Students are finally back at school after a great summer break. Some are freshman, away from home for the first time. For many students, that means it’s party time, especially during those first few weeks of the semester while the New River Valley weather is still great and classes aren’t totally stressful yet.
Some can’t wait. Others may be feeling hesitant, not sure if the party scene is for them. No matter which of these categories you fall into, here are five questions to ask yourself before the party kicks off:
1. Do I have to party to fit in?
“Everybody in college is drinking,” many students might be thinking.
But, according to a national survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 39% percent of college students ages 18-22 report binge drinking, the kind of drinking usually associated with partying, in the past 30 days. So no. Not everyone in college is partying.
Both NRV college campuses, Virginia Tech and Radford University, have hundreds of student organizations and clubs that students can get involved in. Many of these can provide ways to have fun without partying. So don’t be pressured into drinking, thinking it’s the only way to fit in.
2. Are there risks?
Everyone knows that alcohol impairs judgment and lowers inhibitions. And yes, that’s the idea for most students. But the more someone drinks, the more likely they are to do something they wouldn’t have done otherwise. That makes it easy to see why, according to a report by the National Institute of Health, heavy drinking can lead to some unwanted outcomes:
Each year almost 600,000 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 are unintentionally injured while under the influence of alcohol.
Almost 4.8 million college students drive while under the influence of alcohol each year.
Each year an estimated 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.
Each year an estimated 400,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 have unprotected sex, and more than 100,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex.
According to a study by Kahn, young adults who used alcohol were seven times more likely to have unprotected sex.
And unprotected sex can lead to things like STDs and unplanned pregnancies. In fact, according to a study by Stanford University’s Sexual Health Peer Resource Center, 1 in 4 college students has an STI, and often times, they don’t even know they have it because there may not be noticeable symptoms. So a quarter of the people a student might have sex with while drinking at that party may have an STD, and they probably have no way of knowing which quarter.
So, evaluate the risks, and if you decide to drink, think about how to do it safely. Make a plan before you party. It may help to ask yourself these questions:
3. How much is too much?
If you’re going to drink, consider how you can drink responsibly and avoid drinking excessively. Often times, partying is associated with binge drinking, which, according to the CDC, is defined as men consuming 5 or more drinks and women consuming 4 or more drinks in about 2 hours.
And what exactly what counts as a drink? In the United States, a standard drink is one that contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is found in:
- 12 ounces of beer, which is usually about 5 percent alcohol
- 5 ounces of wine, which is typically about 12 percent alcohol
- 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, which is about 40 percent alcohol
So to avoid some of the risks of binge drinking mentioned above, it’s helpful to track the number of drinks you consume during a given period of time. Decide before you go to limit the number of drinks you consume.
4. Who is going with me?
The statistics we mentioned above about sexual assault are alarming. That’s why, if you decide to go to a party, it’s important to reduce your vulnerability by using the buddy system. Go with a group of friends and plan to look out for each other. Stories like those of Hannah Graham or Morgan Harrington highlight the importance of this. Some ways to do this could include:
Coming up with a code word to use with your girlfriends that you can use to let each other know if you feel like you’re in an unsafe situation. That way you can say or text the code word to each other and help each other get out of those situations.
Watching each other’s backs. Stay together. Avoid isolated areas where you can’t be seen or heard and make sure your friends do the same.
Watching each other’s drinks. If you choose to drink alcohol, keep it with you at all times or leave it with one of the friends you came with while you run to the restroom or hit the dance floor. Don’t let strangers refill your cup.
5. How will I get back?
Everyone has heard “don’t drink and drive.” Since your childhood, you’ve likely seen PSAs on YouTube that detail the devastating consequences of driving under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol can slow a driver’s reaction time, affect concentration, interfere with steering, and impair response to pedestrians and traffic signs and signals.
What you might not realize is that about one-half of all fatal traffic crashes among those aged 18 to 24 involve alcohol.
Don’t become part of that statistic. Students who go to parties should plan before they go how they will get back in a way that doesn’t involve driving:
- Choose a designated driver.
- Take the Blacksburg Transit or the Radford Transit, both of which offer late night routes.
- Call for a Hooptie Ride.
- Use the Uber app on your phone to find a safe ride.
Hopefully asking yourself these five questions will help you evaluate some of the risks of partying and how to make a plan to avoid some of those risks. We at Valley Women’s Clinic want you to have a great and safe school year.
And if you do find yourself in need of our services during any point this school year, know that we are here for you. All of our services are free and confidential.