Twenty-one is one of the most exciting ages of young adulthood. Turning 21 comes with some exciting changes, such as becoming a legal adult and achieving full independence. With that, of course, 21 is the age to take the first legal alcoholic drink — a big milestone considered by many.
Taking that first legal drink is often depicted in the media as a fun, refreshing experience. However, if you are a first-time drinker, what begins as an exciting “first” can quickly become dangerous if you do not fully understand the consequences of alcohol on your body.
Before you engage in any form of drinking – whether it is a can of beer, a glass of wine, or a shot of vodka – it is important to know and understand the dangers of alcohol and how to engage in safe drinking. While almost everyone in college looks forward to the first legal drink, it is a good idea to carry it out with precaution and safety; thus, I advise you to first drink with a trusted friend or group of friends.
Drinking in college is a choice, and it is important to remember there are some who choose not to drink for religious or personal reasons, health concerns, or out of preference. If you choose to drink, consider these precautionary measures when taking your first legal drink:
Read up on alcohol
Most colleges and universities will require you to take a short alcohol awareness course prior to beginning your first year. Usually, the course covers the various types of alcohols and liquors and provides specific scenarios of what to do when you encounter an uncomfortable environment. If your college or university does not offer anything related to broadening your general knowledge of alcohol, then I advise conducting some research on your own. It is helpful to determine the various categories of alcohol and what they mean; for instance, the difference in alcohol content between a cocktail and a beer. Understanding the basic makeup of each category of alcoholic drink will allow you to know what you are drinking.
Learn about the effects of alcohol on the mind and body
Alcohol affects everyone differently, and it is important to understand the ways in which alcohol can influence the mind and body. I strongly advise learning about the damage alcohol can do to the body, including damage to internal organs and lower cognitive abilities, while also gaining an understanding of how to safely mix drinks. Though not advised, mixing drinks is a popular practice. Still, it poses increased health risks and dangers, so you should always be aware of the consequences of mixing alcoholic drinks.
Know your limits
Body weight, body mass index (BMI), and levels of metabolism can affect your body’s rate of alcohol absorption while the Blood Alcohol Calculator (BAC) estimates blood alcohol levels. The BAC calculates the amount of alcohol needed to change your blood alcohol content, or how much alcohol is in your bloodstream. The BAC takes into consideration your age, gender, weight, time elapsed since your first drink, beverage type, and number consumed. In other words, you will want to calculate your BAC at some point to see how much your body can handle before you begin to feel the effects of alcohol. I also recommend catching up on your family medical histories to learn about your own health risks and wellness standards and how they will be affected by alcohol.
Exchange emergency contact information
One of the best precautions to take before drinking with friends away from home is to share emergency contact information with friends out with you as well as roommates and friends who are elsewhere. Taking the time before you head out to exchange emergency contact information—for example, your parents’ phone numbers—with friends who will be going out with you is important because in cases of emergency, they will need to know who to contact about your health and safety. You should also inform any roommates who are not out with you where you are going, who you are with, and how long you expect to be out. When you tell your roommates, or anyone in your living quarters, where you are located, you are setting up a safeguard for yourself in case they need to reach you or you stay out beyond the intended time. If you are in a new area, then it is advisable to travel using the buddy system, so you are never alone. Also, consider establishing a code word or phrase to get you out of uncomfortable or unwanted situations.
Of course, never drink and drive, and don’t ride in a car where the driver has been drinking. Your first legal drink can be fun and memorable if you take the right safety measures. What are you doing to ensure safe drinking?
Sara Kim graduated with a B.A. in Journalism and a double minor in Health Policy and Management and Asian American Studies from Ithaca College. She currently works as an Event Coordinator at a non-profit. In her free time, she enjoys working out, reading, watching movies, and cooking. Fun fact: as a foodie, she loves to try new foods and travel to new places.