On Being Sober in College

Whenever it comes up in conversation that I don’t drink, more often than not, this fact about me is somewhat of an eyebrow-raiser. College is extremely intertwined with alcohol and partying, and TV shows, movies, and social media only perpetuate this perspective. Based on the normalization of drinking and smoking in college, people assume that my staying sober is a conscious decision that I’ve made. But being sober is not a choice; it’s a default. Drinking simply does not fit congruously into the rest of my lifestyle.

 

Why am I sober? A handful of reasons:

First, I don’t consider myself to be holier-than-thou because I’ve never taken a shot or had more than a few sips of wine (on Shabbat). For me, it’s a deeply personal decision. And a lot of it is, frankly, that I just don’t like the taste of alcohol and have never felt the urge to drink.

I also know that I have a very addictive personality, if my ability to finish an entire pack of gum in under an hour is any indication of how strong my cravings can get. I have a strong suspicion that just having one beer will draw me down a very dangerous rabbit hole. There is such a thing as responsible alcohol consumption, but I have a feeling that I will struggle to find that balance.

In addition, I have pretty severe food allergies, and I’m scared that my lack of judgment due to drunkenness would lead me to eat something I shouldn’t. For me, drinking is deadly for reasons that may not be the case for others.

Furthermore, I am not a particularly organized person and find it tricky to compartmentalize my life into, say, partying time and studying time. I know that incorporating drinking into my life would impede upon my functionality and ability to stay on top of things, even while sober.

I also don’t think I’d like the experience of feeling drunk, or even buzzed; I fear losing control of my body or saying or doing something stupid. Many people do enjoy the buzz, the sensation of relaxation, the feeling of everything being just that much more enjoyable after having a drink or two. But to me, this sensation is just not worth of the risks of consuming alcohol.

 

Being sober can be isolating at times. While I agree with every parent’s words of wisdom that, “you don’t need to drink to have fun,” in my experience, it turns out that you do need to drink to have fun at a party. I tend to avoid partying for that reason; dancing in a sweaty, dark room isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but mostly, it’s just too awkward being the only sober person in a sea of drunk or tipsy peers. College students have reported using alcohol as a social buffer; drinking, or even having something to hold in their hand will make them feel less socially awkward at a gathering. For me, I tend to ease the awkwardness by just avoiding big social events in the first place, although I think this behavior speaks more to my introvertedness than my sobriety. Many others who also don’t drink don’t share my opinion and still do attend parties. A sophomore at Brandeis explained to me, “I don’t drink either! I still go to parties; I just enjoy the music, and don’t shame those that don’t drink.” So, if you’re considering quitting drinking, your social life doesn’t have to be compromised.

 

Even in a school with no Greek life and minimal partying, the culture of alcohol consumption or the use of substances like weed or Juuls is prevalent, such as in passing conversation. I actually think the fact that Conn isn’t a huge party school actually contributes to people’s tendencies to drink, and by extension, the assumption that everyone does. Because parties tend to be smaller, more casual, and less rowdy than at other schools, Conn students may feel more comfortable letting loose because they know that parties have a reputation for being relatively safe here, and that their friends will have their backs.

 

In my experience, peer pressure is not as prevalent as it is made out to be, but perhaps that is because my immediate friend group does not engage in much drinking, smoking or partying. In college, I’ve found that most people tend to embrace each others’ individuality more than they did in high school; most people are respectful or admiring of my decision not to drink. Though infrequent, every time I have thoughts about experimenting the main motivation is peer-related. I want to know what all the fuss is about; I want to be able to relate to my peers about the college experience. If everyone else is doing it, then why shouldn’t I try?

 

Although peer pressure is understated, it definitely exists in a subvert way. No particular person has ever put any pressure on me; peer pressure primarily comes from the overrepresentation of people drinking alcohol, the onslaught of social media posts featuring people at bars or parties, and the language people use that suggests that drinking is a more universal hobby than it actually is. While Conn students tend to not judge others for not drinking, they tend to assume that that everyone drinks or smokes. Many people will plan get-togethers that include drinking or smoking as a big component, and although they may specify that you can be as sober as you want to, and clearly demonstrate respect over everyone’s choices, they still create an environment where it’s weird if you don’t partake in substance use. Other than saying that one doesn’t have to drink to be included, they don’t actively do much to accommodate those who don’t drink nor create an experience that will be just as enjoyable while sober. Another example of this trend would be, at rehearsal for the Womxn’s Empowerment Initiative, we were instructed not to give our cast buddy alcohol. Although seemingly considerate, the fact that this announcement had to be made in the first place demonstrated how likely many of the cast members would be to assume that their cast buddy drank. Moments like this make it hard for me to relate to my peers and their experiences. As fellow Connecticut College sophomore reports, “[being sober] is hard to do, because there is a huge unspoken pressure to drink and smoke in college and at Conn.”

 

I don’t judge anyone who drinks or smokes responsibly and does not serve as a danger to themselves and others, but I do maintain that you can still have an enjoyable and fulfilling college experience while staying sober. I would recommend the following to anyone, sober or not, but it’s important to round out your college experience with some alternatives to parties, such as joining clubs, attending on-campus events, or exploring the surrounding areas. And social events can still be fun, even if your BAC is a big, fat zero. A recent Providence College graduate recalls that by being sober, “anything you experience, you are truly experiencing. No dullness or hyperactivity, it’s just you. You feel genuine emotions without the result of substance in any way, and you can enjoy said experience that much more compared to others who don’t.”

 

I’m proud that I know myself enough to stay sober. 

To me, it’s not a limitation I place on myself.

It’s a demonstration of how intimately I understand myself, which I think is a strength.