Counselor’s college drinking strategy simple as 0-1-2-3

A student’s college years are a time of big dreams and great opportunity. But they also can pose a hazard for young people as they face increased pressure to drink alcohol, a habit that can severely impact their health and academic success.

To help students and parents navigate this aspect of college life, Aliso Viejo-based speaker and addiction counselor Randy Haveson wrote a book with advice on low-risk drinking. Called “Party With a Plan, College Edition,” the book outlines how students can recognize problem drinking behaviors, set limits on how much alcohol they consume and know when to avoid drinking altogether. He calls the guidelines the 0-1-2-3 code.

Haveson, now 56 and a member of the Reform congregation Temple Beth El, is himself a recovered college-age alcoholic and drug addict. We asked him to share some insights with the Journal. Here is an edited version of that conversation:

JEWISH JOURNAL: What motivated you to write a book about college-age drinking?

RANDY HAVESON:  I saw and heard the messages that were being given to students in regard to alcohol. Things like, “Be responsible.” But what does that mean? If you ask five students to define responsible drinking, you get five completely different answers, so it invalidates the term. … I wanted to come up with something that made sense, that was easy to follow, that would help students identify, wow, I’m really having trouble staying in my guidelines, I think I might need help. 

JJ: Shouldn’t we just tell kids not to drink, especially if they’re underage?

RH: Yes, it is always a good idea for people under 21 to not drink, because study after study shows the longer you wait to actually drink, the less problems you’re going to have in your life. So part of my 0-1-2-3 formula is that 0 is your best option if you’re on medication, if you have to drive soon, if you haven’t eaten and if you’re under 21. … It’s about knowing what the risks are, knowing what the consequences are and evaluating is this really the best choice for me.

JJ: How does the 0-1-2-3 code work?

RH: Zero is sometimes your best option, and knowing when it’s your best option and following that is the best choice for the individual on that night. If someone is going to drink, the 1-2-3 part is to have no more than one drink per hour, which is defined as a 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine or a 1-ounce shot in a mixed drink, because that’s what the body and the liver can metabolize at any one time. … Then the 2 of the 1-2-3 is to drink no more than two times per week, because studies show that people who get in trouble with alcohol are the ones that drink three or more times per week. And then the 3 is to have no more than three drinks in any 24-hour period. And again, studies show that those who get in trouble with alcohol are those who drink four or more in each sitting. So three is the low-risk guideline.

JJ: Is there a way to recognize when drinking alcohol has become a problem?

RH: For most people, if I tell you [to] have no more than one [drink] per hour and drink no more than three, you’ll probably say, “OK, no problem.” But for some people, you say only have three and they’re going to say, “Oh, well, why bother?” So there’s a difference between people who drink and people who drink to get drunk. So what I want to do with “Party With a Plan” is I want to draw this line in the sand that says, “OK, you might not like those guidelines, but can you do it? Are you in control of the alcohol or is the alcohol in control of you?” Because if you do have a problem, the sooner you take care of it the better off you’re going to be.

JJ: Who are you trying to reach with your book — parents or the students themselves?

RH: Both. I actually have tips for parents in the book. The hope is that the parents buy the book, read it, give it to their college-bound child to read and then they have a discussion about it afterward. That’s the goal. And I have a whole section in there for parents on how to talk to their kids about alcohol or other drugs, and how to find support services if they get in trouble.

JJ: How should parents talk to their kids about drinking? What should they say?

RH: The best way for parents to approach kids is to have the conversation. For a lot of parents, it’s an uncomfortable conversation to have, so it’s one of those that they just avoid having or it might be a couple of sentences: “Hey, you’re going off to college. Be careful what you’re drinking.” But it’s important to sit down and talk to your child … parents need to ask, “What are your ideas about this? Are you planning to drink? Are you planning to use [marijuana]? How much? How are you going to know if it’s becoming a problem?” And to talk to them about their goals and their dreams, and what are some of the things that can get in the way of that, and let’s set a game plan before they go to campus rather than waiting until they get there.

JJ: You mentioned marijuana. Do you have any advice on that?

RH: I think there are definitely some medicinal uses for marijuana, but that’s why we need more research. To legalize marijuana for recreational use, it’s very dangerous to do. … A lot of parents think, “Hey, when I was in school, I smoked pot. It was no big deal.” But what they don’t usually realize is that the marijuana today is so much more powerful than it was back then. The analogy I use is that back then, it was like drinking a bottle of Budweiser and the bottle said Budweiser and what was inside was Budweiser. But today, the bottle says Budweiser — it looks the same, it smells the same, but what’s inside is Jack Daniels. It’s so much more powerful, so much more potent, and people are having some major problems as a result.

JJ: Back to drinking.What are the consequences of not addressing the alcohol issue with college-bound kids?

RH: There is a definite correlation between the number of drinks per week and a person’s GPA. The more a person drinks, the lower their academic performance is, because they’re missing classes, they’re not studying for tests well. When someone drinks in a high-risk way, it can stay in their system up to three days. So if someone has a test on Monday and has 10 to 12 beers on Friday night or Saturday night, when they go to study on Sunday, their brain is still impaired. … Unfortunately, what some students will do is, they’ll do stimulants. They’ll do someone else’s Adderall or some kind of an [attention deficit disorder] medication and think, “Well, I can just do that and then I’ll be able to study.” … Now you’re using other drugs, stimulants, as a countermeasure against the alcohol, and you actually have two drugs in your system and they start to build a dependency.