By Anna Lowenthal, opinions editor

Q: Dear Anna, what do you think about underage drinking?

A: I’ll be the first to say that college is a time to go out, explore, try new things and find ourselves along the way. Sometimes, this means that college kids participate in underage drinking.

But just because the typical “college experience” goes hand-in-hand with irresponsible alcohol use does not mean we have to end up in the hospital in order to have a good story to tell.

Putting our lives in danger for the sake of a little fun is never the right choice to make.

Every weekend, almost 1,000 college students have to seek medical attention because of alcohol poisoning and Illinois Wesleyan is no exception. While most of us think it’ll never happen to us, it’s easy to go over our personal limits and end up with a bad hangover or worse.

Though underage drinking is illegal, let’s face it: people are going to do it. So, if you’re going to do it, why not do it right?

First off, make sure you eat before you go out. Though you are less likely to get drunk if you eat beforehand, you’re also less likely to have to get your stomach pumped. And honestly, nobody wants to end their weekend like that.

Remember that no matter how hard you try to get un-drunk, nothing will help lower your blood alcohol content but time and a sturdy liver. No amount of food, water, coffee, cold showers or slaps to the face will save you, so be smart before you “get stupid.”

Second, follow your gut. If you’ve tested your boundaries and feel that horrible, brillo-pad feeling in your stomach, then that means you should probably stop. Your body will tell you when it has had enough. All you have to do is listen.

A good way to pace yourself is to know that, on average, one drink an hour will give you a slightly buzzed feeling, two will get you tipsy, and three drinks should do the trick. While this is a good guide, it is never safe to assume that your alcohol tolerance will match the tolerance of others. Always go by how you’re feeling- not the amount of drinks your friends have had.

Once you start to go over your limit, beware of the bodily consequences. Alcohol poisoning is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly, and the effects of it can last longer than an embarrassing reputation at school.

If left untreated, alcohol poisoning can cause seizures, excessive vomiting (which can lead to choking), dehydration, hypothermia, permanent brain damage or death.

Third, don’t take a drink from someone you don’t know. Yes, we live on a safe campus, but taking the right precautions can make your drinking experience a little more responsible.

It’s easy to trust someone and take a drink without thinking twice. But just to be on the safe side, only drink from unopened bottles and cans, and never go for the “mystery Gatorade container” – there’s no way to know exactly how much alcohol (or anything else) you’re having.

One last bit of  personal advice: it’s never a good idea to go out with the intention to get drunk and find someone to bring back to the room with you. What seems like a good idea at the time might end up being something you regret the next morning. Plus, we live on a small campus. Whether you like it or not, you’ll be seeing that face for the next four years.

Underage drinking, and drinking in general, can come with some serious consequences, so be sure you understand what you’re getting yourself into before it’s too late. Be careful, be smart, and, most of all, be safe!