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Safer Drinking

In a study that polled 247 college undergrads, researchers Dawn Sugarman and Kate Carey of Syracuse University examined which strategies were most likely to reduce harm if students did drink alcohol. From their article in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behavior:

If the intervention goal is to reduce alcohol consumption, encouraging the use of strategies that selectively avoid heavy drinking situations or provide alternatives to drinking may be most beneficial. … However, if the intervention goal is to decrease the negative consequences associated with alcohol use, it is possible that strategies used while drinking may be beneficial, consistent with the findings of Delva et al. (2004) and Martens et al. (2004).

Things like learning to be in social settings without alcohol and learning other stress reduction strategies–certainly essential to know–were helpful in boosting alternatives to drinking, but not as effective at reducing harm while drinking.

Methods that most often successfully used while drinking in order to limit negative consequences included (from Table 1 of their article): Eating before and during drinking, drinking slowly, awareness of internal body sensations that indicate you are getting drunk, limiting cash and avoiding carrying credit cards or ATM cards before going out, drinking light beer, doing activities while drinking to space out drinks (e.g., dancing, playing pool), keeping track of the number of drinks and spacing them over time, and drinking only on certain days of the week. Choosing not to “funnel, shotgun beers, or do keg stands” was also on the list but less popular.

Building on research of this kind, the HAMS (Harm Reduction Abstinence Moderation) Network has come up with a great list with some of the same tips and even more ways to reduce related harms (like always carrying condoms, having designated drivers, and never taking drinks from strangers). Their short list:

· Eat First
· Be Well Hydrated
· Plan Your Transportation
· Travel In Pairs
· Schedule Your Drinking
· Carry Condoms
· Choose Your Drink
· Alternate Drinks
· Don’t Let Strangers Pour Your Drinks
· Don’t Drink Your Age
· Coffee Won’t Sober You Up
· Drinking At Home
· Take Your Vitamins
· Get Support
· Maturing Out
· If All Else Fails–Substitute

Many of these are common sense as well as validated by research. HAMS also provides details about things you might not know, like vitamin depletion. Check out the full story: College Students’ Guide to Safe Drinking.

I’m not encouraging you to drink, especially if you’re underage. But by acknowledging that it does happen and there are ways to make it safer, everyone benefits.

The relationship between drinking control strategies and college student alcohol use, Sugarman and Carey, Psychology of Addictive Behavior, 2007 Sep;(3):338-45 [paywall]

College Students’ Guide to Safe Drinking, copyright 2008, The HAMS Harm Reduction Network, Inc.

Safer Drinking

Sandra Kiume

Sandra Kiume is a mental health advocate. Along with contributing to World of Psychology, she blogs at Channel N about brain and behaviour videos, and is the founder of @unsuicide and Online Suicide Help. She lives in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

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APA Reference
Kiume, S. (2018). Safer Drinking. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 17 Jun 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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