- IU Health Center
- For information or to schedule an appointment
CAPS offers two free, confidential online assessments to help you determine if you or a friend has a problem with alcohol.
What You Should Know about Alcohol
Blood Alcohol Level (BAL)
A useful way to think about the effects of alcohol involves blood alcohol level, sometimes called blood alcohol concentration. This represents the ratio of alcohol to blood in your system. In Indiana, the legal limit to drive is under 0.08%. This means that .8 of 1 percent of your total blood content is alcohol.
Let's consider some more specific patterns relating to blood alcohol level.
- At a BAL of 0.06 percent, for people without tolerance, judgment is impaired, and people are less able to make rational decisions about activities such as driving. They may misinterpret social cues in their environment with possible troublesome consequences.
- At a BAL of 0.10 percent, there is a clear deterioration of reaction time.
- At a BAL of 0.30 percent, most people lose consciousness. There is a marked depression of the central nervous system and a risk of death.
Setting personal limits on BAL is a good way of forming a healthy relationship with alcohol, if you choose to drink. This will help you avoid legal problems or injuries to yourself or others.
Your Personal BAL and Tolerance
You can get a very rough estimate of your BAL after drinking based on your gender and weight, how fast you have been drinking, and whether or not you have eaten recently. Other factors, including tolerance, will determine your BAL.
Tolerance may seem like a desirable quality. But it has negative effects as well. First of all, you may spend more on alcohol. Estimates indicate that college students spend more than $5.5 billion a year on alcohol. That's more than they spend on soft drinks, milk, juice, tea, coffee, and textbooks combined. If this sounds implausible, track your alcohol purchases for just one month and see.
Tolerance can also lead to organ strain and the development of long-term health problems because of high levels of toxins in the body for extended periods. Men who drink heavily over time can also experience a reduced sex drive.
People with tolerance to alcohol can appear to drink a lot and not be affected. They might be asked to drive, yet have impaired judgment and motor coordination, leading all too often to tragic results.
Tolerance can be reversed after brief periods of abstinence or even by reducing the amount you drink regularly. You may also experience a reduction in tolerance if you move back home between semesters or for the summer.
Differences Between Men and Women
A woman and a man may drink exactly the same amount of alcohol, for exactly the same time period. Yet the woman can have up to a 30% greater BAL. The reason is because women are both smaller and have higher concentrations of body fat.
Oral contraceptives, or birth control pills, can slow down the rate at which alcohol is eliminated from the body. A woman on the pill can expect to feel the sedating effects of alcohol longer than a woman who is not.
The negative health effects of drinking alcohol are greater for women than men. Women who drink are at significantly greater risk for liver damage than are men. As has been noted by researchers at Duke University Medical School, this is true even if they drink less alcohol or for a shorter period of time.
Women who drink are also at greater risk for pancreatic disease and high blood pressure, even if they drink less than men. They may also be more vulnerable to alcohol-induced brain damage.
Men still need to be concerned. National statistics of college students who drink, the majority of whom are men, show:
- 25% report academic problems as a consequence of binge drinking
- 2.1 million students drive under the influence of alcohol
- 1,400 college students die each year from unintentional injuries associated with drinking
- 500,000 students are injured
How to Reduce Your Alcohol Risk
Look around for activities that are fun but do not involve alcohol. If you choose to drink, consider practicing risk reduction:
- Set drinking limits
- Count your drinks and monitor your behavior to see how you act when drinking
- Slow down your pace
- Alternate non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks
- Choose drinks that contain less alcohol
- Eat as you drink
Alcohol and Sexual Assault
As many as 75 percent of men and 55 percent of women who report being sexually assaulted report that they used drugs or alcohol prior to the event. One of the best things you can do to protect yourself is to drink responsibly. And, if you or a friend has been affected by sexual assault, contact the Sexual Assault Crisis Service. It's free and available 24 hours a day.