Alcohol Frequently Asked Questions

If you have a question not found below, please email hpaw@northwestern.edu

Is it bad to build an alcohol tolerance?

For some drinkers, tolerance is seen as a social badge of honor. However, it simply means that one must drink more alcohol in order to feel the same effects previously felt when tolerance was lower.

In addition to consuming more calories and spending more money, during a night of drinking a highly tolerant person could slip into a dangerous level of inebriation without showing much - or any - corresponding impaired behavior. See the Know Your Limit page for more information.

What does it mean to blackout from drinking alcohol?
Alcohol interferes with activity in the hippocampus, which is the main region of the brain that forms and stores memories. Blackouts are periods of memory loss for events that occurred while a person was drinking; this includes very short periods of time through many hours of memory loss. Those short periods of memory loss that people often call “brownouts” are actually fragmentary blackouts. Lengthy periods of memory loss are called "en-bloc" or full blackouts. Both types of blackouts are more likely to occur when people consume alcohol quickly, causing their BACs to rise rapidly, and/or when people consume greater quantities of alcohol. Find more information on blackouts here.
Are blacking out and passing out from alcohol the same thing?
No. Passing out from alcohol use is when someone is unconscious.  During a state of blackout, people are still awake and able to participate in a variety of events (such as talking, walking, driving, etc.) without their own/other’s awareness that they are blacked out.
Do males and females process alcohol the same?

In short, no. This is because of biological differences, including body composition and levels of alcohol-metabolizing enzymes, males* and females* absorb and metabolize alcohol differently. As a result, a female who consumes the same amount of alcohol as a male will generally experience higher concentrations of alcohol in their blood.

*A note as to why we use biological sex – We recognize and appreciate that not all individuals identify within these binary constructs. The purpose of using these terms is because research is based on the physiological variables specific to one’s biological sex and not related to their gender identity. Unfortunately, the research available at this time also has not focused on Intersex and Trans individuals

Are we allowed to drink alcohol on campus?
Age 21 is the legal age to consume alcohol. Students who are 21 and over are permitted to consume alcohol on campus. However, use or possession of alcohol, regardless of age, in any dry or alcohol-free spaces on campus including, but not limited to, all fraternity/sorority houses, and designated areas in the residence halls and academic buildings is not permitted.
I’ve heard that NUs social scene usually revolves around fraternities. Are there parties besides frat parties for first-years?
Numerous social opportunities exist for ALL students. These do not need to be limited to parties in the traditional sense where houses, apartments or rooms are packed full of people. In fact, most socialization takes place outside of the party scene. It's more likely you will interact with you friends through your academics, extra curricular activities, over meals or simply hanging out. Start by looking over what exists on campus to support social wellness at Northwestern. Explore Social Wellness at Northwestern.
When you become an upperclassman, does the craze around alcohol decrease, increase or stay the same?
It can really depend on the individual, their friend group, and what life looks like as times change. This question is often viewed as the “forbidden fruit” mentality, in that, once something is no longer illegal, it loses its allure. Some people may still find it exciting to go out drinking once they are old enough to do so legally, but they may also not feel the need to drink to in excess when doing so. Priorities can change a lot over time too, so there may be less free time to go partying and drinking because of a job, internship, a stronger focus on academics or any number of other responsibilities.
Why do the people at HPaW believe that alcohol usage is more/less prevalent this year than in previous years?
We collect campus wide health behavior data every few years, while collecting first year alcohol use data every year through AlcoholEdu. This allows us to determine if there are trends or changes in trends over time.
How do you have a safe Dillo Day when everyone is inebriated?
A major misconception around large events, like Dillo Day, is the idea that everyone is using substances. While a significant amount of people may be using alcohol, cannabis, or other substances, it is important to keep in mind that many more are not. If you yourself are not using, you are already putting yourself in a safer state to enjoy the full Dillo Day experience. If you are concerned about a friend or other person on Dillo Day, know that there are many volunteers (staff and students) stationed all over campus to assist in keeping you and others safe. If you ever feel the need to get help for somebody, call 911 or alert event staff immediately.
How necessary is it to drink alcohol to make friends/get into relationships? Can I make friends/get into relationships without drinking alcohol or abusing any form of drug?
Absolutely! One-third of incoming Northwestern students identify as abstainers, or those who do not drink alcohol. Overall, about 20% of our student body also does not drink alcohol and the majority do not use any other substances. Even if students do use substances, that does not mean you must use them in order to be their friend. A great way to make friends can be through settings in which alcohol and drugs are not present, like your classes, clubs, and campus events.
How deeply rooted is Alcohol in the Northwestern community?
Alcohol use at Northwestern is much like alcohol use at other major universities. Some pockets of the community may use more than the average student, while other pockets may not use alcohol, or other substances whatsoever. We strive to be transparent as possible and offer numerous data points for the public to view on our website.
How should one handle a situation where an intoxicated person becomes violent and is an immediate threat to themselves and those around them?
Any time you feel you or others are in immediate danger, call 911 and remove yourself from that immediate threat. If you are in a location with security in place, ask for their assistance. If your physical health is not being threatened, remain with the person until help arrives.
Say somebody underage stumbled into their dorm at night pretty hammered. Would the security guard do anything?
The Community Service Officer working at the front door or desk in the residential building is trained to engage students in such situations and either contact emergency services or the Residence Life staff to get support for that student.
Why is the approach to Alcohol and drugs so accepting?
Would it not be more beneficial to discourage it? We address substance use from a harm reduction approach, meaning that we do not encourage use for anyone under the legal age of 21, while providing ample education on how to reduce the negative effects from alcohol use overall. An abstinence only approach would be more harmful for a population that is engaging in this behavior and therefore not receiving education to make the most informed decision.
Can u get a minor from the police for underage drinking or is it just disciplinary action from the school?
Students who violate the law can be subject to enforcement from university police or local law enforcement.
What are the consequences for international students engaging in alcohol or drugs and gets caught?
In resolving matters through the University Hearing and Appeals System (UHAS), a number of factors, including the conduct alleged, the potential sanctions, and the interest and willingness of a reporter to engage in the student conduct process will determine the specific aspects of this process that are utilized in each case. A student should contact the International Office if they are concerned about a university policy violation.
If you are not drinking but alcohol is present at a party, is there any way you can get in trouble for that?
Students under the age of 21 may not be present in any undergraduate residence hall location in which an alcohol policy violation is occurring. Students under the age of 21 are expected to leave the location in which the alcohol policy violation is occurring, or notify appropriate staff members to stop the violation.
Are any steps taken to address incidence of sexual assault or harassment involving alcohol at frats on campus?

Multiple departments such as HpaW, CARE, the Office of Equity, and Fraternity and Sorority life at Northwestern work together to provide comprehensive education and outreach to fraternities around campus to address issues related to various forms of violence and its intersections with alcohol. Through the leadership of CARE, both the MARS and SHAPE student groups on campus provide mandatory workshops to fraternities throughout the academic year addressing violence prevention and how this is impacted in social settings by the use and dissemination of alcohol.

Additionally, departments such as HPaW also provide education and outreach on how alcohol and other substances may impact overall student wellness. Beyond education and outreach, offices such as Student Conduct are also partners in addressing conduct concerns related to alcohol and is also a valuable resource to connect with regarding how campus addresses sexual assault, fraternities, and alcohol.