Indiana University Bloomington

Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC)

Spring Break Safety

With college spring breaks across the state quickly approaching, it is important that students are advised of the dangers that can occur during this week of vacation for college students across the country. While the idea of a week in a tropical location is enticing to many college students, it is an event that needs to be approached with caution. Spring break has been the main topic on many students’ minds since the beginning of spring semester, yet most students are unaware of the dangers and preventative measures that are important to take during this mid semester break. While most students have fond memories of previous spring breaks spent with friends in the sun, an increasing number of students regret behaviors they engaged in while on vacation.

“Spring break is a rite of passage for most undergraduate college students with the goal being to have fun, spend time with friends, and get a tan. Unfortunately this also includes binge drinking, unprotected sex and over exposure to the sun” said Courtney Stewart, Research Associate at the Indiana Prevention Resource Center. These behaviors are a major public health concern especially since an estimated 1.5 million college students travel nationally and internationally for spring break each year. Spring breakers may view dangerous behaviors as norms of spring break vacations. Many students find that the consequences of behaviors that take place during spring break have detrimental and long lasting consequences that extend far beyond the week of spring break.

Rates of alcohol use and other risky behaviors are high among college students across the nation, including those in Indiana. According to Stewart the 2011 Indiana College Substance Use Survey (ICSUS), conducted by the IPRC found that 70% of the students drank alcohol in the past month, including almost two-thirds of the underage students (63%).  Half of the students reported binge drinking in the past month.  Negative consequences of drinking alcohol are also prevalent among Indiana college students, with thirty percent of the students who drank alcohol in the past six months reporting blacking out (forgetting where they were or what they did).  About 15% of the students had driven a car while under the influence; engaged in risky sexual behavior such as having unprotected sex, or sex with someone they just met; and had been hurt or injured because of their drinking. While these statistics do not focus on spring break activities they give a depiction of the risky behaviors that students engage in after drinking alcohol.  Because rates of alcohol use increase during spring break, negative consequences of drinking are also escalated during the week of spring break.

While stopping students from traveling on spring break is not the goal, “educating and informing students of the dangers and preventative measures can help to ensure that students are aware of the risks associated with the dangerous behaviors of spring break activities” said Stewart.

Here are some tips to help students ensure their safety while traveling:

Alcohol & Drug Use

Despite the increased availability of alcohol near spring break locations, 21 is still the legal age to consume alcohol within the United States.  Recent research on the continuing development of critical brain functions during young adulthood underscores the prudence of abiding by this law.

• If you are traveling state-side for spring break this year do not forget that if you are not 21 years old it is illegal to consume an alcoholic beverage and citations surrounding this action will be enforced.

• If you are traveling internationally, it is important to be aware of the alcohol laws within the country you will be traveling to; Mexico, Dominican Republic, Bahamas, and Costa Rica all have a legal drinking age of 18 years old.

• Practice safe drinking. Don't accept drinks from people you don't know or trust. Never leave your drink unattended, and if you do lose sight of it, get a new one. Always watch your drink being prepared, and when possible try to buy drinks in bottles, which are harder to tamper with than cups or glasses. If you suspect someone has tampered with your drink, throw it out and get a new one.

• Drink responsibly and in moderation. Avoid binge drinking, which is defined as 5 or more drinks for men and 4 or more drinks for women, in 2 hours. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2012), this pattern of drinking is associated with many health problems such as unintentional injuries like car crashes, falls, burns, drowning, intentional injuries such as firearm injuries, sexual assault, domestic violence, alcohol poisoning, sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancy.

General Safety Tips

• Trust your instincts. If you feel unsafe in any situation, go with your gut.

• Stick with your friends! When you are out with your friends, arrive together, check in together and leave together. Do not wander off alone. Create a secret signal or code word with your friends to let them know you are uncomfortable and you need them to intervene. Don’t be afraid to let a friend know if something is making you uneasy or if you are worried about your or your friend’s safety.  Avoid being alone or isolated with someone you don’t know and trust.

• Protect your location on Facebook, Twitter & Foursquare. Social networking sites make it easy to stay connected with friends, but be aware of the risks associated with sharing too much information about your location; it can endanger your safety. Adjust your privacy settings and use your best judgment when ‘checking-in’ on Facebook or Foursquare. Be cautious about revealing personal information and locations through status updates or tweets.

• Make a plan. Establish a meeting spot before going out for the night in the event you or your friends get separated. Know the address of the hotel or rental property and identify a safe way to return before you go out. If you are going somewhere on your own, tell your friends so that they know where you are, who you are with, and when they should expect you back.

• Don’t let your guard down (even though you're on vacation). Vacationing at a spring break destination can create a false sense of security and community with your fellow spring-breakers. In reality, the vacation destination is just like any city filled with strangers; treat it as you would any unfamiliar environment. Don't assume that someone you've just met will look out for your best interests.

• Don’t be afraid to intervene if a situation seems questionable. If you see someone acting aggressively, speak up. By getting involved, you could prevent someone from becoming the victim of violence.

• Be aware of your surroundings. Check out your surroundings before you go out and learn a well-lit route back to your hotel or rental property.

• Be prepared. Always carry emergency cash and keep phone numbers for local cab companies handy. Have a charged cell phone with you. If your cell phone does not work outside of the country, consider renting one that does for the duration of your trip — or contacting your cell phone provider to activate international service for the duration of your trip.

By Theresa Hunter and Courtney Stewart, 3/9/2012