Most college students drink alcohol, and their tolerance of alcohol and other substances depends on a range of factors. Student Health 101 aims to frame alcohol use as an active choice that students can manage, so as to reduce their risk of negative consequences. Our April 2015 feature, Personal mixology, was a hit with readers. “I’m trying to be a more responsible drinker, and the ideas presented in the article are ones I will definitely use,” said an undergraduate at the University of Regina, Saskatchewan. Here’s how we approached it, and what worked for students.

Personal mixology: your body, your life, your limits (click to read) featured five real-life college students. Each student was coping with a different vulnerability that affected their alcohol tolerance. Two experts—a college counselor and a neuroscientist specializing in behavioral psychopharmacology—commented on what each risk factor could mean and suggested strategies that could help these students keep their alcohol use within safe limits. The students described these circumstances:

  • A family history of alcohol addiction
  • Heightened stress and fatigue
  • Female with a small body type
  • Taking medication that interacts with alcohol
  • Diagnosed with diabetes

Our expert sources:

  • Nathilee Caldeira, licensed clinical psychologist at the Student Mental Health Center, Columbia University Medical Center, and the founder of Let’s Talk Psychological Wellness PC
  • Scott Lukas, director of the Behavioral Psychopharmacology Research Laboratory at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, and the McLean Imaging Center; professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School
  • For references to relevant medical and scientific literature, see the article (Sources)

Who read Personal mixology and learned from it?

  • In April 2015, around 63,000 student readers provided feedback via our surveys.
  • Two out of three respondents said they had read Personal mixology.
  • Of those, three-quarters said they had learned something from it.
  • Thousands of readers cited Personal mixology as their top pick from the April 2015 issue.

Students said the content was surprising or refreshing in its approach:

  • Personal mixology was something that I never thought I would read in my entire life.” —US undergraduate
  • “It was very informative and something that I would not have learned from surfing the web, scrolling on my phone, watching the news, etc.”  —Undergraduate, University of Guelph, Ontario
  • “I thought the article about ‘mixology’ was really cool. It wasn’t what I expected it to be.” —Undergraduate, Northern Illinois University

Readers identified with our featured students’ personal stories. This sense of connection helped readers apply the insights and guidance to their own lives:

  • “I found it heartbreaking and comforting reading the stories of others and how they dealt with alcoholism. Both of my parents were alcoholics. It is a sensitive subject, [and] knowing other people went through the same thing helps me accept everything for what it is and make healthier life choices.” —Nontraditional student, Cape Cod Community College, Massachusetts
  • “I identified with one of the personal stories: the girl who is smaller and gets drunk more quickly than others. I thought the idea about diluting drinks is brilliant, since the alcohol will be weaker while you’ll enjoy the drink for longer.”—Nontraditional student, Montgomery College, Maryland
  • “Someone spoke about drinking to relieve stress. I had to stop and think about if I do that or not. I want to say no, but when I think about it, saying ‘Let’s get drunk after this exam is over’ is technically the same thing. It relieves all the stress. I am more aware of this now that I have stopped and thought about it. Thank you!”—Undergraduate, University of Guelph-Humber, Ontario
  • “I am only 5’2” and I take Cipralex. I was not fully aware of the effects alcohol can have on me considering my body type and medication. It has definitely made me rethink trying to keep up with others on weekends out with friends.”—Undergraduate, St. Lawrence College, Ontario
  • “I loved the ideas in Personal Mixology. I have alcoholism in my family past, and so I loved the idea of quietly asking for a virgin drink, or getting one that isn’t a favorite drink of mine so I’ll drink it more slowly. Some of my best experiences drinking have been when I drank just to my limit and then enjoyed that spot, rather than feeling pressure to go further. These are great tips I’m sure I’ll use.”—Nontraditional student, Portland State University, Oregon
  • “I don’t drink very much or often, but when I do I find it difficult to find my limit. This article has really given me some tips on how to set a limit and know that it’s OK to say no.”—Undergraduate, University of Central Arkansas

Readers said the piece helped them understand and support their friends’ decisions not to drink, or their efforts to drink moderately:

  • “People put so much pressure on others to drink, sometimes without even thinking about their possible reason for deciding to be modest with their alcohol consumption.”—Nontraditional student, California State University, San Bernadino
  • “I don’t like to drink and I was really interested to see the examples of different reasons others may not like or want to—there were reasons I had never thought of. It’s really important for me to know what other people’s boundaries are so that I can help support them.”—Undergraduate, University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh

Another major theme in the surveys was readers’ surprise at what they learned about how alcohol affects people:

  • “I didn’t realize the [alcohol] tolerance level could be dependent on so many factors.”—Undergraduate, Western Illinois University
  • “I was intrigued by the fact that menstruation makes the effects of alcohol stronger and that the environment v. genetics plays a strong role in alcohol abuse.”—Nontraditional student, US
  • “[I liked] how your [genetic] background doesn’t always mean you’re doomed to be an alcoholic.”—Undergraduate, Johnson & Wales University, Rhode Island

And finally (indulge us), this:

  • “I really like the Mixology segment! The whole newsletter is really cool.” —Nontraditional student, Portland State University, Oregon