How to survive student drinking

Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder is caused by exposure to alcohol in pregnancy.
Written by Bontle Motsoeneng

Students and scholars are increasingly facing pressure to drink and be part of the “in crowd”, says the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (Sanca).

As schools and universities get into full swing again, SancaSanca has issued a stern warning that binge drinking could cost students their lives.

“Binge drinking has become a norm at student bashes where alcohol is poured down the throat of friends or friends are dared to drink up. Within a short space of time the permissible limits are exceeded, and this can have a negative impact on your health causing untold havoc to the body,” warns Louina Le Roux, Sanca national co-ordinator,

For 15-year-old Mpho Mofokeng from Bethlehem in the Free State, “December fever” almost cost him his life.

“The day I finished writing exams, my friends and I started drinking alcohol and smoking. We thought that the girls would think we were the cool kids. We kept on drinking almost every day, in big quantities. But one day I started vomiting and feeling dizzy. I locked myself in my room because I was scared my parents would see I was drunk.”

Later, when his mom returned from work she confronted her son. “I called his dad and we decided to take him to the hospital. The nurse ran some tests and found out that there was too much alcohol in his system and that his liver was not functioning well. He did a lot of damage to his body,” said Mpho’s mother, Ntswaki Mofokeng

Le Roux said that alcohol poisoning can have dire consequences, even death, and in Mpho’s case his liver suffered. Added to that people who binge drink are also more likely to engage in other risky behaviour, such as driving while intoxicated or having unprotected sex.

But how many drinks are too many drinks? “This question is often asked. In general “binge drinking” is used to describe consuming several alcoholic drinks in a short period of time. This varies from person to person. In general though five drinks or more in about two hours is considered binge drinking if you are a male. With females four drinks or more is considered binge drinking.”

Le Roux urges scholars and students to not drink with people who encourage binge drinking or look down on you for not drinking, or for not “keeping up” and drinking a lot. “You should be comfortable to drink at your own pace,” she says.

Tips to survive student life and the pressures to drink and fit in:

* Whether you’re heading to a party or out to the bars, always make sure to drink with a group of people you like and trust.

* Create a ‘buddy system’ with at least one of your friends. When you go out with friends, at least one of them should be a person who doesn’t drink very much, and will be willing to watch out for you and to tell you when you’ve had enough. But don’t abuse the “buddy system”. If you’re always that girl/boy, no one will want to go out with you. You should also look out for your friends.

* Know your limits. It doesn’t take long to learn how little or how much alcohol you can tolerate and everybody is unique in its ability to tolerate alcohol. Listen to your body and respond in a way that nurtures it rather than abuses it.

* The first time you drink, you should drink with close friends somewhere safe so that you don’t get socially overwhelmed. This will help you get a sense of what you can and cannot handle.

* You can set your limits very concretely. Your limits could be “four glasses of wine in six hours,” “four beers a night,” or “two mixed drinks a night” (depending on what’s in them). Tell yourself what your limits are before you leave so that you’re more likely to stick to them throughout the night.

* Know how you’re getting home. Never drink and drive. Never get into a car driven by someone else who has had too much to drink. Never get into a car with a stranger if you’re intoxicated.

* Don’t drink if you’re not in a positive frame of mind. Alcohol is a depressant, so if you’re already feeling angry, upset, or just unstable, it is very likely to make you feel worse. Don’t use drinking as a way to deal with your problems. You’ll have to be sober to do that.

* Adapted from SANCA

An edited version of this story was posted on IOL

About the author

Bontle Motsoeneng

Bontle Motsoeneng is an OurHealth Citizen Journalist reporting from the Free State’s Thabo Mofutsanyane Health District.

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