No doubt, Halloween is a fun time in any place and at any age. In some settings though, there is risk involved — a college town like Isla Vista is obviously one of those settings. It may sound like I’m being a downer, but the truth is that sexual assaults, alcohol poisoning, drug overdoses, violence and arrests occur at exponentially higher rates during this otherwise wonderful holiday. The good news is that planning to be safe can be just as much fun as planning your Wizard-of-Oz-themed group costume, I swear. So, here are some safety tips to make Halloween more of a treat than a trick. They’re based on the psychological and developmental aspects of your brain that can put you at risk of missing out on your yellow brick road on Halloween night.
Believe it or not, your brain is still developing. Between the ages of 18 and 25, an important area of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, is undergoing significant changes. This area is responsible for controlling impulses and regulating social interactions, moods and emotions. This is the guy to blame when you make a dumb move or do something awkward. During this age, more so than at others, impulses arising to your brain elicit almost automatic responses — they’re primitive, almost animal-like and hard to control.
Therefore, the best strategy on Halloween is plan ahead, taking this knowledge into consideration. Here is a list of simple, black-and-white, easy-to-follow safety tips:
1. Plan to go out with a group of people that you know and to stay with them throughout the night (or morning, technically, if you’re out late). Even though two people might be considered a group, I suggest hanging out with five or more of your friends. Rational behavior prevails over individual, impulse-driven actions. If somebody in the group gets out of control, it’s likely that the other group members will notice and act to protect them.
2. Set a limit beforehand on how much you are going to drink. If you don’t, your impulsive brain may struggle to regulate your drinking once you’ve begun.
3. Follow the music. This one may be difficult to do with the regulations on Isla Vista’s noise level, but if you hear a beat, get into it. Listen and let your brain enjoy it. It will give you the necessary stimulation to decrease the need to stimulate your brain otherwise, either through drinking or drugs. 4. Get physical. Dance, walk, move around. This one should be easy, since there’s so much to see on Halloween. If you stay in one place for too long, your brain is going to crave more stimuli, and it’s more likely that you will choose a detrimental form of entertainment. So go for a walk; just make sure your whole group goes with you.
5. Don’t do drugs. It’s as simple as that. Your brain is still developing, so doing drugs could have long-lasting damaging effects. Even worse, combinations of drugs, or of drugs and alcohol, can kill you — that’s a fact. So just stay away from them!
In summary, you’ve heard people accuse young adults of acting as if they are going to live forever. And as of I’ve mentioned above, this might be true, but there’s good reason for this behavior: The area of your brain that assesses risk is not developed yet. So to avoid unnecessary risks this Halloween, just plan ahead on how you will respond to risky situations, so that if they do arise, you don’t have to default to your prefrontal cortex — it still likes to play tricks. But stick to your plan and stick with your group, and your Halloween is sure to be a treat.
Dr. Edwin Feliciano is a psychiatrist and director of UCSB Behavioral Health Services at Student Health.