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How Women Can Stay Safe On a Night Out

A girls' night out can be a fun time for women to relax and enjoy each other's company, and this kind of event frequently includes social drinking. Alcohol can impair a person's judgment and decision-making abilities, however, potentially opening the door to being the victim of a crime, assault, or accident.

Alcohol lowers inhibitions and increases sociability, which can also raise the risk for engaging in sexual behaviors that may be questionable or risky. This can lead to the possibility of contracting a sexually transmitted disease or an unwanted pregnancy. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) warns that alcohol is a major risk factor for sexual assault, reporting that somewhere between 30 percent and 79 percent of sexual assault victims say they were drinking at the time of the incident.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) reports that alcohol contributes to around 40 percent of all violent crimes. Alcohol, violence, and crime have always been closely connected. Alcohol is commonly considered to be a factor in increasing aggression and the odds that a potentially volatile situation will take place.

Alcohol and Risk of Harm

Around one-quarter of women around the world have experienced sexual and/or physical violence at the hands of a spouse or intimate partner, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports; however, violence can come at the hands of a stranger or acquaintance as well. Unfortunately, WHO further publishes that around 7 percent of all women in the world have been sexually assaulted by someone who is not their spouse or intimate partner.

NCADD warns that alcohol is a factor in around one-third of all victimizations by a stranger. Women may be vulnerable to being the victim of physical and/or sexual violence when they are in a social situation where they are drinking and have their defenses down. Alcohol lowers stress and anxiety, and makes a person feel good; it can be easy to get caught up and drink more than intended, leading to an altered mental and cognitive state that others may take advantage of. A severely intoxicated person cannot provide the necessary consent for a sexual activity to be considered consensual.

There are a few drugs, often called "date rape drugs," which can be placed into a person's drink that can lead to sedation, reduce inhibitions even more, and make the person even more of a potential target for sexual abuse. Rohypnol (flunitrazepam), GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyric acid), and ketamine are three drugs that a person may use to perpetuate date rape by slipping it into someone's drink without their knowledge. These drugs are typically clear, odorless, mostly tasteless, and colorless. They can cause a person to be unable to move, to lose consciousness, and to suffer from memory loss.

Ecstasy, marijuana, and even prescription drugs may be used to aid in perpetuating a sexual assault as well, the Office on Women's Health warns. Perpetrators may also encourage victims to drink more than they should in order to convince them to make poor choices, or ones they may regret later. While date rape drugs are a concern, alcohol is the number one drug involved in sexual assault, USA Today warns, as close to 90 percent of women studied who reported being incapacitated at the time of their sexual assault were drinking before the incident.

While alcohol and drugs do not cause violence in and of themselves, they may be used as tools to gain consent, cause memory loss, or make it so a person is unable to resist or understand what is going on. Drinking does not cause rape or throw blame onto the person doing the drinking. Just because a woman is drunk or passed out does not make it acceptable for someone to take advantage of her. Sexual assault is never the fault of the victim, no matter how much she had to drink, but there are steps women can take to protect themselves while driving.

A Guide to Safe Social Drinking

Alcohol is a mind-altering substance that changes the way a person feels, thinks, and acts. It is socially acceptable to drink, and generally, people who are of the legal drinking age of 21 can enjoy it responsibly. Most American adults have drank at some point, as NIAAA publishes that close to 90 percent of all adults in the United States report consuming alcohol at some point in their lives.

Alcohol can be a factor in crime, violence, accident, and injuries, and it may lead to the escalation of a situation, however. A person who is drinking may be more liable to engage in behaviors that are out of character or to try something that could be physically hazardous.

Excessive alcohol consumption can become life-threatening when alcohol overwhelms the system and becomes toxic. As many as six people die every day in the United States due to alcohol poisoning, CNN reports.

Drinking too much can also be an issue when it's time to get home. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that, in the US, more than one person every hour dies from a car crash involving an alcohol-impaired driver. Alcohol clouds a person's judgment and can make it difficult to make decisions that are smart and safe, potentially endangering the lives of the person drinking and others around them.

Here are some tips for staying safe and drinking responsibly on a girls' night out:

  • Limit your alcohol intake. The more you drink, the more incapacitated you may become. It can be a good idea to set a safe limit on how many drinks you plan on having. Drinking to excess can be risky and raise the odds for a potentially bad situation. Excessive drinking includes episodes of binge drinking, which for a woman is typically four drinks in the span of two hours, the CDC
  • Know how much alcohol is in each drink you are consuming. Each type of alcoholic drink has different amounts of alcohol. A standard drink, as defined by NIAAA is: one beer (12 ounces containing 5% alcohol), one glass of wine (5 ounces containing 12% alcohol), one glass of malt liquor (8 ounces containing 7% alcohol), or one shot of distilled spirits (1.5 of 80 proof, containing 40% alcohol). A mixed drink may contain more than one shot of distilled spirits, and not all mixed drinks are created in the same way from bartender to bartender. Be aware of what is in each drink you consume to limit overall alcohol consumption.
  • Eat before or while drinking. Food can help to metabolize, absorb, and break down alcohol. Drinking on an empty stomach can cause the alcohol to take effect more quickly and lead to intoxication more rapidly.
  • Know your own limits. Alcohol affects each person differently as each person’s metabolism is different. One person may have a greater tolerance for alcohol than another, and may therefore be able to drink more alcohol in a shorter period of time without as much impact as another person. Men typically metabolize alcohol more quickly than women do.
  • Don't mix alcohol and drugs. Combining drugs with alcohol increases the risk factors and the potential for an unpredictable and negative reaction. Read labels of any prescription drugs you may be on before drinking alcohol to make sure that they won't interact or have unwanted side effects.
  • Never leave your drink unattended. Keep an eye on your drink at all times. When you need to go to the bathroom, have a friend keep an eye on it for you. If you do leave your drink for any reason, dump it out and order a new one. It doesn't take much for someone to slip something into it without your knowledge.
  • Do not drink from community drinks or open containers, and open your own beverages. Avoid punch bowls and things of that sort. Watch the bartender pour your drink or open it yourself to avoid coming in contact with a drink that has already been contaminated.
  • Do not accept drinks from a stranger. If someone you know offers to buy you a drink and you want to accept, walk with them up to the bar, and watch it being made and served directly to you.
  • Nominate one person as the designated non-drinker for the evening. You can take turns being this person on different occasions, but it is always a good idea to have a non-drinking friend with you when you are out to keep everyone in check and ensure that no one makes choices they will regret later. This person can also serve as the designated driver, or DD, to make sure everyone gets home safely.
  • If you feel drunk at all, seek immediate help. Even if you don't think you drank that much, it is important to recognize when you are feeling intoxicated, stop drinking, and get help to avoid a potentially bad situation. Report any strange feelings like dizziness, tingling, mental fogginess, muscle weakness, etc., to a friend right away.
  • Talk with your friends about expectations before heading out. While everyone is still sober, it is a good idea to set up a plan for how the night will go. What kinds of behaviors are acceptable, and which ones aren't? Watch out for each other.
  • Have a plan for getting home safely. If you don't have a DD, take a cab or car service. Don't drink and drive. Make this plan ahead of time and not when you are already impaired.
  • Sip slowly and make your drink last longer. Drinking fast can increase your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) quickly and lead to more rapid intoxication. Quality is always better than quantity.
  • Drink water or a nonalcoholic beverage in between each alcoholic drink. This can help you to slow down while you are drinking, keep you hydrated, and help to space out the drinking.
  • Go to a public place you are familiar with and stay with your group. Rely on the buddy system and safety in numbers, and stay in well-lit and public spaces.
  • Always be aware of your surroundings. Trust your instincts. If someone is creeping you out, let a friend know and consider moving to a different location.

If you are ever the victim of sexual assault or violence, report it to authorities immediately. A crisis counselor can help, too. The National Sexual Assault Hotline operated by RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) provides a 24-hour crisis hotline staffed by trained professionals who can offer support and guidance.