain. So, it’s entirely possible that someone can be up walking and talking normally, but have absolutely no memory of what happened. For more info about what happens when you black out, check out BuzzFeed’s 10 Facts about Blacking Out that Actually Make So Much Sense.

Those are some things that can happen any time you drink alcohol. But what about heavy drinking? (Note: Heavy drinking does not (necessarily) = alcoholism/dependence. The NIH defines it as drinking 5 or more standard drinks on one occasion 5 or more times in the past 30 days.) Heavy drinking can result in difficulty with a number of cognitive functions, including the formation of new memories, abstract thinking, problem solving, attention and concentration, and perception of others’ emotions.

The good news? Most of these effects are reversible. People who stop drinking are able to recover these abilities. However, researchers believe that the damage can sometimes be irreversible when individuals are drinking 3 or more drinks per day. The frontal lobes of some heavy drinkers literally shrink as a result of chronic drinking.

If you’re going to drink, the important thing to remember is to try to keep your BAC at a safe level. Here are some risk reduction strategies you can try:

  • Stay hydrated (with water)
  • Eat a (nutritious) meal before you drink
  • Pace yourself—consider avoiding drinking games and shots, which will spike your BAC quickly
  • Keep track of how many standard drinks you’ve had
  • Know what’s in your drink/make your own drink
  • Drink alcohol with a lower percentage of alcohol
  • Get plenty of sleep (i.e., don’t go out after pulling an all-nighter—fatigue has a strong impact on BAC)

Stay tuned for more risk reduction strategies to come!

For more information, see:

Kuhn, C., Swartzwelder, S., & Wilson, W. (2008). Buzzed: The straight facts about the most used and abused drugs from alcohol to ecstasy. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

Available at UNC Libraries!

Kaitlyn B. is the Program Assistant for Resiliency Initiatives at Student Wellness. Read their bio here.

On Trigger Warnings, Intellectual Curiosity, and Self Compassion

Trigger warnings in academia have become a hot topic. The University of Chicago recently released a controversial letter to the Class of 2020 stating that they did not support “so-called ‘trigger warnings’…or the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.” The latter, in theory, makes sense – higher education is supposed to challenge you, to make you question your ideas and open your mind to a variety of perspectives, and the ways in which trigger warnings have been exploding in use lately can inhibit that. But for someone who navigates higher education with a specific set of mental health needs, finding a balance between triggers, intellectual curiosity, and self compassion can be a challenge.

On one hand, the traditional use of trigger warnings are a great tool for those in early stages of recovery from mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. When a person who has experienced trauma gets triggered, symptoms of distress that result can range from physical (such as headaches, fatigue, and difficulty breathing) to emotional (like fear and dramatic mood swings, among others) to psychosocial (for example, difficulty connecting with others or an inability to manage stress). In these cases, a trigger warning can be crucial. It allows the person who has experienced trauma to prepare themselves for what they are going to experience. It gives them the agency to choose whether or not they feel capable at that moment to deal with something that could have serious consequences on their wellbeing. And more often than not, it allows for someone to come back to this potentially triggering content at a time and in a place in which they feel safe and ready to deal with it.

The other side of the argument makes some important points, too. It notes that trigger warnings seem to have been co-opted by those who think they should not have to experience information that they may disagree with or can be uncomfortable at all. Professors have reported students requesting trigger warnings for everything from famine and religious intolerance to spiders. By using trigger warnings to refer to things that can be uncomfortable, but not necessarily retraumatizing, their true meaning and utility is being put at risk. Yes, talking about topics like religious beliefs, race, and gender can be incredibly uncomfortable sometimes, but facing that level of discomfort and engaging with the topic can be rewarding and beneficial. This level of discomfort can be a catalyst to help us think more critically and can hopefully spark intellectual growth, and college is a place where growth and curiosity should be encouraged and explored.

So for people who have experienced trauma, what are some ways in which they can navigate these classroom experiences in a manner that is useful for them? There’s no cut and dry answer for that, since everyone experiences triggers in different ways, but here are a few tips that anyone could use:

  • Talk to your professors. If you see something on the syllabus and are concerned it might trigger you, ask about it. And if you feel comfortable, talk to that professor about what your needs are, whether it’s just additional time to complete a reading for class or the flexibility to step outside during a class session if need be.
  • Seek help on campus. Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is a great resource for students who have experienced stress, anxiety, and trauma. The counseling staff can help you make a plan for how to deal with triggers in and out of the classroom, and are available for drop-ins Monday through Friday during normal business hours..
  • Practice grounding techniques. If you find yourself getting triggered in class, grounding can be a great tool to help minimize anxiety and other symptoms. Try breathing in and out slowly, focusing on the sound of your breathing, the chair you’re sitting in, the ground your feet are on, and other physical sensations to bring down your heart rate and relax your body. There are lots of ways to practice grounding in all sorts of situations, so find the one that works best for you!
  • Give yourself a break. Be gentle with yourself and know your limits. If you don’t feel ready to confront a trigger, you don’t have to. A little self compassion and care can go a long way.