Not Drinking or Getting High? No problem.

Pretty much every movie about college plays on the stereotypical party scenes. Do those kinds of parties happen sometimes? Sure. But the vast majority of college students choose not to drink or be high most of the time.

Don’t believe us? Here are some selected stats from UNC’s National College Health Assessment. This is a survey done by campuses throughout the country to learn about health trends. These numbers are from UNC only.

38% of students report NO use of alcohol in the past two weeks.

89% of students report no use of marijuana in the past two weeks.

96% of students report no use of other drugs in the past 3 months.

Whoa.

But numbers are numbers. Experiences matter too – and in my experience (I got my undergrad degree at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, a top party school then and now), I knew no person who was drunk or high all the time. We all were sober at least sometimes – some of us more than others.

Here’s what I learned:

1. Own your choices (and it’s ok to keep a drink in your hand).

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Most advice on staying sober at parties begins with how to hide that you are sober. “Keep a drink in your hand,” or “drink club soda with a twist and say it’s a vodka tonic,” are advice often given to those who aren’t drinking. Adhering to these suggestions lets you exist among less-than-discerning drunks without them noticing your lack of intoxication. But it also facilitates the false narrative that everyone is drinking – and the only way to have fun is to drink.

Pretending to drink can be an easier entry into the world of partying sober, so if you are feeling uncomfortable without something in your hand, by all means, get yourself a non-alcoholic beverage.

But, if the folks you’re hanging out with are uncomfortable with you being sober, that’s on them. Show the world that you can still have fun sober! Talk about why you are making the decision – whether it’s for tonight or forever.  “I’m training for a marathon,” “I don’t like losing control,” “I find that I enjoy myself more when I’m sober,” “I am in recovery,” or “I just don’t drink/use” –  whatever your reason is, own it. There’s no shame in that choice – again, EVERYONE chooses to be sober sometimes.

2. Find your people.

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My friends are the kind of people who (regardless of sobriety) wear costumes, storm empty dance floors and sing while biking home. I have self-conscious friends too, but I always gravitated towards those folks who could be publicly silly. Those are my kind of people – who are yours?

I promise there are people at UNC who have ideas similar to yours about what makes for fun and connection. Notice the students who don’t participate in the all-night beer pong or those who avoid getting high – befriend them. Make some friends through mutual interests like sports or student orgs. People dedicated to training or pursuing an interest likely have less interest in partying.

3. Have fun!

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Some of my favorite memories of partying from college came from the anticipation of a party – hanging out in our dorm room, getting dressed, listening to music, and eating dinner together. Get excited for going out even when you’re not using drugs and alcohol. And once you’re at the party, enjoy yourself! The parties I went to sober often included plenty of folks who were not sober, which meant that the main thing holding me back from being my outgoing, silly self was me. I soon realized I could be sober and have a great time. Really.

4. Do things besides party.

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When I do party, I usually play games or dance. Standing around and chatting never held much interest for me. So finding fun ways to interact while sober came naturally to me. Here are some things I did in college besides party:

  • Concerts. I saw some great bands live – many for free! – while in college.
  • Break bread. Eating together is the ultimate community-builder. Host a potluck or visit a favorite local restaurant.
  • Enjoy a live sports game. My friends and I became the loud fans at every home volleyball game. By the end of my time as an undergrad, we knew most of the players and had spent hours of enjoyment cheering on our team (and gently heckling the other teams). We liked volleyball because one voice could be heard throughout the gym – but any sport will do. UNC has an amazing men’s basketball team (duh) AND loads of other amazing D1 and club sports teams who would love for you to become their biggest fans.
  • Play!  I had friends who kept a running tally of their card game scores on the walls in their dining room. We loved playing games together – intramural and pickup sports, board games, cards, charades, sardines (it’s like reverse hide and seek! And super fun to play in public spaces). Create or find opportunities for the activities you find fun without substances and encourage others to do them with you!
  • Host parties that revolve around doing something besides drinking or getting high. Schedule a mystery night, plan party games that require skill and critical thinking, show movies, run a book club, hold a cooking competition, etc. When people are focused on an actual activity rather than simply gathering, there is often a lot less pressure to drink and a lot more pressure to stay focused on the tasks at hand.

Remember, we all came to college with a goal in mind. Keep your eyes on the prize!  For more information around alcohol decisions visit alcohol.unc.edu.

If alcohol and drugs are getting in the way of your goals, you can always connect with Student Wellness to talk about strategies to reduce your risk.

And y’all are our best resource. If you have other ideas to share with UNC students on this topic – send ’em our way!

This article was written by Sara Stahlman, Marketing and Communication Coordinator for UNC Campus Health Services. 

New Safety Warnings Regarding Vaping

VapeAs of October 8, 2019, there have been 1299 confirmed cases of vaping-related pulmonary impairment and 26 reported deaths in the United States. Two-thirds of cases are between the ages of 18-34 years old. The exact cause of these illnesses is unknown and still under investigation.

The CDC currently recommends to avoid vaping any substances. Additionally, do NOT purchase vaping products off the streets as formulations may have been altered.

Interested in quitting? Follow these steps:

Set A Quit Date

✅  Make sure it’s realistic. Give yourself time to prepare. You must be physically and mentally ready. Set yourself up for success by establishing a goal and determining WHY quitting is important to you.

Learn Your Triggers/Resist Temptations

✅ This may consist of feelings, people, situations, etc. that tempt you to vape. Attempt to avoid until temptations have disappeared. This may include modifying your normal routine. If avoiding is not an option, prepare for handling triggers. Prepare for cravings and withdrawal.

Make The Mental Shift

✅ Think positive. Imagine your future healthy life without vaping. Make a list of all the benefits you will receive from quitting. It may take time to get used to your new life-style, but will soon become your new normal.

Surround Yourself With Supportive People

  1. Tell your friends and family. They are on your side!
  2. Make an appointment at Campus Health with one of our providers.
  3. Call QuitlineNC – telephone service is 24/7 at 1-800-QUIT-NOW or register online
  4. Access the QuitlineNC WebCoach available 24 hours a day online
  5. Text DITCHJUUL to 88709 to get support from Truth Initiative experts. This program has helped 800,000 people quit their vaping habits.

 

Details from this article were collected from the CDC website.

https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2019/s-1010-vaping-injury-update.html Published Oct. 10, 2019.

Written by Sarah Garfinkle, PharmD Candidate in the Eschelman School of Pharmacy

 

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!

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.