Last reviewed: 08/01/2023

Alcohol is a traditionally legal drug that depresses the nervous system, coordination, and a person’s ability to react quickly. Most Columbia students are smart, safe, and responsible and choose to consume alcohol is in a lower-risk manner by engaging in protective behaviors, including not drinking.

Good to Know

As part of the larger Responsible Community @ Columbia (RC@C) initiative, during student orientation all new students take part in R.O.A.R. @ Columbia: Responsible. Optimal. Authentic. Resilient. (ROAR) discussions and other activities. Facilitated by Orientation Leaders, these sessions allow for an honest dialogue about alcohol and other drugs while establishing social norms and supporting a community of smart, safe, and responsible decision-making.

The session aims to:

  • Challenge students’ misperceptions about alcohol and other drugs
  • Focus the conversation on lower-risk behaviors
  • Describe the impact that drinking has on the broader community
  • Provide life-skills training
  • Discuss how negative consequences are avoidable

Responsible Community @ Columbia also provides alcohol and other drug-related information, resources, and support year-round to all students. Student groups may request a RC@C related workshop, Responsible Event Host training, and resident assistants can apply for RC@C Mini-Grants.

Interested in facilitating ROAR? Visit the Orientation Leadership page to learn how.

If you choose to drink, try these strategies to lower your risk:

  • Space your drinks to one or fewer per hour.
  • Eat before you start drinking.
  • Alternate alcoholic with nonalcoholic beverages.
  • Limit your number of drinks on an occasion to less than 5 for men and 4 for women*.
  • Drink an alcohol look-alike, juice, or water.
  • Stop drinking two hours before leaving an event.
  • Limit the amount of money you bring along to reduce your number of drinks.
  • Stay with the same group of friends the entire time you are drinking.
  • Avoid drinking games and taking shots.
  • Determine in advance not to exceed a set number of drinks.
  • Pay attention to how intoxicated you are before having another drink.
  • Make sure you never leave your drink unattended, and if you leave a drink somewhere, just get a new one.
  • Only accept drinks from people you know or if you can see them pouring the drink.

*Please note - We recognize and appreciate that not all individuals identify within these binary constructs. Existing research is based on physiological variables specific to the individual's biological sex and not related to your gender identity or expression.

Once alcohol is consumed, it is quickly absorbed into the blood stream. Blood alcohol content (BAC) is the measure of the amount of alcohol in the blood stream, and it is expressed as units of mass of alcohol per volume of blood. For example, a BAC blood alcohol content of 0.10 means that there is one part alcohol for every 1,000 parts of blood.

Blood alcohol content can be impacted by a number of factors including:

  • Sex assigned at birth
  • Body weight
  • Type of alcohol
  • Full/empty stomach
  • Speed of consumption
  • Time spent drinking
  • Use of medication or other drugs

The more a person drinks, the more their BAC level rises. As BAC increases, so do the health risks.

For example, a BAC of the following may result in:

  • 0.05 = feelings of warmth and relaxation, intensified emotions, lowered inhibitions
  • 0.08 = impairment of speech, balance, vision, and reaction time; illegal to drive at this level
  • 0.12 = vomiting, motor skills are impaired, increased aggression

Alcohol, when consumed at high rates, depresses the nervous system and affects the ability to breathe or engage the gag reflex that can prevent choking. High levels of alcohol can completely stop these functions. Even after someone stops drinking, alcohol is in their system and can be fatal. If you see someone experiencing the following symptoms, their lives are at serious risk and help is needed immediately:

  • Mental confusion
  • Semi-consciousness, unconsciousness, or cannot be awakened
  • Cold, clammy, pale, or bluish skin
  • Slowed breathing (fewer than eight breaths per minute)
  • Irregular breathing (ten seconds or more between breaths)
  • Vomiting while "sleeping" or passed out, and not waking up after vomiting

If a person has any of the above symptoms, they are most likely experiencing acute alcohol intoxication. Call for help immediately:

  • Call 212-854-5555 if on- or near campus or 911 if off-campus.
  • Do not leave the person alone.
  • If laying down, turn the person on their side to prevent choking in case of vomiting.

It is always better to be safe than sorry: How can someone be angry at you about caring for them? 

Research shows that the use of alcohol is associated with 50 to 72 percent of all campus sexual assaults (e.g., Abbey 2002, Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study, 2001). Alcohol does not cause sexual assault, but rather, is used to facilitate sexual violence. Research shows that many perpetrators of sexual violence use alcohol as a weapon to facilitate sexual violence (Kanin, 1985). This means that some perpetrators of sexual violence get another person drunk or high to impair their judgment or cause them to black out in order to engage in sex. Getting someone drunk or stoned in order to have sex with them is considered sexual assault.

Bystanders play an critical role in intervening in these instances. If you see someone who is getting drunk and another person is supplying them with more alcohol while attempting to become physically intimate with them (i.e., kissing, groping), you can step up to see if you can intervene in the situation.

For more information about bystander intervention, visit Step Up! Bystander Intervention. Additionally, if you are ever in a situation where you are with someone who has been drinking alcohol, it is best to wait to have sex until everyone is sober to ask for or give consent.

For more information on Columbia’s definition of sexual assault and consent, visit the Sexual Respect website.

Members of the Columbia community take care of each another. How can you help to make Columbia smarter, safer, and more responsible?

  • Watch for cues that indicate someone may be drinking too much.
  • Recognize the factors that will impact BAC.
  • Pay attention to how much alcohol the people around you drink.
  • Remember that alcohol use has an impact on the broader community.
  • Intervene early to help people stop or slow down and avoid problems.
  • When having social events that include alcohol, offer choices other than drinking: food, nonalcoholic beverages, and activities.
  • Set an example by consuming alcoholic beverages responsibly or not at all.
  • Discourage the misuse of alcohol, such as competitive drinking.
  • Get help when a situation is beyond your control or someone needs medical attention. If On or near campus, call Columbia Emergency Medical Service at 212-854-5555; if off campus, call 911.

Want more information? Request a CU Step UP! bystander intervention training for your student group or floor.

Take this short, anonymous, alcohol use self-assessment to understand more about your use of alcohol.

Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students (BASICS) is designed to assist a person in examining their drinking, or other drug-use, behavior in a judgment-free environment. It is not an abstinence-only program. Rather, BASICS lets you select your goals and aims to reduce higher-risk behaviors and potential harmful consequences. Services provided through the BASICS program are non-judgmental, non-labeling, and confidential.

The Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization offers the 12 step program for Adult Children of Alcoholics via peer-run meetings. Groups offered in person, on the phone or online.

The term “adult child” is used to describe adults who grew up in alcoholic or dysfunctional homes and who exhibit identifiable traits that reveal past abuse or neglect.


To comply with federal, state, and city laws, and to promote the health and well-being of its community, Columbia has enacted policies on the use of alcohol and other drugs.

Columbia Health follows the guidelines and policies on alcohol and other drug use set forth in Essential Policies. Please also take note of information found in Columbia Housing’s Guide to Living and the Responsible Community Action Policy, along with the laws and policies regarding hazing.



Guidelines and policies may vary by school, so check with your school for more information.

Have questions or want to learn more? Visit the Go Ask Alice! Alcohol archives.

Additionally, Alice! Health Promotion can facilitate alcohol workshops and Responsible Event Host trainings for your student group or residence hall floor.