High Risk Alcohol Use

“High risk” or problematic drinking is defined as alcohol consumption that negatively affects an individual’s health or safety.

This includes “binge drinking” or consuming 5 or more drinks in one sitting for males, and 4 or more drinks in one sitting for females. We’ve all heard the term “binge drinking” and have heard that this type of drinking is “bad” or “problematic,” but why?

Well, if you are engaging in binge drinking, you are at risk for a number of negative effects like physical injuries, academic issues, legal concerns, weight gain, alcoholism, and alcohol poisoning, to name a few.

People often think that alcohol poisoning will never happen to them or their friends, but the reality is that an average of 6 people die each day from this. Rather than hoping it won’t happen to you, take the steps to drink safely and know what to do if you suspect someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning.

 Alcohol Poisoning
Warning Signs:

What To Do:

  • Very slow or irregular breathing
  • Weak, very slow, or very fast pulse
  • Person has passed out and cannot be aroused or can only be slightly aroused for a few moments
  • Cold or clammy hands or feet
  • Pale or bluish skin
  • Person is vomiting, urinating, or defecating while sleeping or passed out and is not waking up after doing so



  • Call Public Safety at (619) 260-2222 or 911.
  • It’s better to be safe than sorry! Many people worry that their friend will be mad at them for calling public safety or the police, but if someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning, their life may
    be on the line and that is not something you want to risk!
  • Stay with the person until help arrives.
  • Turn them on their side to prevent choking in the case of vomiting
  • DO NOT try to sober them up by giving them food, water, medication, or coffee as this can increase the chances of vomiting or choking. Also avoid trying to get the person to shower, as this can lead to physical injuries.

Passing out is different than blacking out. Blacking Out vs. Passing Out:

A” black out” is a period of amnesia during which a person is actively engaged in behaviors such as walking and talking, but the brain is unable to form new memories for the events. Research suggests that it is possible for individuals to experience blackouts while appearing only moderately intoxicated to the outside world.

“Blacking out” is a dangerous state as it can lead to risky and unsafe behaviors. If you notice a friend experiencing a black out, keep an eye on them, prevent them from drinking more, and ensure they get home safe.

“Passing Out” is a state in which a person has lost consciousness due to excessive alcohol use and has reached a dangerous level of intoxication in which they could choke on their vomit or slip into a coma.

If you see someone who has passed out, immediately get help by contacting Public Safety at (619) 260-2222. She or he needs medical attention.

Problematic Drinking: Warning Signs of Alcohol Dependence:

  • Drinking is getting in the way of things that should be more
    important (health, family, friends, academics, work, etc.)
  • There are negative effects when the person does drink
    (getting in fights, trouble remembering, doing things they regret, experiencing negative emotions, consequences like conduct violations, injuries, or trouble with the law, or difficulty stopping drinking after starting)


  • Drinking before class or in the morning
  • Developing a tolerance (needing to drink more alcohol to experience the same effects)
  • Drinking alone
  • Frequent hangovers
  • Withdrawal symptoms (sweating, shaking, etc.)
  • Friends or family have expressed concern
  • They have tried to change their drinking but can only keep the promise for a few days or weeks at a time

Find out more about your drinking habits by taking our free, anonymous screening.

Take a mental health screening
How to Help Someone Who May Be Struggling with Alcohol Use or Abuse:

It may be very difficult to talk to a friend or family member that you think may be engaging in problematic drinking behaviors. Here are some tips for having a conversation with someone you are concerned about:

  • Get advice. Consult with a staff member at the Center for Health and Wellness Promotion or another USD Wellness Unit. This is confidential – you don’t have to name names.
  • Talk to your friend when they are sober.
  • Let them know you care and that’s why you are bringing this up. Emphasize your own personal feelings when they drink. Be upfront about the negative effects you’ve noticed.
  • Provide them with resources, such as this website or refer them to the Center for Health and Wellness Promotion or another USD Wellness Unit.
  • Expect denial. Hear them out and let them know you’ll be there for them when they’re ready.
  • Follow up and continue to show care and concern. Celebrate healthy behavior choices and support any challenges the person may experience.
For more information or a consultation:

Student Wellness provides free consultations to students who have concerns about themselves or a friend. The Center for Health and Wellness Promotion can support and guide you in helping yourself or a friend. Helping others and/or asking for help can be stressful and we want you to know that you are NOT alone. Call (619) 260-4618 to set up an appointment or visit University Center Room 161.