I remember those awful videos in health class where kids like me are hanging out and one of the older and cooler teens offers their friends a beer. “You wanna be cool right? C’mon, drink it!” We learned about peer pressure and just say, “no!” We learned that these kids with piercings and weird haircuts would tell us they’d stop being our friends if we didn’t just take one sip.
But that wasn’t my college experience. I didn’t have some stud tell me I was lame if I didn’t have not one, not two, but eight beers, I’d be the lamest girl in college. No, peer pressure didn’t exist for me. At parties, I never felt like I had to drink to be cool. Instead, I felt I had to drink to be normal. If a party didn’t have a solid drinking game, it wasn’t a party.
Before turning 21, I went to house parties and campouts where the expectation was to get smashed. I’d sit on the rooftop of my friend’s Pilsen apartment and drink badly mixed rum and coke. We’d throw house parties at my apartment where one person would tape two 40 oz bottles of malt liquor on their hands and call themselves “Edward 40 Hands” and they could only untape them until they drank both bottles. I remember the first time I chugged a glass bottle of something pink and fruity mixed with Everclear and I felt the rush of people I didn’t know well shout, “Chug! Chug! Chug!”
Then I stopped drinking as much. I hung around different people and it made me realize how much we normalize binge drinking. It’s something you do in your early twenties. It’s a part of discovering the freedom of adulthood. Yes, I can stay out until 3 o'clock in the morning. Yes, I can eat dinosaur chicken nuggets. Yes, I can drink a whole bottle of wine to myself. But then I began to realize, we didn’t drink to be adults. We drank because we wanted to feel alive.
One time, I worked at an event hosted at an aquarium. It was an office Christmas party for some corporate business. This event had it all- a full bar, a DJ and a live band. I felt dumbfounded when the guests at the event raced in their high heels to the bar just after we opened the doors and ordered the hardest drink they could get. They drank throughout the night, dancing to the music pumping through the speakers until nearly every person was hammered, slurring their speech, refusing to leave when we turned off the music and turned the lights on. It occurred to me then that these people hated their jobs. They had no interest in being sober at this event thrown by their company. They were tired. They were overworked. They just wanted to feel alive.
When I did go to parties again, I limited myself to three drinks because I had work the next day. I realized, observing my friends, they were unhappy, too. They drank to forget about their academic workload, or their awful part-time job, or their financial stress, or their relationship drama. A friend of mine came to the party already drunk. I hadn’t seen him in almost a year. I hugged him and he smelled of beer and he said to me, “I’ve been drinking since two.” He said to me later that night that he’s glad he’s drunk because he hates his life. He’s got no girlfriend and he’s stuck working at a gas station to pay the bills. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve had many of my friends say the same thing. They drink because they want to feel alive and that in their sober life, they didn’t feel alive. They feel like they were trapped, or life is boring or meaningless. But everyone drinks at a party.
I guess, I don’t know what I’m getting at here, whether it be that we drink because we want to feel alive, or we drink because everyone else drinks. I’ve stopped drinking excessively at parties because I don’t want to feel like that’s the only way I can have fun. I don’t want to pretend throwing up at the end of the night is the best way to feel something. And if you do drink, think about why you are drinking. Think about why your friends are drinking. It might surprise you.