Staying Safe

Reducing Your Risk

Stay within low-risk drinking limits. If you need to cut down, see Tips to try.

Taking steps toward safety if you or a friend chooses to drink:

  • Pace yourself. Sip slowly so that you have no more than one standard drink with alcohol per hour. Have “drink spacers”—make every other drink a non-alcoholic one, such as water, soda, or juice. Note that it takes about 2 hours for the adult body to completely break down a single drink.
    Take precautions. Have a designated driver or take a cab. Get consent and use protection for sex. Don’t use machinery, walk in a dangerous area, swim, or drive a boat during or after drinking. Don’t drink if you’re pregnant or could become pregnant. You get the idea: Be safe.
  • Avoid drinking situations: Go to places where alcohol isn’t served, like the movies or the beach. If you drink because you are bored or stressed, a walk or playing a sport that you enjoy may help.
  • Stay with Friends: Stay in the company of trusted friends. That way, you can help each other if something goes wrong.
  • Stay hydrated (non-alcoholic): For every alcoholic drink you have, your body can expel up to four times as much liquid. The diuretic effect of alcohol and the dehydration it causes contribute to the discomfort of a hangover. Drink at least 8 ounces of water for every alcoholic drink, and pace yourself. Taking your time with a drink pays off. Your body absorbs alcohol quicker than you metabolize it. The faster you drink, the more time the toxins in alcohol spend in your body affecting your brain and other tissues. Water is the best for hydration, followed by fruit juices, and soda is the last resort. Start the day (night) with water and end with water, to stay hydrated and reduce negative impacts of alcohol consumption on your system.

For some, staying within low-risk limits will be sufficient, but for others, it’s best to quit. If you’re interested in quitting, find support here.

Medical Amnesty

Medical Amnesty can be found within the Alcohol Policy.

The health and safety of students is our priority. UNC is committed to upholding Medical Amnesty and providing support, resources, and interventions. The purpose of Medical Amnesty is to remove barriers to seeking needed treatment or making a report to law enforcement or University officials for fear of being subject to disciplinary action for an alcohol violation.

Alcohol Poisoning

  • Alcohol depresses the central nervous system, which controls the gag reflex and slows breathing; alcohol poisoning occurs when too much alcohol is consumed too fast, and it can cause death if breathing stops altogether or a compromised gag reflex leads a person to choke on their vomit.
  • Signs of Alcohol Poisoning:
    • Vomiting while passed out: people may vomit after drinking too much, as a way for the body to rid itself of alcohol BEFORE reaching dangerous blood alcohol levels. But, if a person is vomiting AND they are passed out or are struggling to stay awake at the time they are vomiting, this is a clear sign of alcohol poisoning.
    • Unresponsive (cannot be roused): a person who cannot be awakened, even with pinching and shaking, may be in serious danger. Call for help immediately!
    • Shallow or Slow Breathing: typically, a person whose breathing is very shallow and slow will also be difficult to rouse or wake up. This is a sign that the person’s respiratory system is depressed and they may not be getting enough oxygen to the brain and are in danger of choking on their vomit.
    • Cold, clammy, or blue toned skin: blue skin indicates a severe lack of oxygen and must be addressed immediately to save the person’s life. If a person’s skin is not blue, the person may still need medical attention. For darker complexions or people of persons of color, this color change will likely be most visible in their nail beds or inside their lips.  If they have cold and clammy skin combined with any other symptom (like unresponsiveness or slow breathing), call for help immediately.
  • Here’s some more critical signs and symptoms to watch out for:
    • Mental confusion, stupor, coma, or inability to wake up
    • Vomiting
    • Seizures
    • Slow breathing (fewer than 8 breaths per minute or more than 10 seconds between breaths)
    • Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)
    • Hypothermia (low body temperature), bluish skin color, paleness
  • If you think someone may have alcohol poisoning, CALL 911 immediately.


For more information on alcohol abuse and dependence check out the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Check out Rethinking Drinking or College Drinking Prevention for more info on high risk drinking, including self-assessments and strategies to cut down.

Learn more about how to talk to others about alcohol at: Talk it Out NC

Blood Alcohol Content

What is BAC?

  • BAC means Blood Alcohol Content, and it is a measurement of the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream at a given time. BAC is the measurement or the ratio of alcohol to overall fluid volume. Many of you may have heard BAC in reference to DUI laws, which prohibit driving with a BAC of 0.08 or higher in North Carolina. BAC is also a useful tool to gauge your level of intoxication. Your BAC continues to rise for approximately 30 minutes after your last drink.
  • When your BAC is low and rising, you tend to feel happy, excited, and confident. As your BAC gets higher, the depressant effects of alcohol kick in. At first, you start to feel uncoordinated, and maybe a little tired. At that point, people will often try to have another drink to get the good feelings back, but as your BAC gets higher and higher, you don’t get any more social benefits without also getting sloppy. This is called the bi-phasic response to alcohol.

What factors influence BAC?

  • Body weight: the more you weigh, the lower your BAC. BAC is a measurement of alcohol to body fluid, so two people who weigh the same but have different builds will have different BACs. 
  • Sex: males and females have biological differences that allow males to more efficiently process alcohol. This means a male and a female of the same body weight could drink exactly the same amount of alcohol in the same amount of time and the male will have a lower BAC.
  • Number of drinks: The more you drink, the higher your BAC.
  • The speed with which you are drinking: 5 shots in 1 hour will cause a much higher BAC than 5 drinks over 5 hours. Know the standard drink sizes!
  • Eating: If you have eaten recently and there is still food in your stomach, the movement of alcohol from the stomach into the small intestine is delayed. Therefore, the absorption of alcohol will be slower than if you are drinking on an empty stomach.

BAC Calculator(s)

  • How much alcohol is really in your drink? How many calories? What’s the cost to you per week, month, or year? Find out here.
  • Are you in the “buzz zone”? Wanna know your typical BAC? Use this calculator. We call 0.06 and below the “buzz zone” because you get the maximum social benefits with the least amount of impairment, which is why we like to call this the “buzz zone.”

How to “Sober Up”

  • Many myths are out there about how to sober up after consuming alcohol. Among the most common myths are consuming caffeine, taking a cold shower, throwing up, and sleeping.
  • In reality, the only way to become sober, is to let time pass, so your body metabolizes the alcohol.
  • Your body mostly processes alcohol (or metabolizes it) through your liver and, to a lesser extent, in your stomach lining. About 10% is not oxidized in the liver, but leaves your body through sweat, breath, or urine.
  • Throwing up or drinking coffee or eating, simply changes what is in your stomach, and has the potential to shock your system into believing its feeling better, as they fight the depressive effects of alcohol. In reality, none of these things change the chemical composition of your blood, which is where the alcohol is.
  • On average, your body metabolizes alcohol at a rate of 0.016% per hour (after you finish drinking). So, if your BAC is 0.08%, it will take 5 hours for your BAC to return to 0.0%.  
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