Whether you decide to take drugs is a personal decision that only you can make.

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Heading to college is a life changing moment. Even if you’ve already had some forays into the “real world,” you’ll likely encounter certain things for the first time on campus.

Drugs are just one example. Maybe you’ve never been around drugs before but heard plenty of rumors in high school about who was using what. Or perhaps you’ve already experimented a bit yourself. Regardless of your past experience with drugs, navigating drug culture in college can feel intimidating.

Whether you intend to use drugs or not, these tips can help you better navigate the drug scene and keep yourself (and your friends) safe.

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There’s always going to be a degree of risk associated with consuming any drug, no matter how careful you are. But if you do decide to take drugs, a bit of light research can make a world of difference.

You don’t have to be an expert, but it’s worth making yourself familiar with the drugs you’re considering. What are the potential side effects? What constitutes a typical dose?

Pay close attention to any mention of potential interactions with:

  • Prescribed medications. For example, consuming cocaine while taking certain antidepressants (especially SSRIs like Zoloft) increases your risk of a serious condition called serotonin syndrome.
  • Other drugs. This includes alcohol. When you combine alcohol with other depressants (or “downers”), it can decrease your heart rate to a dangerously low level. Mixing alcohol with stimulants (or “uppers”), on the other hand, tends to mask the common effects of alcohol, increasing your chances of experiencing alcohol poisoning.

The website TripSit offers factsheets about various drugs and a database of potential interactions. Just be aware that much of this information is based on people’s experiences and may not be 100 percent accurate. Use it as a guiding source, not a definitive answer.

If you’re trying a drug for the first time, aim to do it in a safe, comfortable environment, like your room or a friend’s. Have at least one person around who won’t be partaking so they can step in if things take a turn.

It can be tempting to jump right in when you’re offered something at a party, especially if you don’t know anybody and are trying to make new connections. But this can leave you in a vulnerable position if you start to experience unexpected effects.

At the end of the day, listen to your gut instinct. If something doesn’t feel right, you’re allowed to say “no” at any point and remove yourself from the situation.

Like hangovers after drinking alcohol, you might find yourself facing a “comedown” after you’ve taken drugs. The nature of the comedown will differ from drug to drug and depend on a number of other factors, like how much you took and your body composition.

This can feel alarming, especially if you’ve just tried something for the first time. But while unpleasant, comedowns are an expected part of consuming a range of substances, especially stimulants like cocaine or meth. If you’ve ever crashed after having too much coffee, you’ve likely had a small taste of what this can feel like.

If you find yourself in this scenario, allow your body as much time to recover as you can. Get plenty of rest, stay hydrated, and try to eat something. Easy, bland foods like crackers or toast are usually a safe bet if you’re feeling a bit queasy. If you’re having a hard time keeping anything down, try sucking on ice or a popsicle to get some fluids into your system.

Above all, remind yourself that it’s only temporary. It might not feel like it in the moment, but you will feel better in 1 or 2 days. Remember, this is an expected part of using certain drugs, so don’t feel embarrassed about telling your friends or roommates that you’re not feeling well or asking for help. It doesn’t mean that you’re “weak” or “can’t handle it.”

Maybe you don’t want to take drugs but are concerned about your friends who are experimenting. If you want to help, the biggest thing you can do is keep tabs on them to watch for any signs of a bad experience.

If you decide to call it a night before they do, try to confirm where they’ll be sleeping or spending the rest of the night. If you don’t mind being a resource, make sure they know they can call you if anything goes awry or they aren’t feeling well.

You (and your friends) should also know how to recognize a potential overdose. Call your local emergency number right away if you notice anyone experiencing:

  • fast, slow, or irregular heart rate
  • abnormal breathing or difficulty breathing
  • changes in skin color
  • seizures or loss of consciousness
  • changes in body temperature
  • anxiety or agitation
  • severe head or chest pain

When calling for help, try to give the operator as much information as possible, including which drugs were taken and how much. Concerned about the legal consequences of calling 911? Here’s what to expect when you call.

Ultimately, whether you decide to take drugs is a personal decision that only you can make. The same goes for when, how, and with whom you use drugs.

Set aside some time to write out any boundaries you want to stick to. For example:

  • Are there certain drugs you want to avoid being around?
  • Are there certain scenarios where you want to be sure you aren’t under the influence of anything?
  • Do you want to limit yourself to a certain number of “party” nights per week or month?

Having all of this information in mind ahead of time can make it easier to make quick decisions when needed.

If you’re feeling pressured to partake but would rather not, keep in mind that you don’t need to experiment with drugs to get the “true” college experience. Chances are, plenty of other students are having similar feelings, so if you decide to stay away from the drug scene, you won’t be alone.

It’s also worth noting that many college students report that peer pressure isn’t as much of an issue as it was in high school. You’re also likely surrounded by a much larger student population than you were in high school. If a particular group decides they don’t want to hang around you because of your choice, there are plenty of other friends to be made, clubs to join, and activities to get involved in.

The drug scene in college can be difficult to navigate, especially because there aren’t many outwardly offered resources around how to navigate it. But with a bit of research and preparation, you can take steps to make things feel a bit less daunting (not to mention safer) for both you and your friends.

Regardless of how involved you get, stick to what feels comfortable for you, look after your friends, and know what to do in an emergency.

If you’re concerned about your drug use, help is available:

Adam England is a freelance writer and journalist. His work has appeared in publications including The Guardian, Euronews, and VICE UK. He focuses on health, culture, and lifestyle. When he’s not writing, he’s probably listening to music.