Tolerance: Know your limits

The Fall term on a college campus offers so many memorable and traditional events. From Homecoming to fraternity/sorority recruitment to welcoming new students to campus – Fall seems to have a certain nostalgia associated with it.

When I think of the Fall term I’m reminded of two alcohol/other drug related aspects. Students may find they’ve built up a tolerance over this semester. Tolerance simply means it takes more of a substance to get the same effect than before. Some students report that, when they return home over the holidays or drink outside of their normal college environment, that it may take a few more drinks to get that same buzz.

While building up a tolerance is a normal experience with alcohol or any drug, students should keep in mind that the body is ingesting and processing more of the substance at the same rate – meaning, with a built up tolerance, the effects of alcohol and other drugs become increasingly difficult to gage. For example, if an individual who used to consume 4 beers now consumes a 6-pack of beer over 4 hours, to get the same buzz they used to at 4, the body typically needs an additional 2 hours to process the entire amount consumed. The effects from the extra 2 beers over the same amount of time may not be felt in terms of a buzz or high, but can have other consequences in terms of the body – digestion, liver, kidney, motor, and brain functions. This is when individuals often tend to experience decreased motor function (tripping while walking, dropping things, etc.) and/or cognitive deficits (judgment is effected, common sense decisions become more difficult, loss of inhibitions, etc.) These are often overlooked consequences as students begin to build up a tolerance.

It’s important to be aware of your own tolerance. Here are some strategies to keep in mind while drinking:

  • Alternate water for each drink consumed
  • Keep count of how many drinks you’ve had
    (Remember that shots and mixed drinks can vary in amount of liquor and/or strength of alcohol, making it more difficult to gage)
  • Pace your drinking throughout the night – consider the event a “marathon” not a “sprint”

You should know your own limits. Because everyone’s body handles alcohol differently, watching others is not a gauge to determine your drinking level. If you drink alcohol, learn to listen to your body to stay safe and have the best experience.

Bobby Gordon is an award-winning advocate for alcohol/other drug education, research, and prevention. In his nearly 20 year career, Bobby has partnered with communities, federal agencies, professional organizations, and local and state law enforcement to develop, create, advise, and assess a variety alcohol/other drug prevention programs. Learn more about Bobby at