When it comes to drinking alcohol, the key is doing so only in moderation. The current USDA and NIAAA Guidelines recommend that if you choose to drink alcohol you drink:

  • no more than14 drinks a week for men and 7 drinks a week for women with no more than 4 drinks on any given day for men and 3 drinks a day for women (NIAAA, 2009).

College students drink alcohol in a variety of ways which do and do not align with these guidelines. Read on for information about high risk and protective drinking practices at UC Berkeley.

High Risk Drinking Practices

High risk drinking is the use of alcohol in ways in which the health, well-being, or safety of the individual drinking or others is at risk or when community standards are compromised. High risk drinking practices are generally related to drinking too much, too fast, too strong, and too often without adequate self or other-regulation.

High risk drinking includes:

  • Chugging
  • Drinking games
  • Doing shots
  • Drinking anything out of a punch bowl, trough, hose or funnel
  • Drinking to get drunk (intoxicated)
  • Driving after drinking or riding with someone under the influence
  • Drinking too much or too fast on an empty stomach
  • Going to parties where people drink too much
  • Not knowing what is in your glass or leaving it unattended
  • Mixing alcohol with any medications or illegal drugs

The most common drinkning-related risk behaviors in which UC Berkeley first year students engage in are doing shots (40%) and pre-gaming (27%).

consumption how

Doing Shots of Hard Liquor

In a recent study of college students, participants who experienced negative alcohol-related consequences often mentioned that they consumed hard liquor in the forms of shots (Usdan, 2008).


"Pre-gaming" is the practice of drinking in a private setting for an average of 30-60 minutes prior to attending an organized event or social activity. While most college students don't pre-game, among drinkers it has become an integral part of the drinking experience and is a riskier drinking experience. Analysis of data from national AlcoholEdu surveys (N=2,958 from 67 colleges) had the following key findings:

  • Students consume much more alcohol when they are pregaming (3.32 drinks) than when they are drinking at any other time (2.03 drinks).
  • Pregaming has a predictive relationship with a variety of negative consequences and outcomes, e.g. more negative drinking-related consequences, increased tolerance for negative drinking behavior, increased heavy & problemmatic drinking.
  • Most pregaming occurs in small groups in secluded contexts - particularly residences.
  • Students overestimate the frequency and the amount consumed during pregaming by other students.
  • Pregaming is often used as a social lubricant or to avoid the expense of drinking at other venues.
  • Women and men pregame for different reasons. Top reasons for men: make it easier to hook up; make it easier to talk to a person I might be attracted to; to get drunk before I go to the event. Top reasons for women: to get a buzz before I go to the event; to feel more comfortable when I go to the event; to drink in a safer environment.

Mixing Alcohol and Energy Drinks

Another high risk practice is mixing alcohol with energy drinks. Energy drinks are beverages that contain caffeine, other plant-based stimulants, simple sugars, and other additives. When mixed with energy drinks, alcohol's depressant qualities are masked by the caffeine and the "drunk" feeling is delayed leading the user to consume even more alcohol.

  • From 2002 to 2008 the sales of Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages - premixed drinks combining alcohol, caffeine, and other stimulants - increased by sixty-seven times in the United States to 22,905,000 gallons.
  • Those who mix energy drinks and alcohol are three times more likely to binge drink, than those who do not mix.
  • Those who mix energy drinks and alcohol are twice as likely to take advantage of someone sexually, or report being taken advantage of sexually, than those who do not mix.

Protective Drinking Practices

Most college student drinkers - heavy, moderate, and light - do not experience problems as a result of their drinking. In one study 70-90% of students who drank in the past thirty days did not experience any alcohol-related problems, depending on the consequence (Wechsler, 2002). A possible explanation for why drinkers - both heavy and light - might avoid negative consequences is related to whether they use protective practices or behaviors.

Protective practices are specific behaviors individuals engage in consistently when drinking such as:

  • Setting limits: Determine, in advance, not to exceed a set number of drinks; keep track of number of drinks; think about my blood alcohol level and effects; have a friend let me know if I've had enough
  • Pacing drinks: One or fewer drinks per hour; drink slowly, rather than gulp or chug; avoid drinking games or trying to keep up with others
  • Diluting beverages: Choose low-alcohol beverages; alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages; drink water at the same time; put extra ice in drink
  • Social precautions: Walk home with friends; watch drinks being made; know where drink has been at all times.

A growing body of literature suggests that protective practices play an important role by either exerting positive effects opposite of risk practices or by buffering the negative effects of risk practices. Students who rarely engage in protective practices have been shown to be four times as likely to experience negative alcohol-related consequences relative to students who usually engage in protect behaviors when drinking (Martens, 2004).

The more students perceived other students engaged in protective behaviors, the more likely they were to engage in these behaviors themselves (Benton et al, 2008). However, it still seems that when compared to high risk practices, protective practices remain weaker predictors of the outcomes (Ostaszewski, 2006).

The following chart shows students reported use of protective drinking practices at UC Berkeley and nationally.

Protective Drinking Practices


First Year Students
(drinkers only - AlcoholEdu, 2010)

All Undergraduate Students(ACHA, 2012)

UC Berkeley
UC Berkeley
Eat before and/or during drinking
Set limit
Count drinks
Pace to 1 or fewer drinks per hour
Alternate non-alcoholic & alcoholic drinks
Avoid drinking games
Have friend let know when had enough
Make plans to avoid driving under the influence

Drinking Home

Last revised: July 2013

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