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Insider Tips Hold Key to Fun, Healthy Drinking

Guest column by Michael Behr

I celebrated my 21st birthday this Thursday, which means that legally I am now allowed to drink. That's not to say I didn't drink before Thursday. One of the things all you freshman will discover at 12:01 a.m. Saturday morning is that if you want alcohol in college, it's incredibly easy to get.

Wednesday, at Louisiana State University, a Sigma Alpha Epsilon pledge died from alcohol poisoning, and a few brothers were hospitalized. See how easy it can be?

In this column, I'm not going to tell you how bad alcohol is or why you shouldn't drink. (People who know me would fall over laughing if I did.) Actually, I think you should try alcohol sometime during your college years, legally or not. College is for learning more than you're taught in the classroom.

Learning to handle alcohol is something that you're going to have to do eventually unless you run off to the woods and live as a hermit for the rest of your life. It's best to learn these little life lessons in a relatively safe environment, and MIT is a heck of a lot safer than that big scary world out there. Just remember to exercise at least a bit of common sense.

MIT people sometimes have a tough time with common sense, so here are a few tips you might want to keep in mind.

Eat something: Everyone has heard this one. If you're planning to drink, have some bread or fatty food in your stomach before you start drinking. It slows the spread of alcohol to your system. Eating afterwards is pointless at best, and at worst will upset your stomach.

If you want to make the next morning easier, drink some water before you go to sleep. Hangovers are mostly dehydration caused by alcohol. If you see someone vomiting, let them vomit until they stop dry heaving. Forcing water or bread down their throat in between heaves will just give them something to bring up. Once they've stopped, have them sip water, or let them suck on ice cubes for a while. And if they start turning blue, or feel cold to the touch, get them to the Medical Center as soon as possible.

Know when to say when: The only times I've ever seen people get into real trouble from drinking were when students who only started drinking after 21 went drinking with friends who had been drinking for years. The situation often runs like this: A couple of friends have a few drinks, maybe do a couple shots together. Do you see where this is going? Like most people, they recognize differences in alcohol tolerance in the abstract, but when it comes to themselves in the specific, they seem to have trouble. You really do have limits.

Take your time: Remember that it takes a while for alcohol to take effect. If you feel a little buzzed right after a drink, you'll probably feel a lot buzzed five minutes later. Try to remember that as you put your glass down for a refill. You can drink a lot without feeling the effect, and then all of a sudden it hits you.

Get up and walk around: When you're sitting around drinking, you often don't realize just how far gone you really are. Get up and walk around every so often. Drinking and dancing is a lot of fun, and it serves the same purpose. On the other hand, if you've been drinking, and you can't stand up, it's time to wish everyone good night.

People act weird: As the LSU student discovered, you can drink yourself to death, and many people know firsthand that you can also make yourself very ill. But alcohol can also change people's behavior - both your own and others'.

Some people are happy drunks: a little bit of alcohol, and suddenly they collapse in fits of giggling. Others become angry, and will try to pick fights with anyone and anything that moves, even if they're the sweetest, kindest people otherwise. After drinking, many ordinarily reserved people throw themselves at prospective bedtime partners. Actually, a lot of the time they drink in order to be able to throw themselves at other people. And I don't need to mention all those nasty evil people (and yes, they're really here at MIT) who are more than willing to take advantage of the inebriated. There's no rule of thumb here, just remember that people can act completely differently after drinking.

Of course, most people will read this and forget it before the paper has even dropped to the bathroom floor. Some things you have to learn for yourself. But if bad things happen when you drink, and keep happening, you really should sit back and ask yourself why.

With that, I wish you luck and bid you adieu. I'm off to have a drink.