What I Learned in College: How to Drink and Drink and Drink
Our parents cannot fathom why we get so out of control. I guess I should use the past tense here, as I just graduated from college in May. But there’s no questioning that my friends and I went a little nuts over the past four years. The question is: why?
I’m in a strange transitional period right now, because I graduated and went straight into a job. Although I may be boring and well rested now, here’s the thing: I have stories. I did college. I had a lot of fun and did some really awesome things. I also did some really stupid things. But that is what college—and now that I get to the point, drinking— is about.
I’m sure there is a plethora of psychological reasons for the exorbitant amounts of alcohol we consumed, but here’s my theory: Society gives us four years to be ridiculous and irresponsible. We have these four years to experiment, figure ourselves out, make lasting friends, and do things that we never could’ve done before and that we’ll never be able to do again. Post-grad, our lives (it seems to me) are focused around work and family. Focused, that is, around other people. But college provides us with four years to focus solely on ourselves. And as far as maturation goes, we’re going to be pretty self-absorbed during this time anyway.
I waited 18 years to experience everything I’d heard about college. I barely drank before getting to campus, so when the opportunity to get drunk presented itself, I grabbed on. I tend to be overly cautious, but was determined to do college, so I went with the flow. And ran with it. I found a supportive, silly group of friends who didn’t take themselves too seriously and who wanted to do crazy, ridiculous things with me.
We created our own schedule of weekly events. We observed Margarita Mondays, Tequila Tuesdays, and honed our skills at Wednesday Night Drinking Practice. (You can’t get better if you don’t practice!). Thursday was trivia night, served with a few pitchers of beer, followed by karaoke (which absolutely should not be attempted sober, for everybody’s sake). Friday night we’d celebrate the end of the week at a frat party, and Saturday we’d try to somehow get into bars with an ID of someone else with our hair color.
It’s no wonder that I barely slept in four years.
During this time, I worked two jobs, interned, and of course, focused on academics. Sometimes I had to be responsible. Binge drinking wasn’t always the ultimate goal: Margarita Monday often just consisted of slowly sipping a drink while hanging out. Many a Tequila Tuesday went by as I gazed wistfully out the library windows. But after class and before the deadline for my next paper, the goal was to have fun.
I’m trying to explain why we acted the way we acted. It’s hard to justify, but here’s what I came up with:
1. College (at least freshman year) is terrifying. Alcohol takes the edge off of meeting dozens of new people. You’re looking for your maid of honor, your lifelong friend, your kids’ godparent. That’s a lot of pressure. And a surefire way to really get to know someone is to drunkenly spill your souls to each other all night.
2. College is a time to do things solely for the sake of doing them. We took one shot of beer every minute for 60 minutes (aptly called a Power Hour) just so we could say we did. We made up drinking games to the presidential debates and to Jersey Shore. We competed in ‘Beerlympics.’ Adding alcohol to activities was allowed and even expected. There’s no other moment in the timeline of life where that’s okay.
3. College provides a safe environment to go crazy. Campuses are generally secure and sometimes, my campus seemed like an island, far from scary ‘real life’ things like burglaries and briefcases.
4. College is hard; there’s always something you should be studying or preparing for. So, when you feel like you have a break, you make sure to party as hard as you worked.
Now that I’ve graduated and can reflect on my college experience, here’s my advice for incoming freshman:
1. Take it slow. Being the perfect level of drunk can enhance your night. Being a sloppy mess can ruin your night, your friends’ nights, and your relationships –not to mention your dress. Alcohol may hit you quickly or slowly and that changes. It’s better to be too sober than to be too drunk, I promise.
2. Make sure you know what you’re drinking. Punch from the Frat Castle (“Jungle Juice”) usually contains insane amounts of alcohol mixed with insane amounts of sugar. Those ingredients together can lead to a messy night and worse, a hangover-induced-coma-like morning. Not fun. Stick to drinks you make yourself.
3. EAT BEFORE YOU DRINK. All that alcohol needs something to soak it up. Don’t skip meals before a crazy night out. And drink loads of water. Your body will hate you if you don’t.
4. Surround yourself with a group of friends who will watch out for you. If you’re not with people who care about you, be cautious. You’re the only one responsible for your decisions. Don’t be that girl or guy.
5. It’s so important to know your limits. I’m not trying to advocate underage drinking here, but I think it’s very helpful for kids to try drinking a little before college. I drank the summer before, with my close friends, and we all learned how alcohol affected us. I can’t express how beneficial that knowledge was once I was at school, watching my peers overdo it because they had no concept of when to stop.
Lastly, I have a note for parents: Don’t exaggerate when you’re talking about alcohol. Tell your kids the truth:
Alcohol can be a fun addition to a night out, but too much of it can be dangerous for your health, your reputation, and your safety. If parents don’t make it a big, horrible deal, it’s going to seem less enticing and your children may not go at it with such force once given the opportunity.
Everybody has different college experiences. I didn’t drink until right before freshman year began; some kids are partying in high school. I found a group of supportive, loyal friends; they can be hard to root out. Most importantly, I drank slowly and recognized my body’s signals to trade my solo cup for a glass of water.
Some people are affected by alcohol immediately, and some feel it hours later. Find what works for you, and don’t let anyone pressure you--I’ve found that people generally respect each other’s decisions. This is the way I experienced and loved college, and I hope that these tips encourage you, your friends, or your children to do it right. You only get four years.
"Annie," 23, is not her real name. She lives in Atlanta.
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