What are BAC Cards?
Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) cards are wallet-sized cards that contain personalized information about BAC. The cards are customized, based on weight and gender, to assist individuals with making safe decisions about their personal alcohol consumption. Although the format of the cards varies, typically the cards display a chart for determining one’s BAC based on the number of drinks consumed over a specific duration of time. The chart is usually divided into colored sections to demonstrate the levels of risks associated with a variety of BAC values. For example, B.A.C.ZONE © cards are divided into three colored sections (green, blue and red) to demonstrate the increasing risks of consumption. The cards encourage individuals to keep their BACs in the green zone (a BAC of 0.00-0.059) due to the lower risk associated with this BAC range (“BAC Zone,” 2014).
In the college setting, BAC cards may be utilized in a number of settings. Many institutions hand out the cards to all first year students. The cards are also often distributed at events such as health fairs, Alcohol Awareness Week activities, and alcohol screening days. Counseling or health centers may also offer the cards to visiting students.
Taking a “best practice” approach to using BAC cards suggests that the cards be integrated into in-person prevention activities, such as one-on-one counseling sessions, group workshops, or brief alcohol screenings as opposed to simply distributing them at health fairs or other “tabling” events. This allows a counselor to demonstrate how the cards are intended to be used, and to show students how their drinking habits may put them at increased risk for negative consequences. Many times, BAC cards are given to students as part of a Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students (BASICS). For example, at Boston College, administrators of BASICS actively use the BAC cards with students when helping them set their drinking goals.
There is limited research on the efficacy of BAC cards for reducing student alcohol use. One study conducted by the founders of B.A.C.ZONE© cards found minimal effects from the cards. In their study, students who received BAC cards by mail reduced the average time their BAC surpassed 0.06 compared to students who did not receive the cards (Manzo & Forbes, 2001). Although the findings from this study are promising, the effect size was not very large and given the study methodology, it would be difficult to conclude that BAC cards are successful in changing behaviors without further exploration.
Although BAC cards may assist students with drinking more safely, one institution found the cards to have an adverse impact on underage drinking. Notre Dame University decided to stop handing out the cards to first year students after seeing that the cards were being misinterpreted as licenses to drink. Underage students who were ticketed by police often argued the fact that they were in the “green zone” and were being responsible (Noone, 2007).
Issues and considerations
BAC cards may yield optimal results when used as part of a larger prevention initiative, such as during the administration of BASICS and CHOICES. As such, the concept of blood alcohol concentration can be adequately explained to students, and students can consider how to modify their drinking behavior and reduce their risk for negative consequences. When giving students BAC cards, it is important to explain to students how to use the cards properly to monitor their consumption. Without proper explanation and instruction, students may not understand the purpose of the cards, as the concept of blood alcohol concentration is complex.
“BAC Zone” (2014). Retrieved October 23, 2014 from http://www.baczone.com/
Manzo, L.G., Forbes, K.J. (2001).Reducing High Risk Drinking by Using Personalized Blood Alcohol Cards. The 2001 American Psychological Association Annual Convention.
Noone, G. (2007). PILLARS stops giving out BAC cards: Campus group officials feared charts were misinterpreted as licenses to drink alcohol.