Not Drinking or Getting High? No problem.


Pretty much every movie about college plays on the stereotypical party scenes. Do those kinds of parties happen sometimes? Sure. But the vast majority of college students choose not to drink or be high most of the time.

Don’t believe us? Here are some selected stats from UNC’s National College Health Assessment. This is a survey done by campuses throughout the country to learn about health trends. These numbers are from UNC only. As you’ll notice the actual use versus perceived use is pretty striking…

37% of students report no use of alcohol in the past 30 days, but the perception is that only 7% of students have not used alcohol in the past 30 days.

82% of students report no use of marijuana in the past 30 days, but perception is that only 16% of students have not used marijuana in the past 30 days.

88% of students report no use of other drugs in the past 30 days, but the perception is that only 22% of students have not used other drugs in the past 30 days.

Whoa.

But numbers are numbers. Experiences matter too – and in my experience (I got my undergrad degree at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, a top party school then and now), I knew no person who was drunk or high all the time. We all were sober at least sometimes – some of us more than others.

Here’s what I learned:

1. Own your choices (and it’s ok to keep a drink in your hand).

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Most advice on staying sober at parties begins with how to hide that you are sober. “Keep a drink in your hand,” or “drink club soda with a twist and say it’s a vodka tonic,” are advice often given to those who aren’t drinking. Adhering to these suggestions lets you exist among less-than-discerning drunks without them noticing your lack of intoxication. But it also facilitates the false narrative that everyone is drinking – and the only way to have fun is to drink.

Pretending to drink can be an easier entry into the world of partying sober, so if you are feeling uncomfortable without something in your hand, by all means, get yourself a non-alcoholic beverage.

But, if the folks you’re hanging out with are uncomfortable with you being sober, that’s on them. Show the world that you can still have fun sober! Talk about why you are making the decision – whether it’s for tonight or forever.  “I’m training for a marathon,” “I don’t like losing control,” “I find that I enjoy myself more when I’m sober,” “I am in recovery,” or “I just don’t drink/use” –  whatever your reason is, own it. There’s no shame in that choice – again, EVERYONE chooses to be sober sometimes.

2. Find your people.

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My friends are the kind of people who (regardless of sobriety) wear costumes, storm empty dance floors and sing while biking home. I have self-conscious friends too, but I always gravitated towards those folks who could be publicly silly. Those are my kind of people – who are yours?

I promise there are people at UNC who have ideas similar to yours about what makes for fun and connection. Notice the students who don’t participate in the all-night beer pong or those who avoid getting high – befriend them. Make some friends through mutual interests like sports or student orgs. People dedicated to training or pursuing an interest likely have less interest in partying.

3. Have fun!

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Some of my favorite memories of partying from college came from the anticipation of a party – hanging out in our dorm room, getting dressed, listening to music, and eating dinner together. Get excited for going out even when you’re not using drugs and alcohol. And once you’re at the party, enjoy yourself! The parties I went to sober often included plenty of folks who were not sober, which meant that the main thing holding me back from being my outgoing, silly self was me. I soon realized I could be sober and have a great time. Really.

4. Do things besides party.

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When I do party, I usually play games or dance. Standing around and chatting never held much interest for me. So finding fun ways to interact while sober came naturally to me. Here are some things I did in college besides party:

  • Concerts. I saw some great bands live – many for free! – while in college.
  • Break bread. Eating together is the ultimate community-builder. Host a potluck or visit a favorite local restaurant.
  • Enjoy a live sports game. My friends and I became the loud fans at every home volleyball game. By the end of my time as an undergrad, we knew most of the players and had spent hours of enjoyment cheering on our team (and gently heckling the other teams). We liked volleyball because one voice could be heard throughout the gym – but any sport will do. UNC has an amazing men’s basketball team (duh) AND loads of other amazing D1 and club sports teams who would love for you to become their biggest fans.
  • Play!  I had friends who kept a running tally of their card game scores on the walls in their dining room. We loved playing games together – intramural and pickup sports, board games, cards, charades, sardines (it’s like reverse hide and seek! And super fun to play in public spaces). Create or find opportunities for the activities you find fun without substances and encourage others to do them with you!
  • Host parties that revolve around doing something besides drinking or getting high. Schedule a mystery night, plan party games that require skill and critical thinking, show movies, run a book club, hold a cooking competition, etc. When people are focused on an actual activity rather than simply gathering, there is often a lot less pressure to drink and a lot more pressure to stay focused on the tasks at hand.

Remember, we all came to college with a goal in mind. Keep your eyes on the prize!

If alcohol and drugs are getting in the way of your goals, you can always connect with Student Wellness to talk about strategies to reduce your risk.

And y’all are our best resource. If you have other ideas to share with UNC students on this topic – send ’em our way!

This article was written by Sara Stahlman, Marketing and Communication Coordinator for UNC Campus Health Services. 

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