The Pressure to Drink In College (and Beyond) is Real

The first time I got drunk was during my sophomore year of college. I was at a party where they were serving grain alcohol. At the time I didn’t know what grain alcohol was but we were packed in like sardines, the room was hot and I was thirsty. That night the drink of choice was being “served” out of over-sized plastic garbage cans and it tasted like Hawaiian Punch so I drank deeply. Without remembering how I got there I ended up back at my dormitory in the communal bathroom, sprawled out on the cold, dirty bathroom floor, puking my guts up. The vomiting went on all night until I lost count of the number of times I threw up but I do remember that as the sun began to rise I finally made it back to my room to sleep. I felt like crap the next day and it was not an experience I have ever looked to repeat.

[More about the Dangers of Binge Drinking and The Teenage Brain Here]

While I can fully relate to the sentiments expressed in the article entitled, Sober in College (And Still Having Fun), I’d like to tell the author, who is a college student, that the pressure to drink does not end when you graduate from college and that that pressure is not limited to teenagers or young adults.

I’ve found that there is enormous pressure to drink even as an adult. For me, it’s always been a puzzling phenomenon. Friends who are generally sensitive about everything else seem to make a swift character judgment about those who would prefer not to drink alcohol.

Pressure to drink in college is real

Saying that you don’t drink is tantamount to walking into a room with a placard around your neck that announces, “I’m no fun,” and that is as true for a 53-year-old as it is for an 18-year-old. Almost every time I have had a drink it has been the result of subtle or overt peer pressure; not wanting people to think I’m a killjoy who deliberately sets out to ruin other people’s good time. I have never particularly enjoyed the taste of alcohol but have been told countless times that it’s an acquired taste which early on led me to deduce that making an effort to acquire that taste was a worthy endeavor. Why others feel that they need to encourage someone to make an effort to develop a taste for something that is not in the first instance enjoyable to them is a question I’ve tried to answer, with little success.

I have shared many a meal with friends who don’t eat lactose, wheat, soy, nuts or who are eating green or raw or drinking shakes of some sort and no one judges them. For instance, I don’t like black licorice or coconut and when a dessert containing those items appears at the table and I demur, there seems to be widespread disinterest. She doesn’t like coconut so she’s not having any of the coconut layer cake. Murmurs of acceptance. But when I say no thank you to an alcoholic beverage, it seems to throw everyone into a tizzy.

“Would you like wine?”

“No thanks.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“We can order white if you prefer.”

“No, thanks, I really just don’t want any wine.”

“Would you prefer red?”

“Nope.”

“Are you allergic?”

“No thanks, I just don’t like wine.”

Another popular refrain is, “You’re not going to let me drink alone, are you?” And this sentiment is also mystifying for me. I do all sorts of activities alone. I drink my coffee alone every morning and honestly I enjoy every second of it.  Somehow when you are sitting at a meal with someone and they would enjoy a glass of wine and you would not, you are a major disappointment to them because, apparently drinking alcohol is not something people want to do alone.

I don’t care if others chose to imbibe. I don’t make moral judgments about people’s drinking and I would prefer it if they didn’t make character judgments about my refusal to drink. As the author of the article states “…there’s way more to college than getting smashed, and I’m loving every second of it.”

Yes and there’s more to life also, and I’m loving every second of it.

Related:

The Letter I Wrote to My Teenage Son About Drinking 

Binge Drinking: The Unique Danger to Teenage Brains

6 Things College Freshmen Need to Know

About Helene Wingens

Helene Wingens has always been passionate about painting pictures with words. She graduated from Brandeis University with a degree in psychology and three years later from Boston University School of Law with a Juris Doctor. In a year long clerkship for an appellate judge Helene honed her writing skills by drafting weekly appellate memoranda. She practiced law until she practically perfected it and after taking a brief twenty year hiatus to raise her three children she began writing a personal blog Her essays have been published in: Scary Mommy, Kveller, The Forward, and Grown and Flown where she is Managing Editor. You can visit Helene's website here

More by Helene Wingens:

What Every Mom Needs to Teach Her Son About Rape
6 Reasons Why Moms Cry When They Leave Their Kids at College
Dear Parent Freshman, You Need to Know This About Your Student
Crushing Culture of Parental Expectations
What Moms of Grown Sons Want Them to Know

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