The Best Advice in the World on Freshman Drinking
ON MAY 20, 2016
I have a former student who I care about very much. She actually listens to me when I give her ideas. We were messaging back and forth about her recent graduation from high school and her excitement to matriculate into college as a freshman this fall. I closed a message by saying, “Remember to ask me the best advice in the world on drinking alcohol in college.”
This was her response:
Thank you Mr. Parsons! I definitely look forward to college, hopefully the distance doesn’t get me down too much. I will definitely stay in touch! Is your advice “don’t do it”?:)
I left her name out of my response to protect her privacy. This is my response to her question:
That is typical, stupid parent advice that any college student who is going to drink in college will ignore. I know, I know, you are not typical. You don’t see yourself as being like other students, and you are right: you are not like other students. You are smarter, cooler, and have a brighter future than the rest of the pack.
On the other hand, there are college students, about a million or so, who are smarter, and “cooler” than you, and think they have the same future ahead of them as you have, but they will never have that future because they are well on their way to a life shrouded in alcoholism.
I have been to college; you have not. I know the “pull” of peer pressure, and the desire to rebel, and to just say, “F it, I’ll do what I feel like doing.”
You do not know that pull, or desire to rebel. Not yet.
Every year, millions of college kids unwittingly learn a lifetime addiction in college; they never recover from that habit whether they grow up and stop drinking heavily, or they continue to drink themselves slowly into a morass of apathy.
No one has to drink in college. For the first three years of your college experience, it is illegal to do so. But who follows the laws these days, right?
Feel free to not drink.
You might be lucky like me, and alcohol will have no allure for you. I doubt it. Alcohol is a magical substance the defeats even the most resolute of souls.
I have no idea why I didn’t drink like all the rest of my high school friends and my college cohort. It’s irrelevant why I didn’t drink. I missed the alcoholism bullet. My wife missed the bullet, and my daughter, so far, is dodging that particular bullet.
You may, or may not dodge it. You are a deliberate and contemplative person; you should at least hear some reasonable strategies to avoid a brush with alcoholism.
My first, and simplest advice is to drink if you choose, but just don’t drink your first freshman semester of college.
You will notice that a lot of the first semester heavy drinkers won’t show up the second semester. The whole point of first semester is to make it to second semester; you will be much wiser, and less impetuous your second semester because you will be a bit older, and you will think to yourself, “Holy shit, that was a bunch of people that flunked out, dropped out, or got killed. I’m glad I wasn’t one of them.”
If you think you have to drink, delay drinking until second semester. I guarantee you that there will be more booze available to you because those other guys will be drinking somewhere else.
My second piece of advice concerning responsible drinking is to drink slowly.
Drinking is not a “game.” Beer pong and chug-a-thons are games that are fun for awhile, but they promote irresponsible drinking. Students engage in those games because they don’t know how to drink. Learning to tolerate alcohol takes a bit of distraction to get past the taste and the uneasy feeling that you should not be engaging in this activity as a freshman. You don’t see thirty-somethings playing drinking games. There is a reason for that.
My third piece of advice is to drink in a same sex group: drink with the girls, and only with the girls: they will never rape you.
You have no idea how many girls get raped in college. Neither do I, actually, but it is way more than is ever reported.
Boys like to have sex; they want to have sex with younger girls because those freshman girls are more easily coerced. Freshman girls are frequently easily manipulated to do what boys want to do the girls are drunk.
There are ten thousand college freshman girls raped every school year to every college senior girl who gets raped.
Where did I get my statistics?
Nowhere; I just made that up. I’m not too far off, and the exact numbers are not germane to this argument when it is my cherished friend and student who might have to go through the rest of her life as a rape survivor.
If you want to drink with a guy, take your boyfriend to college with you; at least he won’t rape you when you are drunk. No other guy you’ve known for less than six months can guarantee that they won’t rape you when you are drunk.
Where do I get my authority on abstinence?
Does F. Scott Fitzgerald sound like the voice of authority when he wrote: “First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, and then the drink takes you”? He spent the last third of his life writing to earn enough money to keep his dearest love, Zelda in an asylum. (Zelda invented the verb “to party” by the way.) Fitzgerald’s goal was to get Zelda out of the asylum and back into his life, but neither of them could stop drinking long enough to make that happen. It makes for a good romantic story if that is how you want your life to read.
Incidentally, F. Scott was smarter, better looking, and a better writer than you are now, and look what happened to him.
Fitzgerald could have learned something from me: “Nobody ever starts drinking with the intention of becoming an alcoholic.”
My dear student, if you never start drinking, then it follows that you will never become an alcoholic. That is logical. Logic is great, but it can’t hold a candle to the maelstrom of emotions that will drive you to drink in college. Logic is a pitifully weak ally against the pressure to drink in college, but it is all you have got.
But what’s the fun in going through college without drinking?
I’ll offer my life experience:
I have lived a riotously fun life, an extraordinarily fun life for the last sixty-five years. I have another thirty years of fun ahead of me. I did not drink in high school, or in college. I am sure that I have drunk less than one thousand bottles of beer…in my life.
In closing, you and I are not close to each other yet; we can barely even consider each other true friends. So what’s my personal interest in you?
You are unique in the world. There is nothing that you cannot do if you set your mind to it. Steve Jobs said that he wanted to “put a ding in the Universe.” You are smart enough, magical enough, and have enough of the right karma to put a freaking dent in the Universe if you have a mind to do so. It would be an unforgivable shame, a crime against everything that is good and right in this world, if your energies were diverted by alcoholism, or rape, or dropping out of college before you had a chance to see your true destiny just beyond the horizon of a college education. Trust me on my perception of your uniqueness; I am always right when I identify extraordinary students like you: students who will go out into this world and change it for the better.
Closing for the second time: Your mother, or even your goofy father would never ask you to do anything illegal, immoral, or self-destructive with your body, or your life. Be the guardian of your body, the defender of your life, and the advocate of your destiny, by never doing anything illegal, immoral, or self-destructive to the wonderful person who may one day call me her close friend and valued advisor. “______________ and Jeff Parsons are friends.” Such a sweet sentence.
If you read my blog post titled “Using Math and Modeling to Defeat Alcoholism,” I quote my daughter Samantha asking me why I would ever drink again when she reaches 21.
What she really was asking is, “Why would anyone ever drink?”
Dear reader, I would be happy to hear your comments on this essay!