Short-term and Long-term Risks

Major short-term health effects, or "co-risks"

  • Regretted and/or unprotected sex
  • Risk of sexual assault. Boundaries can be blurry, aggression can be enhanced and memory is compromised. Sexual assault connotes that consent was not given. Legally, a person cannot not truly consent under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol is involved in the majority of sexual assaults (including date rapes) at Stanford and other schools.
  • Mood swings
  • Accidents and injuries
  • Hangovers
  • Diminished academic performance
  • Trouble with the police and/or university officials
  • Increased risk to harm to self for depressed or anxious people

A glass of red wine may protect against heart disease later in life, but let's be honest, except for a few sophisticated soires on campus, the Stanford party scene doesn't involve students sitting around sipping one glass of red wine.

Most Stanford students won't experience chronic, long-term health problems as a result of his or her drinking. However, frequent and intense drinking can result in serious drinking problems, as well serious health problems, such as cirrhosis of the liver, damage to heart, liver and brain, impairments in cognitive functioning, stomach/esophagus/mouth ulcers or bleeding. Emotional and social development can also become seriously impaired over time. We need to be aware of the serious problems that potentially could develop if the pattern of drinking we hone in college is unhealthy.

Short-term health consequences are more immediate. Our bodies are very resilient and very forgiving. But as a drug, the physical and mental effects of alcohol can be profound. Loss of coordination, judgment and inhibitions make alcohol a very potent chemical or drug. Heavy use presents a risk of harm to the drinker and to those around him or her. Alcohol's ability to lower inhibitions also renders it a "co-factor" (partial cause) in behaviors like sexual assault, aggressive or violent confrontations, and property damage. One reason that we drink alcohol is to alter our mood, but sometimes that altered state significantly impairs our judgment and we may do something out of character, something dangerous or criminal. It's important to stop yourself or to stop a friend, before the situation careens into a regrettable evening.

Feeling Flush?

"Approximately 36% of East Asians (Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans) show a characteristic physiological response to drinking alcohol that includes facial flushing, nausea, and tachycardia. This so-called alcohol flushing response (also known as “Asian flush” or “Asian glow”) is predominantly due to an inherited deficiency in the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2). Although clinicians and the East Asian public generally know about the alcohol flushing response, few are aware of the accumulating evidence that ALDH2-deficient individuals are at much higher risk of esophageal cancer (specifically squamous cell carcinoma) from alcohol consumption than individuals with fully active ALDH2. This is particularly unfortunate as esophageal cancer is one of the deadliest cancers worldwide, with five-year survival rates of 15.6% in the United States, 12.3% in Europe, and 31.6% in Japan.

"Alcohol consumed by ALDH2-deficient individuals is metabolized to acetaldehyde, which accumulates in the body due to absent ALDH2 activity and results in facial flushing, nausea, and tachycardia. These unpleasant effects are the result of diverse actions of acetaldehyde in the body, including histamine release. Because of the intensity of this unpleasant response, ALDH2 Lys/Lys homozygotes are unable to consume significant amounts of alcohol. As a result, they are protected against the increased risk of esophageal cancer from alcohol consumption.

"A sub-population of special concern is ALDH2-deficient university students who may face peer pressure for heavy drinking and binge drinking. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence indicates that some young people view the facial flushing response as a cosmetic problem and use antihistamines in an effort to blunt the flushing while continuing to drink alcohol. This practice is expected to increase the likelihood of developing esophageal cancer."

~Brooks PJ, Enoch M-A, Goldman D, Li T-K, Yokoyama A (2009) The Alcohol Flushing Response: An Unrecognized Risk Factor for Esophageal Cancer from Alcohol Consumption. PLoS Med 6(3): e1000050. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000050

Stanford University - Office of Alcohol Policy and Education